News POULTRY IN MOTION: Backyard Birds Crowing Business, Hobby

POULTRY IN MOTION: Backyard Birds Crowing Business, Hobby

POULTRY IN MOTION: Backyard Birds Crowing Business, Hobby
March 23, 2009 |

When it comes to their favorite fowl, you might say Danny Eiland and Glen Cryar are birds of a feather.For Eiland, it’s Red Rangers, Johnny Grays, Golden Nuggets and those unforgettable Naked Necks.For Cryar, it’s Buff-Laced Old English, White-Crested Black Polish, White-Crested Cuckoo and those long-legged Modern English Games.Yet, no matter what the breed or variety, one thing is certain: chickens rule the roost for these two poultry lovers.They aren’t alone, either. A small, but growing number of Alabamians are engaged in raising chickens far different than those found in Alabama’s more than 15,000 commercial poultry houses.Some, like Eiland, raise large, brightly colored birds for the dinner plate. Others, like Cryar, raise smaller, exotic chickens with feathered feet, long legs or unusual “hair styles” to sell, show or exhibit at poultry fairs.It’s difficult to say exactly how many backyard birds there are in Alabama, but Ray Hilburn, poultry program director with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, believes it could be as many as 50,000 birds.
Hilburn says more than 350 Alabamians are enrolled in the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP), a voluntary federal-state program that helps monitor hatcheries and breeders for salmonella, mycoplasma, avian influenza (AI) and other diseases. That’s far more than the 20 participants that were enrolled in 1981, the year Hilburn first arrived at the Department of Agriculture.But, Hilburn adds, “That doesn’t even come close to telling us how many backyard producers or hobbyists are out there. You’d be surprised — they are more than you think.”And more important to the state’s economy than you might think.That’s because Alabama ranks third in the nation in poultry production, and these backyard birds play an important role in helping monitor the health of the state’s flocks, says Dr. Tony Frazier, state veterinarian. “Because we are a poultry-producing state, those backyard birds represent sentinels,” he said, explaining that backyard and pastured birds would be the first to encounter any migratory waterfowl carrying AI or other disease.”Through NPIP, we’ve developed a pretty good relationship with backyard poultry producers,” Frazier said.In fact, Frazier buys laying hens from Eiland’s S&G Poultry near Clanton, saying that the eggs help feed a growing family. Not surprisingly, that’s what a growing number of Eiland’s customers are saying as the recession deepens.”We have a lot of people who buy our ‘barnyard mix,'” says Eiland. “They’ll get 10 to 25 birds, and they’ll grow ’em out, keeping the pullets to lay eggs and the males to process. Very little housing is required on something like that. You wouldn’t need but about three- or four-square-feet per bird.”But Eiland’s business is built on much more than that. It was hatched, you might say, from his life-long love affair with poultry.”I’m a chickenholic,” confesses Eiland who took every poultry course offered at Auburn University before graduating in 1978. “I’ve been a chickenholic all my life. I started off as a little boy raising chickens. I loved anything with a feather on it.”Upon graduation, Eiland began a 23-year career in the commercial poultry industry, gaining experience that led him to begin selecting and breeding special colored birds for the largely Hispanic, Asian and other ethnic live markets.
Today, he ships 4- to 5-hour-old chicks to Jamaica, Nigeria, El Salvador, Peru, Brazil, Japan and Canada via overnight air. “We hatch only on demand,” he says. “We don’t randomly hatch 5,000 chicks and hope we can sell ’em — that’s a formula for failure.”It’s a different world,” Eiland says of his chicken business which will grow from 2,000 birds in early spring to about 5,000 by summer. “Most people don’t realize there are 210,000 birds sold live and processed in inner city New York every week, all to different ethnic groups. There are probably 250,000 to 300,000 birds a week sold in the United States on the live market.”The reason for that, Eiland says, is that 60 percent of the world doesn’t have refrigeration.”When immigrants come here, they are not used to our frozen or refrigerated meats, especially poultry,” Eiland says. “They’re used to seeing it live, having it processed and cooking it right then.”Furthermore, many aren’t accustomed to