Steamboat Springs Josh Kilbane still has a long list of permits he must obtain before he can begin processing 150 roasting chickens per week in an existing steel garage off U.S. Highway 40 west of Milner, but Kilbane received three thumbs up from the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.
“I applaud you for your willingness to go through all of these processes,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan told Kilbane.
Kilbane and Kristy Waterworth raised 2,500 chickens last summer at Yampa Valley Farms, selling them mostly to individuals, local restaurants and through a couple of retail outlets. In addition to roasters and laying hens, they raise pigs and Scottish highlander beef cattle on their farm near Pilot Knob in a remote area of the Elk River Valley. It’s all part of the permaculture approach to agriculture, which places a heavy emphasis on sustainability through the practice of concepts like integrated farming and applied ecology.
The chickens are raised outdoors in movable fenced enclosures that allow them to forage on insects, and their manure enriches the pasture.
The chickens Kilbane marketed last year came under a federal exemption for small producers. Colorado doesn’t have an inspection program for small chicken producers, he said. And the closest chicken slaughtering facility is about 200 miles away in Olathe. This year, he wants to take a more formal approach.
“I want to do this right,” he told the commissioners
Beginning this summer, Kilbane would like to begin slaughtering the chickens at his new plant away from the farm. But first, Routt County planner Alan Goldich told the commissioners, he must obtain an array of permits from U.S. Department of Agriculture for the slaughtering process, the Colorado Division of Water Resources and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Welfare. He also needs permits from the county environmental health and building departments plus a waiver from the Board of Adjustment.
Goldich said the Routt County Planning Commission voted unanimously April 4 to recommend approval of a special-use permit for the chicken-processing facility. There have been no comments or complaints about the proposal from neighbors, he added.
Kilbane told the commissioners he is taking a slower, more wholesome approach to raising flavorful chickens at Yampa Valley Farms compared to the industrial process used to raise the least expensive roasting chickens available at national grocery chains. Unlike the factory birds that reach slaughter weight in an unnatural four to five weeks, Kilbane said, his birds are raised in 10 weeks.
“I purchase a French breed of chicken that’s adaptable to this climate and is exceedingly good at natural foraging,” Kilbane said. “Every week, I pick up 150 chickens at the post office. I keep them in brooders for the first 21 days — 21 days is the key for this climate. On Day 21, they are in the field.”
Kilbane’s tentative plan for the summer is to bring his first chickens to the farm in May and increase their numbers by 150 each week so that at the end of the first 10 weeks, he will slaughter the first batch of 150 followed each succeeding week by another mature batch of roasters continuing into October. He will deliver the mature birds to the plant in Milner in a horse trailer.
“Ten weeks in, and on that very day, they go down to Milner, and they get processed,” Kilbane said. “There’s no leeway there. It’s a very regimented schedule.”
Waste left from the slaughtering process would be stored in cisterns until it is hauled back to the farm where composting it with organic material is a significant component to his farming operation.
“A lot of people see the offal as just waste, but to me, it’s black gold,” Kilbane said.
After the meeting, Kilbane confirmed that his chickens will derive as much as 30 percent of their nutrition by foraging for food in the pasture, including grasshoppers.
“They eat thousands of them” Kilbane said.
Chicken processing plant near Milner
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com