Lincoln Premium Poultry, the company directly involved with providing chickens for the Costco/Lincoln Premium Poultry processing facility, is in the final stages of securing farming families to handle its growing operation.
Having the proper numbers of farmers to sustain the processing facility, scheduled to open in June 2019, is vital. It’s the behind the scenes work that ultimately leads to thousands of Costco Wholesale shoppers leaving with one – or several -- $4.99 rotisserie chickens in their shopping carts.
To sustain the growing operation, consisting of roughly 120 four-barn setups, a sizable number of farming families -- around 125 -- are needed to manage the operations. The investment for a family electing to go with a four-barn setup is around $2 million, said Jessica Kolterman, who handles external affairs for Lincoln Premium Poultry.
Currently, Kolterman said that approximately 80 farming families are going through the process of receiving conditional use permits enabling them to erect barns on their property. To be eligible for a permit, applicants must score at least 75 out of 100 points on the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Siting Assessment Matrix, and meet several other specifications through the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.
In late September 2017, Hooper resident Colton Schafersman became the first Dodge County resident to receive approval from the Dodge County Board of Supervisors to erect four barns – three rooster and one hen – on his property.
While some may find it a bit surprising that Dodge County only has one farming family fully through the process, Kolterman said that this is simply how the process works. Barns will continually be built by need leading up to the processing facility's grand opening.
Schafersman, she said, will be dealing largely with pullet houses, where day-old chickens are purchased from Aviagen – the world’s leading poultry breeding company – and put into the pullet barns for 22 weeks.
“Those are the babies that become the breeder for the breeder houses that will lay eggs for us,” said Willow Holoubek, grower engagement manager for Lincoln Premium Poultry. “Then after 22 weeks we catch them and we take those female and male chickens to the breeder-- or hen houses.”
While in the hen houses, the chickens roam free due to the need for fertilized eggs, and these houses contain one flock per year.
“They are in that house for 45 to 47 weeks, and their job is to lay the fertilized eggs,” Holoubek said. “So we gather fertilized eggs in that house and bring them to our on-site hatchery at our complex, hatch those eggs, and we get the crossbreds that are meant to be good at being a broiler chicken.”
Following hatching, baby chicks are transported to broiler houses where they will develop for approximately 42-44 days. These chickens, weighing approximately 6 ¼ pounds, will then be transported to the processing facility where they will ultimately become rotisserie chickens.
Kolterman said approval for permits comes in waves, not one just directly after the other. Permit application is strategically planned so that certain barns will be ready for operation when needed.
Farmers building pullet barns, for instance, are going through the process of getting approved perhaps a little more quickly because they are the first link in the barn chain. The plan is to have barns fully built within the next two years, Kolterman said.
“As we build up and ramp up our production schedule into 2019, the barns will come online as we need them, in the time frame that we need them,” Kolterman said. “ … And the goal is to do it in a way that you don’t have a bunch of barns sitting around empty. A farmer gets his everything checked off and then he gets his birds placed, so there’s not this long gap where the farmer is paying interest on a building that doesn’t have anything in it yet.”
The growing operation spans throughout 13 Nebraska counties encompassing an approximately 60-mile radius. In Dodge County, six to eight farming families are committed to having poultry barns on their land, Kolterman said.
“We are not ready to put them through the process yet because we are not to the point where we want to get their barns built yet,” she said. “With Colton, we were to that point because he is a pullet, I believe, and therefore his barn is going to be one of the first barns built, which is why he went through the process so early.”
The majority of barns built will be broiler barns, she added.
Following the 2018 Corn Expo held Jan. 4 inside of the Christensen Field Main Arena, a growers meeting was held at the L.A. Fireproof Door where several farmers learned more about what a growing operation consists of.
“It went really well,” Holoubek said. “We didn’t have a huge number of people but I was able to garner three new growers from that meeting. So it was very successful.”
Farmers still interested in learning more about what a growing operation would mean for themselves and their families are still encouraged to contact Lincoln Premium Poultry. Kolterman can be reached at 402-641-8471, and Holoubek can be reached at 402-936-4959.
“At the end of the day, we have growers from all over the country who have expressed interest in coming to grow in Nebraska because the contract is so great,” Kolterman said of the 15-year contract term. “But we are committed to making sure that every single Nebraskan has that opportunity first, so that is why we are talking to anybody with any interest before we look at the list from outside the region.”
The window, however, is closing quickly.
“We truly are trying to set the goal of having all of our growers signed before spring planting,” Holoubek said. “So the opportunity is still alive, but it’s coming to a close, quite frankly, because we are on the tail end of it.”