Teenager Becomes Expert in Chickens

6/15/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

WILTON, N.Y. — Sam Reed isn’t one of those kids who will have to move elsewhere because he can’t find a good local job.

At 15, the Saratoga Springs High School freshman is practically an expert in his field, raising poultry for eggs and meat production, so well-versed that he can advise others how to get started and make a go of things.

His laying hens produce about 55 dozen eggs per week — he recently processed the first of three flocks of meat chickens — and this summer he’ll start raising turkeys for Thanksgiving.

“I started three years ago after doing a school research paper about factory farming,” Sam said. “I had no idea how terrible it was. We had about 10 laying hens anyway to begin with. That inspired me to start selling eggs. Neighbors loved them so we got more.”

Then last year he went a step further and began raising free-range meat chickens.

“His whole mission here is for the animals to have a great life,” said Sam’s father, Tim. “He really has done a ton of research. He’s got a wealth of information. If you need to know something, he’d be the guy to go to.”

The family lives in a beautiful 1833 stone farmhouse on 60 acres, which gives Sam the perfect setting for his agricultural pursuits. The farm is called Stone House Farm & Market.

However, he had no farming background to speak of.

His father is a restoration contractor who has taken apart and rebuilt old barns for custom clients. But Tim Reed wasn’t directly involved in agriculture.

He is now, though, by helping Sam however he can.

Last year, for example, the two built a new 19th-century-style chicken coop using old materials that Tim Reed had collected from various building projects.

He also advises Sam on some of the “ins and outs” of running a business, which Sam has become quite proficient at in his own right.

“Any money that I’ve made I’ve spent on making improvements,” Sam said.

For example, an automated poultry plucking machine saves a great deal of time and labor.

Most sales come from people who visit the rural site on Parkhurst Road, about five miles north of Saratoga Springs.

“It’s exciting to see your children be so excited about something,” said Sam’s mother, Suzanne. “We’re convinced that small farms are the wave of the future.”

So are many other people apparently, including Farm Aid co-founder Willie Nelson, who is scheduled to play upstate New York’s first ever Farm Aid concert on Sept. 21 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Nelson is visiting because of New York’s growing reputation as a hotbed for small, agricultural entrepreneurs.

Sam’s older brother, Adam, recently moved back from Boulder, Colo., and founded Tangleroot Farm, which specializes in organic produce.

As he expands, Sam has also experimented with fowl.

In one pen, several dozen chickens share space with ducks that Sam is also raising for egg production.

“One duck will lay 300 eggs per year,” he said.

He has a variety of laying hens, including Speckled Sussex. About half, however, are reddish Isa Browns.

For meat chickens, he buys newborn chicks online, which come through the mail.

“We had to go pick some up at the post office just the other day,” Tim Reed said. “I think they got tired of all the chirping.”

Chicks are fed grain and Sam raises vegetables such as zucchini to supplement their diet as they grow. Meat chickens are processed after eight weeks. He has three separate flocks in spring, summer and fall.

Last Saturday, June 8, he processed the spring flock, shortly after picking up newborn chicks that will be raised for the summer flock.

Sam said processing meat chickens, which he does himself, wasn’t easy at first. He visited another area farm to see how it was done.

Now, it’s just a part of the business that has to be done, and he’s conscious at all times of treating birds humanely.

Tim Reed, although admittedly biased about Sam’s accomplishments, said there’s little comparison between fresh, locally-raised meat and the kind people buy in a store.

“They really are different,” he said. “They’re meatier. Their meat is more firm. They’re just really good.”

Tim Reed jokingly said he has an ulterior motive for helping Sam’s venture become a success.

“Pretty soon he’ll be able to get a license. If he has his own car, then he can start driving himself a lot of places,” he said, with a smile.

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