By Allysa Evalle
When a friend invited her to a Colonias Unidas meeting, Roxanne Villareal thought she was simply getting 50 chickens out of the deal. Little did Roxanne know that she and her husband, Edward, would become operators of a small but successful pasture-fed chicken operation 6 years later. Currently, E & R Chickens, named for the first two letters of the couple’s names, produces 260 to 280 naturally grown whole chickens every two weeks. Although some of the chickens go to a couple local customers in Hereford, Texas, the majority of the chickens are sold to PaiDom, an organic meats business in Nazareth, Texas.
Starting in the spring and occurring every two weeks until September, Roxanne receives an order of three hundred white-footed Cornish chicks from a hatchery in Iowa. During the first month, the chicks are most vulnerable and are kept indoors with heat lamps. Afterwards, the hens are moved to outdoor pens where they are able to feed on bugs and plants in addition to their regular feed. Finally, after around eight or nine weeks, the chickens are ready for harvesting. The best part is that this poultry is completely growth hormone and antibiotic free. Every two to three weeks, Edward, Roxanne and a team of five other people spend a whole day slaughtering and processing one group of mature chickens. The neatly packaged and labeled whole chickens are then frozen and stored until they are picked up by the customer.
Since they have been in business for six years, Edward and Roxanne know that poultry production has its ups and downs. Last year, the severe heat and drought greatly increased the mortality rate among the chickens. Similarly, difficulties in growing alfalfa have caused the Villareals to grow milo and wheat for pasture instead. And even predators like bull snakes and rattlesnakes have threatened their flocks. However, Edward and Roxanne remain optimistic about the future and are not afraid to experiment with new management practices. For example, Roxanne said they are going to try out a ditch irrigation system for next year’s plot of alfalfa and they hope to invest in either solar panels or a windmill to supply the electricity for the freezers and heat lamps. Next year, the Villareals hope to increase their production from four thousand to five thousand chickens. And chickens aren’t the only animals on the Villareal’s fourteen acres. They also have a small number of swine, sheep, cattle, laying hens, a duck and a few farm dogs.
Edward and Roxanne’s willingness to visit for an evening and share their experiences with me made me even more thankful that I have conscientious food producers like them in my own backyard. Their example inspires me, as I look for opportunities to be a future contributor to the local Panhandle food shed.
If you have any questions about E & R Chickens, you can contact Roxanne directly at: 806-346-1999.