See ALL the Photos . . .
Click over to the Summer Fun Farm Tour Series DAY ONE Album on flickr to see more than 25 of Tom Parker’s beautiful photographs from our tour stops at: Green Dirt Farm, KC Cattle Company, and April Valley Farms.
‘Critter Day’ highlighted opportunities with livestock production including: a small sheep dairy and cheese making company, a veteran-owned and staffed ranch producing USDA certified hormone-free American Wagyu beef, and a diversified family farming operation raising registered Angus cattle, crossbred hogs and row crops.
Learn more about the 2019 SUMMER FUN FARM TOUR SERIES.
Green Dirt Farm, Weston, Mo.
By Mary Howell
Sarah Hoffman first dreamed of creating a humane, environmentally sustainable sheep dairy farm in 2002 and her perfect name would be Green Dirt Farm. That dream took six years to develop and get the infrastructure in place. The main dairy with a processing facility was built in 2008, her first year of production. Sarah’s daughter Eliza is now the farm manager.
In the years that have followed they have worked through many challenges. They are a grass-based dairy and the animals graze a variety of mixed grasses and forages. Grazing animals on managed systems require adequate fences to control animals, predators and the proper utilization of the forages. Having first tried high tensile fence that allowed for lambs to get out and predators get in, they have moved to an electro-net fencing. They are very happy with the flexibility that electro-net fencing gives them and it’s cheaper. Electro-net works very well keeping out the coyotes. To help control the predators they try to have two guard dogs in each group of sheep and the have five different groups of sheep. By using two dogs, one will stay with the flock of sheep and the other will roam around the pasture area to ward off coyotes trying to sneak in a steal a lamb.
The path of the milk flows through the system: It starts out in the grass. There is much diversity in the variety of seeds and forbs that grow in the prairie. They encourage a lot of different plants to grow. They have a pasture that they use as a seed bank for the sheep to consume and then scatter the grass seeds with their manure.
Sheep are milked at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. in the parlor. The milk is collected in a refrigerated stainless steel cooler and the milk is gravity fed into the cheese kitchen.
In the kitchen- The cheese make room has a 210-vat pasteurizer. The process consists of making cheese, draining and molding it into cheese to age. Four aging rooms are climate controlled. Fresh cheeses take 3 days, to four months and to almost indefinitely. They do not smoke any of the cheese they make. Several are made with 100% sheep milk and some with blended sheep and cattle milk. The building was built partially underground with 6” of insulation also to make it tight and energy efficient.
They started by choosing varieties by what they like and then paid attention to what people like and want. They go through a very vigorous process for food safety. They change shoes, then put on a cheese kitchen outfit and hair cover and then scrub as if going into surgery and foam boots with a disinfectant. They are regulated by FDA with the cheese making. They pay close attention to the food safety modernization act.
They sell to eight nationwide distributors, locally to stores, and also in their own store.
Advertising utilizes social media, Instagram, face book and a creamery account for the shop. Farmers markets are barely break even, but they feel connecting with the consumers is really important to continue listening to their comments.
Sarah loves making cheese and would do it again if starting over.
Her business plan states, “If you want to make this work you have to quit working in the business and work on the business”. She recognizes that she needs to get better with that. They have a goal to double sales and get more business. They need to produce more, while trying to make what will sell and not have to throw any product away. They are growing in response to the need. The first year they made 80#’s of cheese, followed each year with increased production of 3,000#, 5,000#, 8,000#, 12,000#, 18,000#, 22,000#, 25,000# and last year produced 30,000# of various cheeses. The goal is to sell 60,000# to be economic feasibility. Fresh and soft cheese has a very short shelf life. There is an increased need to sell more cheese in the holiday season; that creates a problem because the sheep are not producing as much milk in the winter. One solution is to utilize their Amish partners to lamb early in spring, and allow Green Dirt Farm to change breeding season for lambing later.
Flavors of the cheese change with the season because the grass and forages that they are eating can influence the flavor. Fields are mixed grasses utilizing management intensive grazing. Sheep are big fans of different weeds and plants and they are good for the sheep. Sheep like to forage even in the winter although they are supplemented with alfalfa.
In milk parlor, 12 ewes are milked at a time. They average milking 65 ewes at the time of the tour. They get a little grain to relax. They start about two weeks before lambing so they get in the routine of moving through the barn. They also run the hoggits thru to train them to the system and reward them with a little grain. Holding pens help with herd health. Dairy sheep come into the holding pen. All other groups get looked at. Four different groups dairy, lambs, rams, and hoggits (defined as one to two year-old yearling ewe lambs, waiting to be bred,). Sheep are given a Famacha score (that reflects parasite pressure) and a body conditioning score, weighed, vaccinated if needed and lambs are weaned.
Patrick Montgomery of KC Cattle Company in Weston, MO. specializes in Waygu cattle.
KC Cattle Company
By Mary Howell
KC Cattle Company was founded in 2016 by retired combat veteran Patrick Montgomery. Following his service, he completed an undergrad in animal science and minor in entrepreneurship from Mizzou. He purchased the current location and raises Waygu cattle on his ranch outside of Kansas City in Weston, MO.
