At A Glance
Jim and Adele Hayes
Sap Bush Hollow Farm
Warnerville, New York
Summary of Operation
pasture-based livestock operation on 160 owned
and 40 rented acres
• Direct retail marketing
using newsletters and direct mail
Focus on production
instead of marketing. Jim and
Adele Hayes have long known grass-based farming
can be a practical, environmentally sound and
profitable approach to raising animals. However,
when Adele added her brand of creative direct
marketing, their livestock operation truly took
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 62 to 64
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
Grazing: Jim and Adele Hayes devised an
intricate grazing system that allows a succession
of ruminants to move through their pastures.
For most of the Hayes’
20 years at Sap Bush Hollow, both worked full time off the
farm: Jim as a professor of animal science and Adele as a
director of economic development and planning for a local
town. Both grew up on farms, and they raised sheep from the
start. Money-wise, however, Sap Bush Hollow was a losing proposition
until 1996, when Adele reduced her job to part time.
“I wanted to try to get the farm to where we thought
it could be if someone spent more time marketing,” she
explains. Her efforts paid off. The livestock operation is
now paying for all farm — and most family — expenses.
In 2000, Adele went full time on the farm.
Direct marketing drives the operation. Sap Bush markets directly
to about 400 consumers — including individuals, restaurants
and stores — in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut
“Marketing is the hardest, most time-consuming activity
on this farm,” Adele stresses. “It’s not
physically hard, but it is mentally challenging.”
By combining an ecological approach, conscientious animal
husbandry and tenacious marketing, Sap Bush Hollow Farm has
developed into an operation the couple finds increasingly
personally fulfilling. It also draws admiration from customers,
neighbors and other farmers.
“People stop along the road and just look at our place,”
Adele Hayes says. “They notice that the grass is so
green, that the animals are out grazing. The look of the place
is one of beauty — in the eye and in the mind.”
Focal Point of Operation —
Grass-based livestock production
Over the years, the Hayeses moved from one commodity —
sheep — to a diversified operation that now includes
chickens (broilers and layers), turkeys, geese, cattle, pigs
and sheep. It’s a change they believe has strengthened
the operation, adding both biological diversity and marketing
The poultry operation is the cornerstone of the marketing
program. “They have the lowest return per hour of labor,
but when new customers come, they’re coming for a high-quality
chicken. When they’re here, they realize we have all
the other meat,” Adele says.
Adele sells all the meat from her back porch, eliminating
distribution costs. She uses newsletters, postcards and even
phone calls to inform customers of sale days and products
available. With help from her daughter, Shannon, who lives
nearby, Adele bakes fresh cookies and cakes.
To cover the customers coming to the farm, they began purchasing
liability insurance in 1998. They post a sign by the end of
the driveway and use a large, flat lawn for customer parking.
The farm sits about 100 yards off the road and is not visible
from the main thoroughfare, but customers rarely have trouble
finding it. “We’re not looking for drive-by traffic,”
Adele says. “Almost all our customers are invited to
the farm, so they receive instructions how to get here.”
The Hayeses raise all their animals using management intensive
grazing strategies that allow them to keep their farm equipment
needs —and their farm debt — low. During the grazing
season, they rotate ruminants through a series of paddocks
to both provide high quality forage and to allow the pasture
to re-grow before animals return to graze.
Their rotations are planned to emphasize each species’
nutritional needs. For example, they graze lambs on their
best pasture in the spring but by summer’s end, move
fattening cattle ahead of dry ewes.
Careful attention to pasture conditions makes the system work.
“We have a ‘sacrifice’ pasture near the
barn that’s well fenced so it’s easy to maintain
the animals there,” Adele says. “We allow that
to get destroyed if we need to,” a better option than
damaging prime pasture through overgrazing.
The Hayeses use all of the 160 acres they own solely for rotational
grazing. They typically take a cut of hay off the 40 rented
acres before grazing it as well. Sap Bush Hollow purchases
grain and the bulk of their winter feed. Says Jim: “We’ve
found that we make more money not having any machinery.”
The Hayeses breed their Dorset-cross ewe flock to synchronize
lambing with pasture growth. The ewes typically produce between
150 and 160 lambs in mid-May. Lambs generally are born outside.
