Spent Hen Project
... we have the source... from one wholesale egg contractor, we have 100 suspect/prospect egg-laying operation Farmer/Producers. Each has a facility that houses 13,000 to 20,000 more/less laying hens - Spent Hen value is typically $0.00 to $0.25 per bird. Additional information has been gathered that there are many other similar facilities that represent an enormus source of Spent Hens.
Question: Why is there not a greater interest in this product since it would seem that the costs of the live birds is in a range that would offer a significant profit potential.
The primary reason may be that the "free range birds" that are coming from these laying facilities must be replaced in a single operation, and thus the requirement for a processor would be the ability to accommodate up to 20,000 (more/less) birds in one delivery... most small processing operations are not able to accommodate such a requirement. Also, even if the processing could be staged over a period of time, the need to load and reload and move the birds more than once would not only be stressful on the birds but also add significant cost to shipping and handling.
Thus the solution would seem to be the need for a "Spent Hen Feedlot" in the proximity of the processing facility. Experience in the livestock business provides a potential solution... Wet Sows and Wet Cows are often "backgrounded" or otherwise moved to feedlots or facilities, whereby they are fed for a short period of time on a ration to encourage weight gain and to discourage output production - in their case, outputing milk for their offspring. In the case of Spent Hens the output of course is laying eggs.
The period of time to be housed in such a facility would depend mostly on the condition of the bird, as well as the staging requirement to go into processing. Thus it may go with out saying that the "feedlot" needs to be in the proximity of the processing facility, in order to reduce the stress and expense of shipping and handling and transporting of the birds. Not many processors have this capability.
Another reason that may limit the interest in spent hens may be "perception"... the belief that the meat from the birds is "tough and stringy" and tasteless (of course "taste" is a relative term). Actually the findings are contrary to perception - These birds are actually young when compared to other producing livestock. These birds normally will be 72 to 74 weeks of age at replacement time, and the meat has been determined to be high grade, nutritious, tasty, low in fat and high in protein. It is also a great "additive" product - meaning that it can be incorporated into soups, as well as a variety of "processed" meats and other products.
Product Outlet - this is the primary exercise and conundrum ... where to dispose of finish product, and in what form. I have been contacted by a pet food manufacturer that would be very interested in the breast portion of the spent hens. It is unknown at this point whether or not his "offer" would allow for a profitable business. I have received an inquiry from another pet food company, but have not contacted in order to receive an offer.
Not to minimize the usage of the product in dog and pet food, but I happen to believe that there is a greater value in human consumption. After breaking the birds, I believe that the "cuts" can offer great profit potential. The breast could be processed through a tenderizer for human consumption as a specialty product. Likewise (perhaps) with gizzards and wings. The "bone-off" meat can be ground for sausage, mixed with other ground products, as well as to be formed into Ready-To-Eat (RTE) products.
Market/Usage - Poultry does not have a lot of the ethnic limits that pork and certain cuts of beef may have, namely requirements associated with Kosher and Halal. It offers a much less protein cost when compared to pork and beef, as well as to lamb in potential ethnic consumption.
But the primary concern is 'how do you test the value and quality of the finish product without significant investment in the "feedlot" approach?' The answer may be processing small batches to validate the value and quality of the processed product, as well as to determine and locate a marketing outlet.
Processing Facility - have a potential facility that could qualify as a base for expansion... at Stacyville IA
Financing, Funding, Investors - academic... tbd