the flavor or texture of commercially grown chickens. “Our customers like a yellow skin,” he says. “We don’t have any requests for white-skinned birds; they like brown eggs. They like different-colored birds. They don’t like the white bird because white, in Asian beliefs, means death. They buy different colors for different events or occasions — they’ll buy red for a marriage, black for a special religious holiday.”With that in mind, Eiland’s houses grow breeds like the Red Ranger, which has yellow skin, shanks and beak and dark red feathers with black wing tips and tailfeathers. Then, there’s the Johnny Gray, a gray-white-black barred bird known for an abundance of breast meat. The oddest creature in the barnyard is the Naked Neck, a light red-feathered bird with no feathers on its neck and a thin skin which crisps quickly when roasted.”We have nine different lines, but we started out with by-product chickens from commercial broiler hatcheries,” Eiland explained. “That was the nucleus for our birds because those were lines that were expressing their color capability. Some had green shanks or black shanks or whatever, and we just started crossbreeding and sorting through all those genetic possibilities. That, and listening to the customer and asking, ‘What do you want?’ That’s where a lot of people have gone wrong in this industry — you need to start with the customer and work backwards. Find out what they want, give them a timeline of when you can produce it and make sure it is what you say it is.
“We have a gene pool that we can turn on a dime,” Eiland adds. “You just tell us what you want, and we can mate up that bird and produce it within six months.”Meanwhile, over in St. Clair County, Glen Cryar is also working on genetics, but from a different perspective. A poultry lover who’s been showing chickens since 1976 and an American Bantam Association judge since 1986, Cryar is more interested on the outside of the chicken than the inside.He competes in eight to 10 shows a year, and judges another four to five. “Chickens are judged on everything from shape to feather condition to color — all the way from the color of their eyes to the color of their toenails,” says Cryar. “Every part of them is defined according to the standard.”Cryar says poultry shows attract a broad range of competitors, but most exhibitors are older. “We don’t have enough younger folks involved,” says Cryar, who is also president of the Alabama Bantam Association. “Chickens are something that young folks just aren’t into.”But Dr. Lamar Nichols, assistant director of 4-H & Youth Development with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, says at least three poultry clubs are now being organized in Alabama.”There’s nothing wrong with competition, but we are a youth development program and not based on competitive events. A young person can be involved in a poultry project and never show,” says Nichols. “Kids can still learn life skills like responsibility and how to care for animals and those kinds of things. Plus, if they grow chickens and sell eggs, they can learn entrepreneurship and things like that.”That should still be welcome news to Cryar whose coop will swell to 700 to 800 birds by fall.
Cryar began developing the White-Crested Cuckoo Polish in 1982, and is currently working on a new variety of Buff-Laced Old English. Today, he is so highly regarded in show circles that he ships birds all over the United States with all sales coming through word of mouth. Plus, he’ll be showing dozens of his birds at the annual Chicken & Egg Festival on April 18-19 in Moulton.”Some of the best breeders in the world are right here in the South,” Cryar says. “People don’t realize how many of us folks there are. The feed stores know.””I like my chickens,” Cryar adds. “I spend a few hours a day over here, especially when I’m getting ready to show. They’re a lot of fun. It’s an interesting hobby.”Likewise, Eiland is doing what a self-described “chickenholic” does best. “I got into this because I have a true love for poultry,” said Eiland. “I’m one of those few people who gets up every morning and look forward to going to work. I enjoy what I do, and I do this 8 to 10 hours a day, seven days a week.”And that’s something to crow about.For more information about Eiland’s S&G Poultry, visit, or call (205) 280-3771. For more information about show birds or the Alabama Bantam Club, call Cryar at (205) 640-5776 or email For info on the Chicken & Egg Festival, visit or call (256) 905-0700.

View Related Articles