Every autumn, freshmen agriculture students at Cascade High School take a plunge into the broiler business. The seven- to eight-week course isn't necessarily intended to teach the students about broiler production, so much as to introduce them to business record-keeping skills and some basic business principles.
"The key thing is to get the record book taught to them," explained Cascade agriculture instructor Milt Luckstead. "If they don't know how to keep records, it's a detriment to future success."
A crop of broilers only takes a few weeks from chicks to market, so "it's the quickest way we can teach about record books," Luckstead said.
The broiler project begins just after the egg stage with chicks that weigh about 1.5 ounces when they are shipped in the mail at 1 day of age. The broilers will weigh seven to eight pounds when processed.
To make sure their enterprise is on track, the students must keep records on the birds' progress.
Once a week, the freshmen ag students travel to the Ron Kurt farm outside of Cascade to check on their livestock. Kurt has donated the use of a chicken house and utilities on his farm. He also tends to the feeding and care of the chickens the other six days of the week.
The students weigh the birds, check over the facilities and note which chickens are progressing well and which are not.
A recent Thursday found the small building full of chickens, and students bringing in buckets of feed or catching young chickens for weighing.
Tara Cook, 14, finished up her share of the chores and was waiting outside. She has more than a passing interest in this project, having recently purchased 75 chicks for her own business.
"If something goes wrong here, I know what to do at home," Cook explained. She is already keeping records on her enterprise, as well as the project.
Tyler McQuillen, 15, keeps records on the hogs and beef cattle he raises at home. Although raising chickens is different than cattle or hogs, McQuillen thinks he might pick up some pointers from the broiler project.
"It teaches us how to keep records on our own stuff at home," he said.
Back at the school later, the students log the week's progress. John Lynch, 14, makes some entries in his notebook.
"We opened windows for ventilation," Lynch wrote. "They weighed about three pounds. We also took the heat lamps."
The training in record-keeping does not stop with the first few weeks of school. Agriculture students at Cascade also must select a "supervised agriculture experience" project to maintain through high school. The projects can be just about anything, from horticulture, ag mechanics, beef, to landscaping and outdoor recreation. By graduation, the students should have some idea how a business is run.
Students must keep records on their "SAE" projects as well "to understand what costs are involved in an enterprise and whether there is a chance to be profitable or not," Luckstead said.
The lesson wasn't lost on Dan Stoll, a sophomore who participated in the broiler project last year. Stoll now has his own broiler business.
"If you're going to be successful, you have to have records, to know if you're making money, or if you're not, to change it," the young businessman said.
The freshman broiler project also evolved into a business for fellow entrepreneur and classmate Tim Andrews. Andrews had some experience with raising chickens previously, but through the project learned how to keep detailed records on feed costs and consumption, income and budgeting. Andrews said the lessons he received from the broiler project were practical.
"How to invest our money, how to budget it and how to make as much money as possible from what you've got" he said.
Andrews managed to show a $275 profit on his last batch of 75 broilers. Andrews and Stoll think they have found a niche market that has worked well for them. Many of their customers are repeat business.
"The home-raised chickens are so much better than what you get out of the store," Stoll said.
Consequently, "It's really no problem selling chickens around here."
The broilers from the class project will be processed in Urbana, Iowa, and sold in the Cascade area, mostly to teachers, students' families, and other customers in the community.