March 22, 2019
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People were being teased for asking questions about chickens, so this Maine farmer created a safe space to chat

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Chickens sit in cages in the poultry barn during the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Sept. 20, 2014.

Scott DeMoranville was reading through the comment section of a livestock website about six years ago when he noticed that people were being ridiculed for asking questions about chickens. As a longtime poultry owner who believes in sharing knowledge, he was irritated that those looking for help on the page weren’t receiving it.

“I’ve owned chickens since 1975, and I’ve owned all breeds of pheasants, emus, geese, ducks and peafowl,” DeMoranville, who lives in Bradford, said. “And I figure, geez, if others want to do it, I can help.”

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So he created his own Facebook group called Maine Poultry Connection, where people could ask poultry-related questions, share knowledge, and sell hatchlings and poultry products without the fear of snide comments that are so common on the internet. The closed group has strict rules: No negativity, drama, profanity or ill-willed sarcasm. Break one rule, and you’re kicked out.

Since then, the group has grown to more than 12,000 members, attracting poultry enthusiasts throughout the state and beyond.

Birds of a feather …

Maine Poultry Connection is closely moderated by DeMoranville and his wife, Nickie DeMoranville, as well as their children, Nolan, 19, and Maddigan, 16, and a handful of poultry owners throughout the state whom the family has recruited to help them manage the discussions and answer questions.

“I joined the group after my wife brought home some chicks on a whim,” Darren Narred of Belfast said. “I knew nothing about birds and knew I needed some help. The group has a lot of great members willing to help with anything, yet still be drama-free. … Several members helped when my roosters were fighting, and I was able to quickly rehome extra birds.”

The DeMoranvilles never expected the group to grow into such a large community, one that indicates a widespread interest in raising poultry throughout Maine and beyond. They think their group’s popularity may in part be attributed to what they see as a national trend of people attempting to raise backyard chickens and other types of domestic fowl for the first time.

“Back when I was a kid, in the ’70s, everybody had chickens,” Scott DeMoranville said. “Then, when we got into the late ’80s and through the ’90s, nobody had them. You didn’t see chickens anywhere. It was a thing of life gone by.”

Now backyard chickens, along with other domestic fowl, are seeing a resurgence that coincides with the rise in popularity of locally grown, organic food, DeMoranville said. More people are seeking out meat from free-range animals, raised without added chemicals. Also, more people are becoming conscious of the carbon footprint of their food.

“People are more aware of what they’re eating,” DeMoranville said. “It has become a big enough issue that people are saying, ‘You know, I’m going to raise my own food.’ And that’s what they’re doing.”

In addition, some people are choosing to raise chickens and other types of poultry to help manage pests, such as ticks, which chickens and guinea fowl are known for eating.

“Living in the country, we’re finding more and more ticks,” Amanda Nickerson Skaggs of Belmont, who purchased her first chickens and guinea fowl this past October, said.

“As a new poultry owner, the group has helped me out a ton,” Skaggs said. “Every time I have a question or just need to bounce ideas off other chicken owners, I post and almost immediately get a response. It’s great for ‘emergency situations,’ like when a chicken gets attacked by a predator or breaks a blood feather [actively growing feathers that have a blood supply]. I’ve personally asked about feed and what kinds of supplements I should be giving to my birds.”

‘A needed resource’

Encouraged by members of their Facebook group, the DeMoranvilles opened a Maine Poultry Connection Retail Store last March at 394 Main Road in Bradford, where they sell select feed and supplies for poultry and other animals, from chickens to alpacas to gerbils.

Just down the road from their house, the store is located in a former garage attached to an old cow barn. They renovated the space, then outfitted it with a long check-out counter and plenty of shelving for animal feed and other goods.

“What we are is right in the middle of nowhere,” DeMoranville said. “But we’re halfway between Bangor and Dover-Foxcroft, so it’s kind of a needed resource.”

Starting with poultry feed, medication, bedding and other supplies, the family quickly expanded the store’s inventory to include food and supplies for all sorts of livestock and pets, as well as wild birds. They also offer a variety of locally made products, such as honey, goat milk soap and totes made out of recycled feed bags.

A physical manifestation of the Facebook group, the Bradford store isn’t just a spot to purchase supplies, it’s also a place that people can go to ask poultry-related questions and hopefully find solutions. On average, DeMoranville estimates that he answers between 200 and 300 poultry-related questions per week through Facebook and by chatting with customers at the store.

“He is the go-to guy for questions,” said Andrew Doiron of Augusta, a Maine Poultry Connection member who’s received a wealth of advice from DeMoranville, from preventing frostbite in free-ranging chickens to incubating eggs. “There are other chicken gurus [out there], but he is there to help. … I message him, and he always responds.”

In addition to providing information, Maine Poultry Connection is a valuable network for Mainers who sell birds, eggs and various poultry-related items, such as coops. For example, Donna Boyce, a woman who raises silkie chickens in Aroostook County, uses the group to find prospective buyers for her silkie hatchlings all over the state.

“The population up here is so low that I have already sold to everyone that wanted silkies,” Boyce said. “If I couldn’t sell down in that area, I would have to stop hatching.”

DeMoranville also gives workshops and demonstrations on poultry care at agricultural events throughout Maine. He has participated in the Agricultural Trade Show in Augusta, the Maine Harvest Festival in Bangor, the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity and the Windsor Fair.

The next step

As the retail store approaches its one-year anniversary, the Demoranvilles are planning a major expansion: an on-site chicken processing facility.

The facility — which they’ve already purchased — will serve as a place that poultry owners can take their chickens to be slaughtered and processed into meat ready for consumption. Designed to be mobile, the facility fits on a 46-foot box trailer and includes multiple rooms to separate parts of the process, which includes the killing and defeathering of the chickens, as well as draining blood from the carcasses and evisceration (removal of internal organs). The process, completed by employees the DeMoranvilles plan to hire, also includes packaging and requires a cold place to store the meat until customers can pick it up.

While not all people wish to eat their chickens, the DeMoranvilles believe that a processing facility is a much-needed local resource for those who do. And at their store, just like in their online community, they respect all people’s perspectives on poultry.

“You’ve got to appreciate the fact that this person looks at a chicken as part of the family,” Scott DeMoranville said. “And you also have to appreciate the fact that this person looks at it as food.”

While the facility was constructed to be mobile, the DeMoranvilles plan to keep it on the property permanently, on a concrete pad behind the store. They’re working with a soil scientist to develop a plan for composting parts of the birds that are discarded in the process, including feathers, blood and organs. If all goes as planned with the necessary inspections — by the state and USDA — they plan to open the facility by the end of May.

 



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