New frontiers: Sherrard begins Wyoming’s first poultry processing facilityWritten by Saige Albert
“A friend talked me into getting my layers about four years ago,” explains Sherrard, of her start to raising chickens. “He said I have the perfect avenue to market birds here.”
Sherrard also runs a beauty shop out of her home, and with clients consistently coming and going, her poultry business has grown by word of mouth.
“We just got into the meat birds this last year,” Sherrard says. “People asked us that if we sell eggs, why don’t we sell chicken? So we decided to look into it.”
At the end of January 2012, the Sherrards began looking into building their own processing facility more closely.
“Wyoming has no poultry facilities, and we decided to try it,” she says. “We built a little facility.”
In order to process poultry to sell to consumers, there are a number of requirements that must be met for the state of Wyoming food safety rules. They began by submitting and getting plans approved.
“We have to have three sinks, stainless steel equipment, a certified scale, washable floors and walls, self closing doors, a bathroom, a number of hand washing sinks and plenty of light, among other things,” Sherrard explains of the building. “The state came out and okayed our facility.”
They also required a Department of Environmental Quality approval, because they chose to compost the feathers and guts from processing.
“The state has been really good to work with,” Sherrard says.
Sherrard notes that they will continue to improve the facility to make it easier to use and clean.
The processing building has two rooms – one for killing birds and another for processing.
When harvesting poultry, Sherrard’s husband Les is responsible for kill room operations, which include scalding and plucking.
“He does two to four birds at a time,” she says. “The chickens go in cones, their throats are slit and they drain.”
Then, the birds are scalded for between 15 and 20 seconds before being put into the plucker, which is a drum lined with rubberized fingers.
“The plucker is hooked up to water, and it spins,” Sherrard explains. “If you get the right scald on them, it will pluck out all of the feathers in about 20 seconds. If you scald them too much, the skin rips, but if you don’t scald them long enough, the feathers won’t come out. It takes a lot of knack.”
After the birds are plucked, Sherrard processes them and packages them in shrink bags.
“These bags seal in hot water, so they last longer in the freezer,” she comments.
Because they are a small facility, Sherrard does most of the work herself.
“We hope to get other people to come in and use the processing facility,” says Sherrard, adding that option would provide additional sources of revenue.
In raising chickens, Sherrard has seen impressive demand for her home-raised, hormone- and antibiotic-free product.
“I’ve got three crops right now,” Sherrard explains, noting that each of the three age groups of birds has about 200 animals. “We can raise 1,000 birds each year under our exemption.”
While they started with only 100 in each group, she notes that demand has grown, necessitating expansion.
“We still have approximately 500 chickens to butcher before Christmas,” says Sherrard, “but we are temporarily out of stock, with more chickens available after Nov. 1.”
“A lot of people remember what it was like to eat Grandma’s fried chicken, when grandma would go out and kill the chicken herself,” she says, “but it’s hard work.”
As a result, Sherrard raises whole chickens that she sells to locals.
Growing meat birds
Depending on the size of the bird, Sherrard explains that they have both roasters, which weigh from five to seven pounds, and fryers, which are smaller – only three to four pounds dressed. The birds can’t grow much bigger because of health problems they experience.
“When they get big, they have a lot of feet problems because their legs are short, and their bodies are big,” she says. “They can’t support their own weight.”
Sherrard uses Cornish Rocks – a bird that is bred for their large breasts and other desirable meat characteristics.
“They also are prone to heart attacks when they get bigger,” she adds, saying that the birds start dying if they aren’t harvested on time.
The birds are kept in a barn until they are five to six weeks old, when they are moved to outdoor pens with heat lamps.
“When they feather out, I put them outside,” Sherrard explains. “I close them in at night, and I lay new straw down each day.”
With her youngest chicks at two weeks old, she says that they have decided to continue growing birds through the winter.
“It’s hard to keep them warm and keep their water from freezing,” she comments.
Sherrard also raises turkeys that she sells and processes, noting that she is already sold out of turkeys for the year, as well.
With her facility, she adds that she has processed a number of varieties of poultry, including turkeys, chickens, geese and ducks, and they offer custom processing.
“People can bring their birds in to be processed,” she says. “I don’t mind processing the birds.”
Since starting, Sherrard says they will harvest about 800 birds in 2012.
While their current exemption from the state says they can process up to 1,000 birds a year, they also have the option to expand and apply for the 20,000 bird exemption, if business demands it.
“We’re learning as we go. Building the facility has been costly, but I think it will open up some doors for us and for others,” Sherrard comments. “I hope other people will say, ‘If they can do it, we can, too.’”
Sherrard emphasizes that anyone wishing to become a poultry grower or producers with the option to sell to stores, schools, farmers’ markets and to the general public statewide should contact her at L&C Poultry Processing.
Riverton resident Chris Sherrard also raises a number of laying hens to provide eggs as an additional aspect of her business.
“This summer, I was getting 10 or 11 dozen eggs a day,” Sherrard explains. “Now I’m down to six or seven dozen, and by December, I’ll be down to only four or five.”
Sherrard explains that the birds lay based on the hours of daylight, and she utilizes a light with a timer to keep the birds on a summertime schedule of 14 to 16 hours of daylight.
“As long as you keep the summer daytime hours, they program to keep laying eggs,” she continues. “If the light doesn’t go on or the bulb doesn’t work, it can mess up their laying for about two weeks.”
Sherrard’s laying hens range in species from Barred Rocks to Rhode Island Reds and several crosses.