He started raising cattle with the goal of providing exceptional beef. Waygu is a Japanese term meaning “black cow.” The breed was historically used as a work animal. They are known to have extraordinary intramuscular fat which provides optimum marbling, contributing to a good flavor. The fat in this breed also has a lower melting point which contributes to the improved taste that makes Wagyu and Kobi beef.
Patrick previously raised cattle down in Texas, prior to his purchased of the Weston, MO place in 2017 He owns 11 acres and leases the rest.
He does have a business plan and openly admits that it is tough to make a living in normal agriculture full time.
At first, he went after restaurants, but that venture did not prove to be enjoyable. He has created his own market with direct to consumer, mail order service that ships straight from the office.
Originally, he bought feeder calves at 300-500# weight and finish them out. Calves came with many problems and differences in practices, temperament, and a variety of sickness.
Animal care is as stress free as possible to maintain low cortisol levels. He sorts out any crazy or mean cattle. Pens and facilities were designed and came with the place when purchased. He bought the place from a wealthy real estate agent that decided farming and cattle were more work than he wanted. Patrick went the non-traditional route for funding. He is looking into veteran transition program.
Now he has all of the Wagyu full bloods on the ranch and purchases the f1 crosses that come from angus. They use angus cows and breeds to a Waygu bull to end up with a larger frame. This way he can cut out the middle men. He runs about 60 head of cattle.
Wagyu means black cattle in Japanese. They have an extra layer of fat.: extra intra muscular fat and 1” outer rim of fat. He has had better luck with full bloods rather than F1’s, they still have to grow for a longer period of time to get all of the fat and marbling. To develop the extra marbling and layer of fat the animals need to be fed grain for a longer period of time. The longer time to finish increases the cost of producing the animal.
He processes his animals at Paradise meat locker. They run a local delivery service. It is much cheaper than shipping.
They do ship cuts of meat as well as deliver with a small refrigerated truck. He is located near a city. The base offers a large consumer base. About 1000 families.
Patrick would like to expand and offer a farm to table experience on the farm.
April Valley Farms, Leavenworth, KS
By Mary Howell
April Valley Farms, Leavenworth, KS was started in 1957 by Ed and Alice Thies.
The family farm involves Ed and Alice and their entire family with several diversified sources of income. They raise Registered Angus Cattle, crossbred hogs in a farrow to finish operation, wheat, corn, soybeans and hay in Leavenworth County. Ed farmed and Alice was a budget analyst for Fort Leavenworth. She still keeps meticulous farm records that date back to the start of the operation and does the number crunching for the farm.
Ed started with 6 sows and added a few cows when he got married. His sixty-two years of raising hogs has grown into the business that it is today. A very firm production schedule has been in place since 1979. A schedule that hasn’t missed a cycle since it was put into effect. Their farm is capable of farrowing thirty-two sows every twenty-one days. They currently run twenty sows on a twenty-eight-day schedule. The baby pigs are weaned at twenty-one days. They need to weigh twelve pounds and are put in a double deck hot nursery. They operate on a three-week schedule with five groups of sows. They wean on Monday, breed by AI (artificial insemination) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The schedule that doesn’t deviate, even makes them work on Christmas sometimes. There are two rooms in the nursery. The theory was so that the feeder pigs are 60-65 pounds when they go outside. The extra weight in the winter creates a pig that can handle the cold temperature. They raise their own corn and grains, buy premix and mix their own ration.
April Valley Farms markets their hogs with a marketing group of local swine growers. The group originally had 25 family operations and are now down to 4 families. The hogs are loaded and go to Triumph food in St Joseph, Mo. Originally, they took bids from different companies and the hogs went to whoever gave the highest priced bid. They now market all of their hogs to Triumph a St Joe being paid on a grade and yield scale for the carcass.
The breed they use is a Yorkshire white female, bred to a red Duroc for improved meat qualities. Most of their hogs will grade 77% and they are paid a premium. They get about $3.00 above market price because of the genetics they have built over the years. With AI they can get the newest genetics every three weeks with their semen shipment, rather than waiting until they could afford to buy a new boar. They select for more maternal sows. They wean an average of nine pigs per litter. Landrace sows have a higher litter average of twelve. But April Valley Farms goes with a lower litter number average. Their sows and pig numbers are more efficient.
They are feeding fewer pigs, using less feed and receiving more money for the hogs that they raise. Their breed cross combination was chosen for longevity and works better when raised outside.
April Valley Farms raises all of their replacement gilts. If any hog ever leaves the farm it never comes back, to prevent cross contamination from other hogs. Several hog diseases are very contagious and will put a grower out of business.
They run 400 registered cows divided into fall and spring calving groups. The cowherd is spread out on several locations due to pasture size, location and terrain.
Raising cows helps make every acre profitable in some form by utilizing the stalk residue, timber and wasteland. Because they grow grain crops, they are able to feed their own grain to the animals which returns more profit on the grain than hauling it to town for market price or having to purchase the supplemental feed.
One of the biggest problems that they have is finding good help to hire for labor.
They have an annual bull sale, sell some replacement heifers, a few cow/calf pairs and feeder pigs for 4-H and FFA Projects.