Driftless Region Beef Conference Returns Jan. 27-28, 2022
The conference focus is on efficient and economic forage and beef production.
The conference focus is on efficient and economic forage and beef production.
The Griffieon’s are a family-oriented century farm located just north of Ankeny. Craig and LaVon have four children - the sixth generation to be raised on the land. Currently the Griffieon’s have a diversified farm with beef, laying hens, broilers, turkeys and sheep and they raise corn soybeans, oats, and alfalfa. Their initial start with direct-marketing came when their eldest son, Nick, decided to raise and sell pastured poultry. He built pens, bought the chicks and bought the feed from the co-op. Nick lost eleven dollars on his first 100 chickens and even though he lost money, he set out to do it again and bought 150 more chicks. Knowing costs were a factor the first time, he bought corn from his dad and a non-medicated pre-mix from the elevator and used a grinder-mixer to make his own feed on the second batch. With these changes Nick had a value-added product which could be marketed at a higher price. Soon after, Craig stopped using growth hormones on his beef calves and followed the non-GMO, antibiotic-free plan and began direct marketing beef, lamb, pork and turkeys. Setting their own prices for products assured the Griffieon’s a profit on each animal sold.
Their markets began by Nick reaching out to neighbors to purchase his chickens and friends from the Ankeny Farmers Market. Return customers would then come to the farm to purchase their meat. The majority of their markets have grown by word of mouth. Later on they created brochures and a website. In 2008, the Griffieon’s joined The Iowa Food Cooperative, an online marketing cooperative. Each market account acquires one third of their sales and each year they continue to grow. This past Christmas Season they sold more quarters of beef and whole and half hogs than ever before.
Griffieon’s raise 660-740 straight run broilers each year in batches of 220 at a time. The first three weeks they are in the brooder house and then move to pasture for 4-5 weeks. While in the pasture their pens are moved every morning to fresh grass where their feeders and water tanks are filled. When the broilers are around 7-8 weeks they weigh between 3.5 and 5.5 pounds. From here they are loaded at dusk and hauled to be processed in Bloomfield Iowa.
Poultry processing in Iowa is a challenge for small-scale producers, as there are only two state-inspected lockers for poultry in Iowa. One of those locations, in Bloomfield, Iowa, will be closing at the end of 2019, making it even harder on small farmers to process their meat in a state-inspected facility and keep costs low.
Each year roughly 80 layers are raised for eggs. They start them in the fall and use the poulet eggs during the winter and larger eggs in the summer. In the summer months eggs will be sold out every single day. Once the hens no longer lay eggs they are butchered as stewing hens.
In the spring the Griffieon’s raise pasture-raised turkeys. The chicks are purchased in May and are finished in October, just in time for Thanksgiving. When they started with turkeys, they raised Heritage turkeys but as those grew in popularity it became too expensive to turn efficiently. Currently, they raise Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys.
They raise Limousin beef cattle that come from a herd that has been on the Griffieon farm since the 1960s. They are typically butchered around 15-18 months of age and weigh around 1200 pounds with carcass weight of 1000 pounds. They can be processed at any state inspected locker as long as the state inspector is present to see the live animal. Beef is available and ready for market year-round.
Processing is very similar for pigs as it is beef. They can be processed at any state inspected locker with the state inspector present. They are processed around six months of age weighing around 260-300 pounds with a carcass weight around 170-200 pounds.
LaVons eldest daughter, Autumn, raises Katahdin sheep. The lambs are around nine or ten months of age when processed. Lambs weigh roughly 110 pounds live weight and have a carcass weight of 60 pounds.
LaVon indicated there have been a few challenges along the way…
Pricing is difficult. It is challenging to figure the amount of time you have put into an 18 month calf and really value what your time is worth, while keeping the cost of the meat as low as possible.
“Defending your pricing to the public is another challenge.” Many times the customers who come to the Griffieon farm to purchase meat or eggs are aware of the costs, but the customers at the farmers’ market are often comparing the Griffieon’s prices to the stores prices. LaVon created an informative sheet titled “Why Do These Chickens Cost So Much?!?!” After the customer has read it they don’t question another price. A lot of work is put into producing any of the animals and it takes time to inform them.
Along those same lines, Griffieon’s have “trained” their direct-market-customers. Many who come to their farm to purchase their products know how to find what they want, add up their bill, and pay with cash, check, or credit card without directly interacting with a family member. Others still feel more comfortable if they are there to help.
“Take care of your customers, answer questions, ask questions and they’ll take care of you.”
Do you have an interest in direct marketing meat products from your farm? Meet Caite Palmer. Caite Palmer is a small farmer located on a century farm in Northeast Iowa. Caite and her husband raise grass-fed and grain-finished Angus cross and Normande beef cattle, as well as Katahdin lambs. Rather than take animals to the sale barn, she markets these meat products directly to consumers. Caite got started direct marketing because it allowed her to decide and control prices for her products. It began with selling whole and half animals. This process came with unique challenges of getting all the meat sold, coordinating customers and the locker. Caite and her husband process their meat at a USDA Inspected locker which offers more flexibility to sell their products across state lines. Once the meat is processed Caite must take a few more steps to abide by regulations. Caite and her husband store the meat in freezers at their house and must obtain a warehouse license. This means the freezers are inspected for cleanliness, temperature, and proper packaging and labeling of products.They are also required hazardous food licenses for every county they sell in when traveling to farmers markets.
Recently she and her husband have explored selling at the Winneshiek Farmers Market, selling beef and lamb cuts of meat directly to customers. Sales through this channel can be unpredictable and it is difficult to change consumer traditions of buying protein from the grocery store. Yet, Caite has experienced success working with this market. You can also find beef and lamb from Caite’s farm at local restaurants and caterers. One thing Caite is expanding toward is a meat Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, allowing purchases to be done online. In a CSA model, consumers purchase “shares” of a farmers crop prior to harvest or processing. Once processing has began those who purchased “shares” will get their portion. This has allowed for more year round sales as well as more flexibility for her family.
To those interested in pursuing direct marketing of meat products, Caite had the following advice from Caite,
“If you’re doing this to get rich, don’t. The public sees the high price of meat and believes you are making large profits. Keep in mind, raising livestock is expensive, processing livestock is expensive, licensing and equipment is expensive, inspections are expensive, and in some cases, childcare is expensive.”
“Make friends with your new coworkers. Create a relationship with your health inspector. The laws and health inspectors are implemented to keep food healthy and safe for everyone. At times you may roll your eyes, but remember they are just doing their job. Get to know each person at the locker, this is helpful when you are in a crunch for time! Use other local businesses, “It builds goodwill in the community.”
Beef cattle production can be a viable option for small farms. Livestock enterprises, such as beef cattle production, can diversify farming operations and complement many other farm enterprises.