Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2010 10:00 AM
Steve Brown/Capital Press
Diana Ambauen-Meade takes the wheel of a forklift at the Scratch and Peck feed mill in Bellingham, Wash.
Business supplies growing demand for soy-free, corn-free feed
By STEVE BROWN
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- Diana Ambauen-Meade's business isn't just chicken feed. It's also turkey, goat, sheep, pig and pigeon feed.
But it was a chicken feed recipe that got her started on the road to her new business, the newly operational Scratch and Peck feed mill.
A few years ago, her fellow backyard chicken owners liked that she was mixing her own feed that was all organic, non-soy and non-genetically modified.
"People are conscious about what they put in their animals and in their bodies," she said.
In response to her neighbors' requests, Ambauen-Meade scaled up to mixing feed in a small concrete mixer. Then, as demand grew, she contracted with a mill to process her whole-grain recipe and started selling it on Craigslist.
"I owned businesses before, and was working most recently as a mortgage banker," she said. "When the bottom fell out, I saw that as an opportunity for something I really loved."
She expanded her feed operation into both wholesale and retail, selling both direct and through feed stores. "I've got four stores in this area, and I'm working my way down the I-5 corridor, as far south as Olympia now. Also one in Spokane."
As her own 4,800-square-foot mill starts up, she plans to produce 50 tons a month soon. Within six months, that should increase to 100 tons, she said.
"I've got a good customer base already, and they've been asking when I'll be ready," she said. "That includes a 500-member co-op in Seattle."
Because the city now allows up to eight chickens in backyard flocks -- but no roosters -- interest has grown in Seattle neighborhoods.
Ambauen-Meade also has small poultry producers among her customers.
"There's lots of interest in soy-free, organic feeds, especially in Texas, Pennsylvania and Canada," she said. "I'm working hard to keep it at the same price point as other organic products."
She is getting her feed certified organic with the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
The upscaling of Ambauen-Meade's operation has prompted her family's move from Bremerton to Bellingham, to be nearer her organic suppliers.
"I'm getting wheat from Whatcom County," she said. "Also triticale, barley and wheat from elsewhere on the west side (of the Cascade Mountains)."
As she helped unload a shipment of camelina oil and meal from Sunnyside, she said camelina has just been approved for layers.
"Another advantage here is the great support for organic and the local movement," she said. "People are keying in on 'no soy.' It's in so many products, they're developing allergies, and they're concerned about GMO. I'm also making some of the feed without corn for the same two reasons."
Her crew includes her husband, Dennis, an electrical contractor, and son Bryon, who recently graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in business management.
Even as Ambauen-Meade grows into the wholesale business, she said, she's keeping her retail customers. "The one-on-one with customers is what got me here. I love that personal connection. Chicken people are cool people."