Over the winter, we interviewed farmers across the country in an effort to highlight both the challenges and triumphs of sustainable farmers across the country. Join us as we delve in to discover what it means to be a farmer in the 21st century.
Cole Desmond raises poultry and eggs on 10.2 acres at Chicken Little Farm in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
What do you grow/raise on your farm?
Our core enterprise is our egg business. Retailing and wholesaling throughout our area. We also grow pastured broilers, pastured turkeys and free-to-roam broilers. Because we are a diversified operation, we are also starting to expand into new markets. The spring of 2014 marks our first year raising ducks for meat, and duck eggs. We are looking forward to the quickly approaching season, and can't wait for spring.
How many acres do you farm?
Our farm is small, but we use every last inch of the properly effectively. We have 10.2 acres, and probably about eight acres of full pasture. Using the land effectively allows us to get more use per square-foot than a factory farm. For example, keeping turkeys on different pastures every year allows us to use our own natural fertilizer, so we decrease labor cost while increasing production. Small choices to go green actually increase productivity, while keeping cost relativity low.
What's a typical day in the life on your farm?
A typical day on our farm includes, the owner (myself), getting up at 5 am to fill the feeders, take a head count on the birds, check water levels, and to make sure that the coops aren't getting too dirty. These chores, along with washing and collecting eggs generally take about two hours and I can leave to go to school (I'm 16 ) by 7. After I return from school, I collect and wash the rest of the eggs, and most days do deliveries. I am constantly calling and talking to other farmers in the area to keep up with the local happenings, and to receive advice if needed. During the spring and summer, we are constantly processing birds, and firing on all cylinders to get the herbs planted and harvested, and to keep up with the pasture rotation and management. The season may be hectic, but we love it!
Describe your local food community in four words.
Young, knowledgeable, sustainable, and health-conscious.
What is your favorite aspect of farming?
My favorite aspect of farming is packaging my products. The satisfaction I get from closing the carton, or applying the label to the freshly wrapped bird leaves me with a sense pride; knowing that my father and I were able to produce a healthy local product for our community is heart-warming.
I decided to take a break one year to focus on school, but I quickly decided that I couldn't stay away.
How did you decide to get into growing food/raising animals? What did you do before you got into farming?
My father bought the farm about ten years ago. We only had ever had horses, but he grew up raising chickens and poultry all throughout his childhood. When I started taking the chicks that my local elementary school hatched in 2007, a tradition was born. My flock size has doubled nearly every year. I decided to take a break one year to focus on school, but I quickly decided that I couldn't stay away. Chicken Little Farm is back and here to stay!
How did you get access to your land? Do you own or lease?
My father owns the property and I focus my pasture management around his horse boarding business. Owning our own land has allowed us to constantly develop our systems until we found one that works just right.
What is your philosophy of growing food/raising animals? Are you USDA Certified Organic? If so, what motivated you to join the program?
My philosophy on raising food, is found right inside our mission statement: 3-H Rule; To create Happy Healthy, Hearty Poultry. From the time the birds are brought to our hatchery as chicks, our goal is to give it the happiest life it could have. Although we are not Certified Organic, we believe that if the bird is happy, then that's all that counts. We feed a very high-quality nutritious feed, and the daily access to the outdoors keeps the birds moving the way a bird should be able to do.
How do you market your products (CSA, farmers' market, on-site sales?) Do you have to travel far?
We do not currently attend any farmers market in our area. We focus on retail sales off our property, and wholesale our eggs to a couple of stores around the area. People are more than willing to come to us for healthy food, and keeping the entire process on farm is about as fresh and local as you can get.
What are some of the ongoing challenges you face as a farmer?
Some of the ongoing challenges I face as a farmer are constantly rising prices, a changing market and explaining our products to the consumer. With gas prices on the rise, keeping the same price on our products is very difficult. Even though the new movement is towards local food and sustainable agriculture, consumers aren't prepared to pay the asking price. They aren't aware of the mountain of cost associated with running a small-scale operation. But after explaining to them that produce a dozen eggs I have to pay for the grain, the water, the carton, the label, the bedding, the electricity, the bulbs and the infrastructure of the coop they usually see why eggs can be $4 per dozen.
The government could be doing a heck of a lot more... The movement toward sustainable growing needs to be met with respect and knowledge through our government.
What do you think about the growing new farmer movement? What advice do you have for people who want to become farmers?
As much as I don't like competition, I believe that there is a demand everywhere for local food and small farmers. My advice for people just getting into it, do your research! Don't jump right in. Never sell products the first year, do a trial run of the breed, the feed or the strain of plant. Having numbers to rely on is a huge reason on why I have become successful. Do monthly cost analysis. A simple list of Expenses and Income will usually tell you your profit margin. Never undervalue your labor. It's your time, and you deserve to get paid for it!
What could the government do to help establish a more sustainable food system?
The government could be doing a heck of a lot more I can tell you that much. Providing government funded programs, seminars related to start-up operations and providing small grants to small farms just trying to get up and running. The movement toward sustainable growing needs to be met with respect and knowledge through our government.
For meat producers: Can you speak about the slaughtering process? Do you slaughter on site or drive to the nearest facility?
We slaughter on-site for a couple of reasons. First of all, we like to know how the bird is being treated right up until the last seconds, and we know how safe that product is. Also, the whole point of Sustainable Agriculture is to reduce our ecological foot print; and driving 1, 2 or up to 3 hours to get our birds processed just doesn't make financial sense for us with the price of gas. Slaughtering our birds on-site really helps us to reduce our waste and recycle the parts to use for fertilizer on our fields. Here at Chicken Little Farm, the life really does go full-circle.