BALTIC, Ohio — Changes in consumer behavior and the law are impacting a small Ohio poultry processor in a good way.
The consumer wants to know where food comes from, and that’s creating a demand for Pleasant Valley Poultry’s custom processing, says owner Aden Troyer, as more and more people raise their own chickens, rather than purchasing them at the grocery store.
Troyer said he is amazed at the number of people calling in, saying it is the first time they have ever raised chickens and they are looking for a processor before they even purchase the birds.
The common point is that they want to know where their chicken is coming from and what it was fed.
Pleasant Valley Poultry, located in western Tuscarawas County, can process 1,000 birds a day. Currently, the business is open two days a week, but will expanding to three days during the busier season from May through Thanksgiving.
It currently is one of few custom, state-inspected poultry processors in Ohio. Pleasant Valley Poultry can process anywhere from one bird to hundreds of birds for an individual customer or grower.
The business also processes the turkeys and chickens raised at seven of Ohio’s county fairs raised in the 4-H programs.
Another avenue that will create a growing demand is a change in the federal interstate law governing meat sales. Currently, meat butchered at a state-inspected processor cannot be sold in adjoining states.
Starting July 1, 2011, the law is changed and any meat from a state-inspected processor can be sold in adjoining states.
Troyer said he has a chicken producer who drives from West Virginia to Baltic because of a lack of processors in his area. The customer sells out of Parkersburg, W.Va., and some of his sales are in Ohio, which is where he uses Troyer’s products. Now, the grower will be able to market his Pleasant Valley-processed chickens in West Virginia, too.
The change in the law is only applicable to processors with fewer than 25 employees and they must be state inspected under regulations equal to or stricter than federal guidelines.
Troyer estimates it will take a little time to work out all of the new labeling details, but he expects to be shipping chickens soon after the stamps for the labeling are changed.
Besides being a processor, Troyer also raises pastured, antibiotic-free chickens. Currently, he has a little less than 1,000 birds on his property. He had more when he started this spring, but the weather hampered the progress.
“It’s been a miserable spring to grow pastured chickens,” Troyer said.
While chickens are grown year around, other species are not. Ducks are grown periodically. Turkeys and geese are grown near Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Pleasant Valley Poultry is the only state-inspected processor that handles rabbits, ducks and geese. The business also handles the processing of guineas, quail and pheasants.
Troyer says the processing of ducks is more expensive because of the increased time needed for processing because of the feather growth.
There is also added charges for the butchering of rabbits, pheasant and quail because the shop has to pay the ODA inspector by the hour so the processing fees are more expensive.
Much of the business is custom processing work and then resold through farmers markets and specialty food stores.
Currently, the processor can produce ground meat, including chicken sausage and other ground chicken products.
Troyer said he has plans to build a packaging room, a second walk-in freezer and to provide shrink packaging.
Troyer, his wife, Wilma, and their nine children operate Pleasant Valley Poultry. Pleasant Valley Poultry also employees three part-time employees.
Troyer worked as a farrier up until a couple of years ago. He knew he wanted to get out of the horseshoeing business because of the physical toll it was taking on him.
And Wilma had an idea of her own for the family. She wanted a business where they could all work, instead of each child heading his own direction to find employment.
Wilma’s family had been involved in meat processing on a small scale for many years and she knew what the work entailed. And for years, Troyer had been raising all of the family’s meat and processing it for themselves, as well.
So the idea clicked and in 2009, the processing plant was built and started operating.
Troyer said he had no idea there would be such a growth in the business in such a short period of time.