By James Tababa
Health is becoming the number one concern for many people when choosing their food. Such is the case for Emerson Siscar, manager and owner of Batangas Free Range Chicken. He started a farm in Sta. Teresita, Batangas to raise natural free-range chicken for their family’s personal consumption.
The idea of establishing the farm started when Siscar decided to change his lifestyle. He was a smoker and was not happy with his weight. He wanted to change his diet, so he developed a farm initially intended to produce his own food. Later, he decided to turn it into a sustainable chicken business.
Siscar is an IT professional at De La Salle College of Saint Benilde. In 2010, he was planning to work abroad because there was a great demand for his profession. But he changed his mind the following year as he realized he did not want to sacrifice his time away from his family. This was when he thought of building a business from the farm he started.
Conceptualizing the business model
To have an idea of how to start running a business, Siscar attended training sessions and consulted business professionals for advice. In a training session with Robert Kiyosaki, an American businessman, entrepreneur, bestselling author, he was told that if he wanted to start a business, he should think of something that he loved doing when he was a kid because that is where his passion is.
Siscar was surprised by these words because he was already planning on doing this. “What I really love doing is raising chicken. Since I was a kid in about 2nd grade, I have already been breeding chickens,” he said.
Siscar wanted a business that was different from others. He wanted to start something that nobody else was doing back then. He thought of doing free-range chicken farming.
Free-range chicken farming
Free-range chicken farming is a system of production that raises chickens in an environment that allows the birds to exhibit their natural behavior. This production system allows chickens access to forage, grasses, insects, and sunlight.
“We venture into free-range chicken farming because it is a healthier way of producing chicken. It is cheaper in terms of building infrastructure. Some people think free-range chicken farming is organic, but it is not. Free-range chicken farming does not automatically give an organic product,” Siscar said.
The difference between organic and free-range farming systems is that organic farming should be regulated, inspected, and licensed by an accrediting body, while free-range farming is just a term used to describe the farming method.
Siscar’s business strategy
“I started a backyard consisting of 500-1000 chickens because knowing myself, if I start small, I may neglect it. So, what I did was I started with a big capital to commit myself to the business. In other words, there is no turning back,” Siscar said.
After purchasing the chickens, he applied for a service leave from his current occupation. He took this opportunity to look for markets.
“Immediately, the client I targeted was the most expensive hotel in the Philippines. Our very first client is Amanpulo in Palawan. It took me two months before I convinced them to use [our] eggs and chicken. This is remarkable for our venture because it was hard to convince them to use brown eggs at that time. In 2011, there were still few brown eggs in the market. I can say that I am one who pushed the brown free-range chicken eggs into supermarkets,” Siscar said. “We are happy to say that Amanpulo is getting eggs from us.”
“The reason behind the strategy is that if I am able to convince Amanpulo, who happens to be the most expensive [hotel] at that time, [to buy eggs from us], I won’t be having difficulty convincing the other market. True enough, when we offer our products to other hotels like Shangri-La, we don’t have a hard time convincing them to take our product. We are now selling our products in selected supermarkets like Marketplace, Robinson store, and Santi’s. Until now, we are still in a niche market that trusts us to produce chicken and eggs,” he added.
The community of Sta. Teresita is also actively involved in their business operation. “I believe that I need to help other communities. As a form of expansion, what we did was we taught communities how to raise free-range chickens. Then we monitored their production and bought everything from them,” Siscar said. “In a way, it is our social responsibility. We believe it has an impact because some of our client hotels like this particular aspect of our production.”
Eggs and chicken products
There are two products offered by the Batangas Free-range Chicken – ALA Eggs and ALPAS.
Aside from sounding like the famous stereotyped expressions of Batangueños, Ala eh!’, the brand name of the eggs, ALA Eggs, means alternative agriculture in producing eggs. Alternative agriculture refers to the free-range farming system that the farm implements.
The brand name of the dressed chicken is ALPAS, a Filipino term for free or unconfined. It also means Alternative Livestock-Poultry Productions and Systems. “I included livestock because later on, I thought, we can raise different animals like pigs and cattle that will still fall under the same brand, ALPAS,” he said.
“In a free-range system, the bird can forage in any available plants, vegetables, and insects in the farm, in a way, making it tastier and healthier than caged birds. Our meat-type chicken takes 70 days in the ranging area, while the commercial chicken found in the supermarket, the regular commercial broiler, only takes 25 to 28 days. It is laborious, but in terms of housing, it is cheaper. We utilize available materials present on the farm to build cheaper, yet sturdy, chicken housing,” Siscar explained.
To manage 10,000 heads of chicken without antibiotics, Siscar grouped the chicken in groups of 500 to 700 so that they could easily be monitored. This is also done to easily isolate chicken for disease management.
Their products are slightly higher than the commercial prices, but rest assured that they are authentic clean poultry products. Their farm is compliant to government requirements and policies. Batangas free-range chicken farm is accredited by the Bureau of Animal Industry and compliant with the animal welfare act.
Mislabeled products in the market
Siscar sometimes encounters an alarming problem in the market: mislabeling. “There are lots of challenges, like the presence of competing mislabeled poultry brands. Other brands only buy from commercial farms and label them organic, but they are actually not. It is difficult to raise it in the government body because there is no strong policy on how to police them. At the end of the day who suffers are the consumers. Especially those who are looking for clean and healthy products,” he said.
Siscar already filed a complaint to authorities, but there were no actions taken to solve the problem because it is not clear who should regulate the mislabeled products in the market.
Business opportunities in agriculture
“The market for free-range chicken products is really huge here and abroad. We alone cannot embrace it. There are a lot of opportunities, even with just chicken and eggs. Thinking about the whole supply chain, we can produce organic feeds, put up our own processing plants, and we can make naturally processed organic products. People have to organize themselves to come up with a bigger plan to supply the market,” Siscar said. “Business opportunities in agriculture are huge and so many.”
“There are a lot of start-up free-range chicken farms, but eventually, they stop because it is very challenging, and they give up early. That is why, until now, we are one of the remaining few who are still in the market because this is what we really want to do,” he added. “To stay in our operation, one secret is to keep innovating. We have to keep on thinking about how we are going to be different from the rest. That is very important.”
Photo courtesy of Emerson Siscar