An award-winning poultry farmer in Miaoli County has carved out a niche for himself in the organic produce market, by raising his brand of “vegetarian-feed chickens” without using animal protein additives or growth hormones.
Wei Chu-ting (魏趨鼎) insists on giving consumers peace of mind when they purchase his poultry.
“The chickens that I raise may not be the tastiest, but I want them to be the healthiest. We should reduce concerns [about meat safety] and minimize health risk factors for customers,” Wei said.
A winner of Taiwan’s annual Ten Outstanding Farmers Award this year, Wei tears up when talking about his father, who died of cancer a number of years ago, but who had inspired him to set out on the road to raise “healthy, non-toxic” chickens.
During his childhood in Miaoli County, Wei’s father raised chickens at home to supplement the family’s income. As a child, Wei had to help feed the birds, clean up their droppings and handle the poultry when they were inoculated. He became experienced in the travails and laborious work of looking after chickens day and night.
“It got to the point that I dreaded seeing the chickens,” he said.
As he reached adulthood, Wei headed to Taipei to start a career as an auto mechanic, and later progressed to work in sales. Wei considered himself quite successful after achieving an annual salary of more than NT$1 million (US$33,670).
“Although working in sales provided a good income, there was a lot of psychological pressures involved,” he said.
In 1995, Wei decided to return to his parents, who were living by themselves. He gave up his high-paying job and returned to Houlung Township (後龍) in Miaoli County to take over the family poultry business from his father.
Happy that his son wanted to carry on the business, his father took out a bank loan, using the family estate as collateral, to build new feedlots for more chickens.
However, the year the feedlots were completed and they started to raise more chickens, the market collapsed. The poultry price dropped to NT$14 per Taiwanese jin (台斤, 600g). Wei had to drive his truck around town to sell 10 chickens for NT$1,000, and still some people said his price was too high.
Chang said that with a lot of hard work he was able to sell most of their chickens that year.
Then a foot-and-mouth epidemic decimated the pork industry, causing the price of poultry to shoot up to NT$54 per jin. The prices of poultry and other meat seesawed for some time afterwards, but Wei said he missed out several times when prices were good. He became frustrated and discouraged.
Wei said he was just a small-scale poultry farmer and it was impossible to compete against the low prices charged by large corporations. However, one day a customer asked him: “How do the chickens you are selling differ from chickens sold by others?”
That question made him think long and hard, and he came to the realization that he had to offer something different.
“I had to make my chickens different and offer something special, so I could create a niche market,” Wei said.
His father was then diagnosed with cancer, so Wei vowed to “raise the healthiest chickens, which are the safest for people to eat.”
Wei attended food safety certification classes offered by the Council of Agriculture as well as seminars to learn about the latest developments in poultry farming, and to obtain new knowledge about the industry.