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ACGC senior Hunter Dahline continues to expand his chicken hatchery business

Hunter Dahline started Dahline Poultry in 2018, when he was 14 years old. He hatches and ships 10,000 to 15,000 chicks a week from his facility.

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Day-old chicks crawl atop blue eggs Feb. 20, 2023, at the Dahline Poultry hatchery near Atwater. Eggs are placed into one of two incubators at the hatchery for a total of 21 days.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

ATWATER โ€” As the tape seal was peeled off the door of the egg incubator, the soft "cheep, cheeps" from dozens, if not hundreds, of newly-hatched chicks started to rise in volume, indicating another successful hatching at Dahline Poultry . These chicks would soon find themselves being shipped across the country, following thousands before them.

"Right now we are shipping anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 a week," said Hunter Dahline, the 18-year-old owner and founder of Dahline Poultry with facilities near Willmar and Atwater. "I never thought we would ever be this big, ever."

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Hunter Dahline started Dahline Poultry in 2018, when he was only 14 years old. He plans to continue expanding the business as he nears his high school graduation.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Dahline Poultry was started in 2018, when its young founder was only around 14 years old, but his interest in chickens began earlier.

"I've been into chickens since I was 12," Dahline said. His grandparents had an old egg incubator on their farm and Dahline decided to give it a try. "I wanted to hatch some chicks. It took off from there."

He first started with just selling eggs from his hens, but soon understood it wouldn't make a financially successful enterprise. He also began to see that customers were interested in buying live chicks and were coming back to do business again and again.

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"It gave me a passion to want to do it," Dahline said, adding he always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and thought he would one day own his business.

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In the incubator at Dahline Poultry, eggs hatch within 21 days. These chicks were born Feb. 20, 2023.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Dahline Poultry hatches and ships eight different breeds of chicken. The two most popular breeds are the Cornish Cross for those looking for a meat bird and the Red Sex Link for a laying hen.

"They are the ones that sell the best," Dahline said.

Most of the layer flocks, which produce the eggs for Dahline Poultry, are raised on Amish farms near Clarissa, while another 300 birds are kept on the home farm near Willmar.

"They raise the birds for us and we collect the eggs off the farm," Dahline said. "We have about 2,000 total."

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Thousands of eggs are placed in the Dahline Poultry incubator at one time. Every week Dahline Poultry hatches and ships between 10,000 and 15,000 chicks.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Once the eggs are brought to the hatchery they are cleaned and/or sanitized if needed and then placed into the larger incubator, which can hold up to 14,000 eggs at one time. Currently the Dahline Poultry hatchery is located in a rented space near Atwater. Dahline said the purchase of the larger incubator made it necessary to find a larger location.

Dahline hopes to build his own hatchery building soon.

"We plan to keep expanding," Dahline said.

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The eggs are kept in the larger incubator for about 18 days before they are moved to a smaller machine for the remaining few days of the 21-day incubation period. Then suddenly hundreds of eggs become hundreds of chirping chicks. Within a few days, weather-permitting, those chicks are off to their new homes.

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A chick, just a few hours old, sits next to an egg in the process of hatching at Dahline Poultry on Feb. 20, 2023.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

"Then we get them boxed up and the chicks are shipped through the postal service," Dahline said.

It may seem odd to hear that live animals are shipped through the United States Postal Service. Dahline said he and his crew keep an eye out on weather across the country, to make sure the birds are shipped properly. He says it is imperative to have a good relationship with the post office. Without it, things can go very wrong.

"You need to work with them, not against them," Dahline said.

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Hunter Dahline and Brent Johnson move one tray of baby chicks to reveal another tray at the Dahline Poultry hatchery near Atwater on Feb. 20, 2023. Dahline hatches around eight breeds of chickens, both meat and layers.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Dahline Poultry started on good footing that has only gotten better as its grown. Dahline can barely keep up with orders and saw a major jump in sales for meat chickens when the pandemic hit and then a massive increase in laying hen requests as egg prices skyrocketed over the last year.

"I can't hatch enough chickens," Dahline said. "Customer feels like they've got to know where their food comes from, which I think is a good thing."

Once the chicks are shipped out, Dahline Poultry has no further responsibility for the birds. That's not to say that Dahline doesn't keep an eye on how his birds do.

"I stay connected with the customers. That is one thing I've learned, you have to treat them like family," Dahline said. "Without them, I won't have a business."

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Dahline Poultry hatches about eight different breeds of chickens, which come in various colors. These chicks were born Feb. 20, 2023.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Dahline hasn't made the business a success on his own. A network of family and friends have been instrumental in helping him run it, and also teach him about owning a business.

"It took a lot of help from my parents," Ben and Sue Dahline, Dahline said.

Assisting with the day-to-day operations of Dahline Poultry are three other ACGC seniors โ€” Connor Foltz, Brent Johnson and Keegan Kessler-Gross.

"We all work pretty well together," Dahline said.

Another major help as been ACGC Schools. The district has allowed Dahline to take time to care for his business, even if it sometimes overlaps with class.

"The school has been so understanding in what I am doing and flexible," Dahline said.

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The majority of the day to day operations at Dahline Poultry are done by a crew of high school seniors from ACGC. They are owner Hunter Dahline and his employees Conner Foltz, Brent Johnson and Keegan Kessler-Gross.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

As Dahline looks forward to his high school graduation this spring, he is already making plans for the future, which he believes Dahline Poultry will feature greatly. This upcoming fall, once the hatching season is done, Dahline plans to travel to other hatcheries and continue building relationships with others in the business. He hopes to learn from them and see if there are ways he could make his business even better.

"Be friends with your competitors, not enemies," Dahline said.

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For those wanting to start their own business, whether they are teenagers or not, Dahline has simple advice: get out of bed and start the day.

"You have to be willing to wake up in the morning and put your mind to do something," Dahline said.

The advice seems to have worked for Dahline, who said he is normally up by 5 a.m. and ready to do what he must to make his life and business a success.

"You have to want it," Dahline said.

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Fluffy, yellow chicks were born Feb. 20, 2023 at Dahline Poultry. These chicks were probably shipped off to their new home within days of being born.
Shelby Lindrud / West Central Tribune

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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