Schafer Farm is a family operation consisting of 540 rolling acres in the Green Hills of northern Missouri, and is divided evenly between woodland and open land. Erosion and high input costs caused a change of direction in 1983 away from cropland toward pasture land and livestock. Management intensive grazing (MIG) is used with all livestock including the pigs and chickens. The farm supports around 160,000 pounds of cattle and 50,000 pounds of sheep as well as increasing number of chickens and pigs.
These products are marketed directly either as purebred stock or as naturally raised meat. Chemicals and fertilizers were last used in 1987. Other inputs, machinery and fuel use have steadily been reduced. The weak link we now face is consumer education and product marketing.
This project increases Schafer Farm’s sustainability by expanding our niche of sustainably raised meat products. By making consumers aware of different models of production, we hope to widen the market for sustainably raised foods.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
The goals of this grant were to facilitate our entry into pastured poultry and hog production, demonstrate that entry to other producers and educate consumers about different production models so that they can make more sustainable food choices.
With SARE assistance we built a prototype poultry pen, purchased rudimentary processing equipment and conducted a demonstration field day. Funds were also used to conduct a seminar with Tom Frantzen I which Frantzen discussed his pastured hog system.
Patterned after Joel Salatin’s model in Virginia, we built 10X12 foot moveable cages. These have aluminum around one half (for protection from the weather) and poultry netting around the other half. There is no floor so the chicks have the opportunity to express there natural behaviors as well as getting 20 to 30% of their feed form the pasture. Pens were moved daily. The chicks grew extremely well and were very easy to market. We grew 300 in 1994 and more than double that in 1995.
In 1994 we ran the hogs in the woods, moving them every 3 to 5 days. Their pastures were made from electric netting and were roughly 40’ by 40’. They did beautifully, never had an odor, gained well and had only a positive impact on the areas they occupied as far as we can tell. In 1995 we ran the hogs in the lean-to of the barn on our cattle winter composted bedding. The hogs completely turned the compost thoroughly enjoying the whole exercise. Later we also allowed them into some of the corral pens where they cleaned up the whole area. We used photos of both the chicken and hogs regularly in slide talks.
To satisfy our outreach goals we hosted a filed day to demonstrate these models. About 150 people attended. The field day was a combination field day with our 1994 SARE grant for water systems. It was conducted as a walk that people followed and there were several stops along the way: pastured chickens where Dennis McDonald spoke, low input cattle production with Alice Dobbs, management intensive grazing with Jim Gerrish, stockpiling for winter grazing with Fred Martz, water systems with David Schafer, SARE producer grants with Jerry Jost, nutrient cycling with Paul Peterson, pastured pigs with Chad Vadnais, and forage identification with Dennis Browning, Missouri Department of Conservation. There were also 3 fence distributors and a kelp distributor along the walk. This made a total of 13 stops which we felt would get more people to the field day as opposed to having 2 separate field days with only 1 or 2 subjects. The survey showed the field day to be very successful.
Another aspect of the outreach was the seminar which included Tom Frantzen and Bill Heffernan. Tom Frantzen’s made 2 presentations: the first was about Practical Farmers of Iowa – Can Grassroots Groups be Effective? The second was about Holistic Resource Management on the Frantzen Farm and included his innovative methods of pastured hog production. Bill Heffernan also made 2 presentations: one about US agriculture in the global economy and the second about new opportunities in agriculture. Between 50 and 75 people came to the seminar. We mailed a flyer out to over 800 people (our own mailing list and the Green Hills Farm Project mailing list).
The outdoor models of poultry and swine production are so simple there really isn’t a lot to say about the process. Once the cage or pen material is assembled it is simply a matter of routine feeding, watering and shifting the groups in a timely manner.
As a result of this project and field day, several other nearby farms became interested in chicken raising and a cooperative of sorts formed. In 1995 five families began producing chickens. The group of 6 families (including us) built chicken pens together, purchased feed and waterers together, prepared the processing equipment and processed 3000 chickens together. The Green Hills Farm Project cluster members were also involved in the field day activities as well as voting to spend some Green Hills funds on chicken processing equipment. Those helping at the field day were:
– Dennis McDonald
– Chad and Vicki Vadnais
– Jim Gerrish
– Jerry and Jeannie Parks
– Loren and Linda Baugher
– Fred and Donna Martz
– Paul Peterson
– Jerry Jost
– Dennis Browning
– Willy Kilmer, Willy Wire
– Dave and Connie Krider, Green Hills Grazing Supply
– Howard Jewell, Gallagher Fence
– Norbert Haverkamp, Natur’s Way Inc.
Speakers for seminar:
– Tom Frantzen
– Bill Heffernan
The results were delicious! We ran out of chickens and were always behind on orders. The pork also received rave reviews. Several customers said it was the best they had ever eaten. We certainly felt that way. We are convinced every farm in the country could and should run 8 or 10 or 12 outdoor hogs just to have the delicious pork and to enjoy the antics of these wonderful creatures.
As for the economic impact of these operations we expect to be marketing over $10,000 worth of chickens and $5,000 of pork in 1996 with return over costs of 50% on each enterprise. This little project shows the immense potential of putting farmers back on the land. The net income form 1500 chickens and 14 pigs is about $7,500! That’s only in five or six months of the year. The social, environmental and economical impacts are amazing if the farmer is willing to do a little bit of marketing.
Field day – A field day was held on October 1, 1994 and demonstrated the chickens and hogs on pasture. Enclosed is the field day flyer that was sent out to over 800 people. It lists the other stops people could visit on the field day walk. 127 people registered which did not include children, some spouses, 14 Green Hills Farm Project members, 6 merchants and those who did not sign in.
Slide presentation – Information from this project has been incorporated into a slide presentation made to various groups of farmers and consumers throughout the year. Both Schafer and Dobbs speak periodically; this information will be presented when appropriate.
Report – A report – essentially section I and II of this report – will be made available to interested parties upon request.
Articles – An article written by David was featured in the December 1995 issue of the Country Journal magazine with has 150,000 subscribers nationwide. In it the pastured pigs and chickens were mentioned. Many calls from consumers were received; several farmers or would-be farmers have made appointments to visit.
An offshoot of this project was a search for poultry processing equipment which led Amish man, Ernie Kauffman, who processed our chickens the first year, to build a very inexpensive picker of his own. David wrote on article about this picker and the farm show magazine asked to include it. From those two sources we get several calls or letters every week. We have drafted plans of the picker which we mail out.
Phone calls – we spend a lot of time on the phone talking to folks about chickens, not so much about hog. Although the hogs are just as big an opportunity, the marketing of chickens is much easier.