Farm family gets cracking with Woodbury Hatchery, shipping thousands of chickens weekly
Crops still come first, but Woodbury Hatchery at Wyndmere, North Dakota, has grown and now has customers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, mostly supplying backyard flocks.
WYNDMERE, N.D. — Todd Woodbury opens the doors of the incubators in a shop on the family farm, showing tray after tray of the fruits of the family’s labors — eggs that in a few weeks time will be chicks ready to ship off to customers.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Woodbury family used the heightened interest in backyard poultry to capitalize on the trend, starting Woodbury Hatchery near Wyndmere in southeast North Dakota.
He said it started as a project for the Woodbury family’s four children, hatching about 300 eggs per week.
That has quickly scaled up, and as the 2023 hatching season begins, the farm will hatch 3,000 to 8,000 chicks per week.
The hatchery mostly supplies backyard flocks, with a typical order being about 75-100 chicks.
“Our hatchery focuses mainly on practical breeds, that would be good for meat, for butchering, or good egg producers. We go from them, that are top-of-the-line egg producers or meat producers, to novelty chickens that would be good for a kid to show at a fair,” Woodbury said. “And then we have birds that lay different color eggs, from white, brown, dark brown, blue-green, there’s a lot of hobby producers that are interested or like that.
Crops still come first for the farm, but the chicken hatchery has grown mostly through word-of-mouth and now has customers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
They do supply some larger scale farms that might order 4,000 birds.
“We have a few customers that are beyond backyard flocks, you know, that are doing it for a business,” Woodbury said.
There’s a 20-chick minimum for shipping but customers can also pick up orders at the farm, so an order could be as small as a single chick.
“This spring, there’s increased interest due to egg supply, or lack of egg supply, and prices being higher than what people are used to,” Woodbury said. “So there’s increased interest in layer-type chickens this year.”
It’s three weeks from when eggs go into one of their incubators until they hatch. The incubators control the temperature and humidity and even occasionally tilt the eggs back from one angle to the other, simulating how a hen would move the eggs in a nest.
The first hatch of the year is in late February. They will hatch every Monday until early July and then hatch every other week until September.
They have about 1,000 chickens in their breeding barn and the family collects eggs three times per day.
The whole family participates in collecting eggs and other chores. Todd Woodbury and his wife, Rebecca, have four children — Jack, 17, Julia, 12, Henry, 11, and Herbert, 4.
There are other chores, feeding, watering, monitoring the health of the flock. The busiest days are the hatch days, which Julia says are her favorite.
“Chicks are the most exciting,” she said.
After the chicks hatch they are sexed. Todd Woodbury said with most of their varieties, the gender can be determined by looking at the wings, but it’s still a time-consuming process when time is of the essence.
Orders need to be boxed up by 5 p.m. on hatch day when the delivery service truck comes to pick them up.
In the off-season, when they aren’t hatching chicks, they will sell eggs and some eggs that are too small or are double-yolkers won’t go into the incubators.
Woodbury’s advice for those interested in chickens is “don’t start too big and have plenty of room for the birds.”
“In any livestock or agricultural thing, you get out what you put into something,” Woodbury continued. “If their nutritional requirements are not met, if you’re trying to skimp on their feed, they don’t have clean water or they don’t have good shelter, you’re not going to get good results.”
He said using cheaper feed, such as screenings, will become evident.
“Start with good housing and good feed and things will go well.”