I purchased my first fowls in 1900 at just 14 years old. I had visited the Sydney Royal Show and fell in love with the beautiful fowls exhibited. Friends and advisors changed my ideas as to what kind of fowls I would purchase at least a dozen times, before I finally decided to own a trio of Black Orpingtons. For these I paid £5/5/–, my whole capital. And I can well remember the looks of disgust and discouraging comment which my parents bestowed upon me.
From the trio, I reared some very fine progeny, but as they were purely "show" birds I proved them to be very poor layers, so much so that I decided to clear them out and start afresh. The following season I made arrangements with one of the best breeders for a pair of White Leghorns, and saw a great improvement in the egg-yield. I reared about 100 pullets that year and by dint of careful management I had most of them laying in the following autumn and winter.
At this time I was working in one of the large drapery establishments in Sydney. As I felt discontented with the endless routine, and I was actually making more money out of my fowls, I decided to start poultry farming for a living as soon as I had enough capital. My plans were then upset by my parents deciding to go into business again in the city, and being only 17 years at the time, I was prevailed upon to go with them. This caused me to again sell all my stock, which I had been three years getting together, but as I realised about £100 by the sale, I had not done so badly on my original investment.
Four years elapsed before I had the opportunity of pursuing poultry farming once more. The £100 I had received from the sale of the stock four years earlier was all the capital I had, as the wages I received as a draper's assistant were not large enough to permit any saving. At 21 I took my courage in both hands and launched myself on my poultry farming career with very little capital, but a large quantity of ambition and resolution.
I purchased a pen each of White Leghorns, Wyandottes and Black Orpingtons, and the same year hatched 600 chicks. Over the next couple of years I found that the greatest trouble experienced by the average poultry farmer was to get a good supply of early chicks. This set me thinking seriously, and as I had always made my own incubators and had good results. I decided to cater for this market.
Prior to that time, nobody had seriously thought of selling day-old chicks in large numbers. In spite of other folks' opinions, I felt sure that if I could only impress on the poultry farming community that they could purchase really good quality chicks at reasonable prices, that success would be certain. And I proved it in 1909, selling 4,000 chicks my first season. Ten years later I was selling 50,000 chicks annually, and this season (1928) I am sure to hatch more than 100,000.
My figures show such a rapid and enormous growth that I am convinced that future poultry farmers will increasingly rely on the baby chick specialist to supply their stock. My contention has always been that to succeed in this business, the price must be so low that it pays a farmer to buy chicks rather than hatch themselves. It is the enormous quantity that enables me to sell such good chicks at so low a price.
I must strike a note of warning, and it is that price and value go hand-in-hand. While it is possible that chicks of apparent good value could be sold at less than my prices, I am absolutely confident that chicks with the years of careful breeding that Pioneer chicks have, cannot. In fact, cost of production has mounted so rapidly that it is only by good management, plus an enormous output that we are enabled to fix prices at the current level.
I recognise of course, that costs could be cut considerably if I were prepared to relax our standard of quality, but I would rather leave the business. It has always been my aim to keep Pioneer quality at least equal to or better, than the competition. As long as I live, and I trust also my sons after me, I will always stand firm on this point.
Written by Charles Leach in 1928, edited for clarity. Charles Leach is ecoeggs co-founder Ray's grandfather.