Chicks Love Charley

Words by Carmen Macri and Ambar Ramirez 

 

A seemingly harmless COVID project turned into a massive success story. 

 

Back in 2020, Charley Harrold was facing difficulty finding work in the film industry as a grip which involves setting up, rigging and dismantling lighting equipment on set, a job he described as “problem-solving on set.” When job opportunities were scarce, Harrold turned his attention to projects around his 6-acre property in Baldwin. One day, he visited Tractor Supply Co. to pick up a part for a new project. While browsing the aisles, he noticed the chick pen. Without giving it much thought, he left the store with the part he needed. However, about two hours later, he realized he had purchased the wrong part and returned to Tractor Supply Co., only to find that all the chickens had been sold.

 

“They were all gone in a matter of a couple hours and I thought, ‘That’s really something,’” Harrold expressed. “I was like, ‘Wow, I wonder how much it cost and how much you can make, and what happens if you give people other options besides just a baby chick.’ And this idea was born of hey, let’s jump into, like, not a feed store, but a community-based backyard chicken farm where we can take people along for the ride.”

 

And thus, Charley’s Chicks was born. Harrold and his wife quickly got to work building dozens of chicken coops, pens, barns and heating and cooling rigs. Being not only a first-time chicken owner and backyard chicken seller, it was a lot of trial and error for the family. They wanted to separate themselves from places like Tractor Supply Co. who use chick sales as an initiative to sell chicken feed. They wanted to focus on the prosperity of their chicks and chickens. Harrold wanted to create a community — and that is exactly what he did. 

 

“I believe that we’re set apart by the goal. The goal is not to sell chicks or to entice people to buy feed. It’s not an advertisement ploy. It’s a sustainable way of life. We are fully invested in chickens — in all aspects,” Harrold shared. “And in order to be a resource for our community, we wanted to know what it takes to raise the chick to the bird to the egg.” 

 

Harrold and his wife embarked on their journey as chicken owners for the first time when they purchased a couple dozen chicks. With no prior experience, they found themselves learning what to do and what not to do in real time. As the chicks grew older, Harrold decided to post on Facebook, announcing that they had pasture-raised backyard chicks for sale. To their surprise, almost instantaneously, all of the chickens were bought, leaving them both amazed and pleased with their first venture into poultry farming. 

 

It wasn’t without its challenges, however. They lost a few chicks along the way, but that comes with the territory of running a backyard chicken business. Harrold faced each challenge head-on, turning each set-back into valuable learning experiences. He used the hurdles he encountered to educate future buyers about what works and what doesn’t for raising chicks.

 

“Taking all that knowledge of a lot of failures and some victories and passing that on to our customers so that they can have an understanding of what it means to have chickens,” Harrold explained. “So bringing that education to this facility is what makes us more than a feed store. It sets us apart as a resource when you don’t know what to do if you want chickens.”

 

For example, Harrold emphasizes the importance of biosecurity in poultry farming. He explains that wearing specific footwear, although not fashionable, is necessary to prevent the spread of bacteria. He stresses the significance of washing hands before and after handling chickens and recommends having dedicated clothing and boots for chicken care. Harrold highlights the importance of controlling access to the chicken coop to protect the health of the birds and the community. Like anything, chickens are an investment, and it’s crucial to teach proper biosecurity protocols to ensure their well-being and the safety of everyone involved. If he is going to take the time and effort to protect his birds, he wants to ensure they are setting up new chicken owners with the proper information on how to execute raising backyard chickens. 

 

In just four years, the family-owned business has grown from not only being a place where local families can take the first step into becoming chicken owners but also an operation that works with local farm-to-table restaurants and cafes.

 

And before you panic, no, Charley’s Chicks is not harvesting your beloved pet chickens. Harrold runs and operates a completely separate business called Southern Acre Farms where he raises and harvests chickens away from Charley’s Chicks for poultry consumption. Both Southern Acre Farms and Charley’s Chicks are centered on sustainability and raising healthy chickens. 

 

Along with practicing biosecurity farming, Harrold has done intensive research on what the 60 to 70 different breeds of chickens need in their diet — project-verified, non-GMO custom-formulated feed. 

 

“So what they need socially and what they need nutritionally is really what our main focus is,” Harrold said. “You can feed chickens almost anything because they’re omnivores. Sad truth is, if you don’t feed them, they’ll eat each other. So we had the choice to either feed our birds for sustainability or feed them for nutrition. We can feed them almost anything, keep them alive. What happens if we step it up a notch and give them something to perform?”

 

As one can imagine, raising about 5,000 chickens comes with a lot of challenges. Harrold said it best, dealing with any sort of living, breathing thing brings its own battles, regardless of the scale. And when it came to managing feed bills, Harrold knew the price would be steep. But what he didn’t expect was the customer relations that came with running a company. 

 

“We chose to get rid of bioengineered ingredients, which increased the cost to feed our animals. But it’s something that we believe in. What we didn’t expect was the customer relations aspect of what we do,” Harrold shared. “Being a resource means you gotta follow through with what you’re saying. So if there’s a problem, we need to be there to answer it. We get hundreds of messages a day on Facebook, Instagram, Google and our website. So we just try to instill this community-based system where you don’t have to spend money. Just give us a holler and we’re going to help you.” 

 

In line with their message of being an honest and transparent husbandry for the community, every last Saturday of the month Charley’s Chicks hosts a Chick Sale. These chick sales are more than an event to snag a great deal on some chicks — buy one, get one free — but a day dedicated to fostering a community based on becoming self-sustainable. Along with being a place to purchase baby chicks, Harrold takes this day as an opportunity to talk with previous and new customers about what it takes to raise chickens (how many times can we say chickens in one article?) 

 

And since Harrold is keen on practicing biosecurity, only three customers are allowed in the barn at a time, so the line does get a bit long. In order to control traffic and keep customers engaged, Harrold opens the door to local vendors that are also on the journey of providing home-grown and handmade items, giving his loyal customers the opportunity to browse rather than simply sit in the sweltering sun. 

 

“The event is an awesome opportunity to talk chicken and meet other folks in your community. We’re so beyond honored to have the attention that we have from our community,” Harrold shared. “We’ve put some policies in place to make sure that people feel valued because we genuinely want them to be valued. If you’re going to spend your dollar here, we want to make sure that we are a continual resource for that dollar spent. If you’ve trusted us with your money and our chickens, then we want to honor that trust with continued support.”

 

If you’re interested in taking the leap of becoming a backyard chicken owner or have questions regarding raising chickens, check out charleyschicks.com. Their door is always open. 

About Carmen Macri

Since a young age, Carmen Macri knew she wanted to be a writer. She started as our student intern and has advanced to Multi-media Journalist/Creative. She graduated from the University of North Florida and quickly found her home with Folio Weekly. She juggles writing, photography and running Folio’s social media accounts.