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Business adds to the Iowa flock

Tony Halsted, who moved back to the run the family business after working 20 years in the insurance industry, holds a newborn chick.
Stories of family-owned businesses in Iowa selling their products nationwide are not uncommon, as there are numerous examples of successful, homegrown entrepreneurs to draw upon.  Hoover’s Hatchery, though, is unlike most Iowa-based businesses when you consider their unique product offerings.

Located in Rudd, Hoover’s Hatchery (www.hoovershatchery.com) has been in business for 72 years and is a leading provider of chickens and other specialty fowl.  Are you looking for a particular type of chicken for your backyard flock?

If so, Hoover’s Hatchery can likely get it for you from their Floyd County home.  The same goes for ducks, geese, turkeys, and pheasants, as they also offer an assortment of these birds as well.

“Our focus since 1944 has been on small farmers and backyard enthusiasts, so we don’t hatch chicks for big companies, though we sometimes work with larger organic farmers to supply them birds,” explains Tony Halsted, the managing partner and head of business development for Hoover’s Hatchery, which currently employs nearly 85 people.

After working in a number of different positions for the hatchery, Halsted’s parents bought the company in the late 1970’s from the Hoover family.  So the Halsted family’s involvement with the company has been a significant endeavor, one that Tony Halsted has fully embraced since leaving a successful corporate career not long ago to take a leadership role in the business.

“I came back here after spending 20 years with Principal Financial Group,” explains Halsted, who began working at the hatchery alongside his parents at a young age and continued learning all aspects of the business all the way through college.  “I knew at some point I wanted to come back to the family business. Now I’m trying to build upon the legacy my mom built as the head of the company after my father’s death in 2002.”

The family has quadrupled their business and expect even bigger things this year.  A lot of this growth is a result of their utilization of technology to reach new markets.  

Hoover’s Hatchery still produces a catalog and they also employ knowledgeable customer service people to assist with questions and purchases. Their online catalog has been a big contributor to their recent growth.  

Likewise, Halsted says their use of social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, have also helped educate customers and connect them with markets beyond Iowa’s borders.

“It's amazing the number of birds we put out, but it’s significant and we are now one of the major players in the industry when it comes to backyard poultry.  We make sales in every state, except Hawaii, as well as in Puerto Rico and a few foreign countries,” explains Halsted. He  estimates 10 percent  of the hatchery's business occurs in Iowa, while about one-quarter of the company's customers live in the Midwest.

The company requires a minimum order of 25 live birds for shipment, and their main goal is to get birds to customers within 48 hours of hatching. Making this happen requires a great deal of planning and logistics, Halsted says. For example, it typically takes a chicken 21 days to hatch, but the availability of any type of bird is calculated using a formula based on science, genetics, historical data and more.  

The poultry transactions are also highly regulated and need to be approved by the government, but the method of shipment might be a bit of a surprise to some: All birds are shipped in special boxes via priority mail with the U.S. Postal Service.

“There’s a lot of risk involved with this type of business, as it’s all based on the birds producing like they need to in order for us to fill orders,” offers Halsted, who says managing finances and genetics and “matching supply with demand” are the biggest challenges of the business.

To help keep a steady stream of chicks in their product pipeline, Hoover’s Hatchery owns and manages their own breeding stock, but they rely on contract growers to care for them.

Most of their stock is located in Iowa, but by spreading out their flocks Halsted says it addresses the important issues of diversity and bio-security.

“I think people would be surprised at the level of science that goes into this business and how we are able to replicate nature and do it in a natural, humane way,” says Halsted. He says he is already planning for 2017 to make sure they have birds hatching when they need them.

Despite the challenges, Halsted is optimistic, especially as he looks at the continued growth of backyard enthusiasts, small-scale farming  and people who want to raise birds for their own use, whether they want the eggs or fresh chicken.

“Growth is occurring in the backyard movement and people wanting to know where their food is coming from,” Halsted says. “People today are eating out less, so they see the value in knowing the source of their food, but they also like the idea of having fresh eggs.”

Among the top sellers: ISA Brown, Rhode Island Red, Americana, and Red Ranger chickens. For more information on Hoover's Hatchery, and to see the company's catalogue, go to www.hoovershatchery.com.

Yontz is a freelance writer from Urbandale.


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