Crystal Lake free ranger

Crystal Lake Free Ranger Chicken

West Liberty Foods will add free range, slow growth chickens to its offerings with the acquisition of an Arkansas-based chicken grower and processor.

The West Liberty, Iowa, company said it has agreed to purchase the assets of Crystal Lake Farms and Free Ranger, headquartered in Decatur, Arkansas. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

The acquisition includes a 60,000-square-foot processing plant in Jay, Oklahoma, and breeder facilities in the region, located on the Arkansas/Oklahoma border, Dan Waters, West Liberty Foods' vice president and general counsel, said Tuesday (Feb. 28).

The plant employs 140 people, who are expected to be retained after the deal closes in less than 45 days, he added. The plant processes about 75,000 chickens per week, which West Liberty Foods expects to expand.

From the breeder facilities, where the hens lay the eggs to be hatched, he said the baby chicks are then contracted out to local farmers to raise until they are sent to the processing plant.

"This expansion of our business will allow us to meet the growing consumer demand for humanely grown, pasture raised poultry," West Liberty Foods CEO Ed Garrett said in a news release.

According to Waters, the acquisition came about after West Liberty Foods had a request for free range, slow growth chickens by one of its customers. "There's a segment of the market that likes this product," he said.

Crystal Lake Farm's broilers carry a Step 4 rating from the Global Animal Partnership, which means they are raised with pasture-centered, animal-welfare-friendly farming practices. Its Free Ranger chicken is a slower growing chicken that thrives both inside and outside.

West Liberty Foods offers turkey, chicken, beef and pork to well-known food service and retail customers, but had not offered free range, slow growth chicken, Water said.

Crystal Lake Farms is a family-owned company traces its roots to 1939 when the founder Lloyd Peterson began Peterson Produce, its website says. Today, his grandson, Blake Evans, is at the helm.

Waters said Evans will remain part of the leadership team in charge of the breeder facilities and hatcheries.

West Liberty Foods employs more than 2,700 employees at six locations in three states, including West Liberty and Mount Pleasant, Iowa; Bolingbrook, Illinois; and Tremonton, Utah.

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