In 2017, I bought 20 chickens and moved them around every day in a chicken tractor that I built. The chicken tractor keeps the birds safe while allowing them to get exercise, sunlight, and fresh grass and bugs to eat. The animals stay clean and healthy so we never have to give any antibiotics or medications. In addition, the meat and eggs have been proven to be far superior in nutrition and flavor vs birds that are confined in a dark warehouse surrounded by feces. Not only is pastured poultry healthier, but the poultry manure gets utilized as fertilizer as I move the birds across the pasture. This manure is full of nitrogen which adds fertility to the soil and helps the grasses and trees grow stronger and faster. After the birds eat down the vegetation, the roots die off and add carbon to the soil and then the plants regrow even faster. This rapid regenerative cycling is what sequesters carbon in the soil at a rate 100 times faster than in nature.
I raised the chickens until they were big enough to harvest. When I gave some to friends and family they all said it was the best chicken that they ever had. It got me thinking that there must be something to this pastured poultry thing. In addition to the great flavor and health of the birds, I loved the positive impact the birds made on our soil health, fertility, and organic content. This was a win, win, win scenario.
I became obsessed with regenerative agriculture and started watching youtube videos and reading every book that I could get my hands on. The books and videos that I read helped me learn how to get started. However, whenever I would run into hurdles or try to scale up my farm, I always ended up trying to piecemeal information together. I would take this tactic from one person and this advice from another and it never seemed to work for me. In addition, alot of the gurus out there were teaching this stuff based primarily on theory and never actually ran a successful farm with their own neck on the line. There was so much that I didn’t know and I had no plan and no direction.
Determined to make the farm a success, I tried everything. I raised pigs, chickens, ducks, mushrooms, turkeys, eggs, geese, grew vegetables and even tried farrowing pigs for other farmers. The result of trying so many different things was that I wasted alot of time and alot of money. The latest shiny tool or farming opportunity would always pull me in different directions. Like a drag racing car before a race, I was spinning my wheels full speed, burning up all of my time and finances, but going nowhere. to sum it all up for you, I spent $80,000 on my credit card and didn’t have much to show for it. That was painful.
In addition, I was working full-time off the farm and then spending every free minute that I had running around on the farm putting out fires and trying to make it successful. I had little to no time available for my wife and kids and pretty soon I was burned out physically, mentally, and emotionally. Something had to give.
Fortunately, I finally started to figure out some things that were working. I approached some local chefs and convinced them to try my birds. They loved it! Before long, I had worked with close to 50 restaurants and chefs and business was going great! I was having fun and making a little money too.
Then COVID hit and all the restaurants shut down. I was left with a freezer full of ducks and no one to sell them to. It was like once I started hitting my stride, all the wind was let out of my sails. Once again, I was determined not to give up
I picked myself up and knew that I had to pivot to direct to consumer marketing. I started to do a weekend farmers market and it was really great. Knowing that duck was a highly niche product, I figured out how to add value to my products and offer more options. With the additional product options, I increased not only our total sales but also our profit margin by 700%!
Once restaurants came back online, we really started ramping up production and got on track to gross $200,000/year on only 7 acres of land. I was able to quit my full-time job. I was profitable and got my sanity back but most importantly my relationship with my wife is better than ever and I have so much more time for my family.
I eventually came to the realization that no matter how grand my vision was of building this regenerative farm with perfectly grazing chickens and awesome wildlife habitat, none of it mattered, if I couldn’t be profitable and keep the farm going. My mission is to share what I have learned with others so they can have a profitable regenerative farm.
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