Saving Grace Quail Farm

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William Flickinger grew up on a dairy farm where he learned a high standard of work ethics and animal care skills. From that point on, his entire life has revolved around agriculture and he is happiest when working around animals. To utilize his agricultural skills, in 2007 he accepted a position managing a 4400-head hog farm that was experiencing a twenty-five percent mortality rate. Willy accepted the challenge, implemented many changes, and succeeded in reducing the mortality rate to twelve percent. In 2008 he took on a 50,000 chicken operation that was experiencing high mortality and poor performance. He worked hard to learn from service people and sought out experts in the field to gain the knowledge he needed to make a difference in the operation. Within two years he became so successful that he was considered one of the top three poultry growers for the home company. William knows birds, what they need to thrive, and how to manage their environment to produce a healthy product.

His wife, Suzan Flickenger, also has years of experience to her credit. She raised quail in the past and currently has a rabbit herd that is grown for the meat market. Together William and Suzan make a great team.

They first came to the Bucknell University Small Business Development Center (SBDC) seeking assistance to begin a large scale quail operation. They had a committed buyer at the ready and wanted to put their skills to work. Working wtih the SBDC, they put together a business plan that included financial projections. Since financing was not approved, their project was delayed for nine months until they could boot strap the needed funding on their own. This meant selling personal assets to buy the needed equipment and a great deal of hard work with building pens and cages. Finally, in January of 2014, they had their first batch of birds.

With the production process started, Sue and Willy also received training to become Certified Poultry Technicians. This certification allows them to test the birds on a regular basis for AI (avian influenza). They continue to adjust growing conditions and learn from other growers to produce the best birds in the area. The operation is a delicately choreographed balance of scheduling each stage from eggs, to incubator, hatcher, brooding, grow-out and delivery to the customer. Detailed records are maintained for every brood at every stage. Hatch rate has improved, feed adjustments have been made and the result has been better birds and eggs for sale.

During a recent visit to the farm, the SBDC consultant noticed music playing during every phase of the process. He intially thought that the music was played for the producer but soon learned that it was actually played for the quails. Willy had noticed that though they did not respond to particular songs but “they [did] prefer bluegrass.”

In his own words William stated, “The SBDC’s help with the business plan gave us a better understanding of costs and budget comparisons of actual to projected numbers so we could make adjustments. They helped us when no one else would.”