The Hayeses do very little supplemental feeding, relying on
their well-managed pastures for the bulk of the ewes’
and the lambs’ nutritional needs.
The Hayeses aim for a moderately sized carcass, both so that
they can finish their animals on grass and for marketing purposes.
“When a customer wants to purchase a lamb, we’ve
found that between $100 and $125 dollars is the breaking point,”
Adele says. “If the lamb gets much bigger, they’d
rather buy the parts.”
Sap Bush Hollow Farm begins slaughtering lambs in late September,
with the last group of animals going to the slaughterhouse
around the end of the year. They also raise about 15 steers
and 10 pigs each year, which they sell both in bulk (a side
or split half) and as retail cuts.
They use two federally inspected slaughterhouses, one at the
State University of New York (SUNY) Cobleskill, and the other
about 40 miles away. For the Hayeses, like many other small
meat producers in the Northeast, the decreasing number of
slaughterhouses is a problem.
“Our volume of meat is pretty far beyond what one local
slaughter house can handle,” Adele says. “We have
to book ahead.”
Sap Bush raises about 3,000 pre-ordered broilers. They allow
the birds to feed on fresh pasture and insects, as well as
a chicken feed. They house the birds in a portable pen, which
they move to a new piece of pasture each day. Sap Bush Hollow
developed its own feed blend for birds that has a higher vitamin
package and lower energy than commercial broiler rations.
They slaughter the birds on site, hiring three other people
to help on processing days.
The Hayeses are scrupulous about animal health: They adhere
to a routine vaccination regimen; they de-worm strategically
by monitoring parasite infections; and they use a microscope
to check fecal matter for disease and parasites when an animal
is sick. If an animal dies, Jim does a necropsy. “We’ve
learned from experience we can solve a problem quickly, using
the scope, without having outbreaks that cause a lot of loss,”
Adele explains. Quick and accurate disease identification
also allows them to avoid ineffective and over-use of medications.
Economics and Profitability
Direct marketing has made a huge difference in farm income.
At auction, for example, a lamb might bring between $50 and
$70. “But when I run the animal through my retail sales,
I get between $150 and $175 retailing by the cut,” Adele
The same holds true for the cattle and pigs: retailing brings
Sap Bush Hollow far greater income than selling at auction.
The cumulative impact is that the farm operation is solidly
in the black. “We went from a paper loss to declaring
a profit on our farm,” Adele says. “Farmers write
everything off. Well, I’m writing everything off, and
I’m still not using it up.”
The Hayeses still rely on off-farm income to meet all their
family needs. Their long-term goal is for the farm to deliver
about 50 percent of gross sales as income, after all farm
expenses are paid.
“We’d like to be able to pull out $30,000,”
Jim Hayes says. “That’s what we think we need
to live on.”
By developing a detailed, realistic annual budget and conscientiously
sticking to it, Jim and Adele are working toward that goal.
In recent years, they budgeted for a 30 percent return on
gross sales. In 1999, they made 27 percent.
To develop that realistic picture, they follow a simple formula
that they execute thoroughly. They set aside about 30 percent
of the previous year’s sales. Then they estimate all
variable costs — feed, energy, animal costs, processing
costs, vet bills, repairs, fencing, tractor operating costs,
processing equipment — and their mortgage. In estimating
feed costs, they follow commodity prices and try to nail down
as many suppliers as possible. Finally they consider what
capital improvements are needed and build that into the budget.
With all of their land in permanent pastures, erosion is nonexistent.
The Hayeses use no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, spreading
only composts and manures. Increasingly, they feel their property
is coming back into balance.
As anecdotal evidence of environmental health, Adele lists
indicators her son-in-law, a wildlife biologist, has identified:
“On a summer evening, he can hear five species of owls,
indicating a healthy diversity of woodland and edge habitats.
We’ll have a five-inch downpour, and the creek that
runs through the property is running clear by the next morning,
while all the others in the area are cloudy for the next two
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
The Hayeses are conscientious about contributing to the economy
and quality of life of their community. Adele estimates that
Sap Bush Hollow put about $47,000 in just one year into the
local economy, considering their inputs, from fencing and
piping to garden hoses to paying a person to help with processing.
They also are committed to educating other farmers and their
customers. They are welcome to come to the farm and learn
how the animals are raised and experience — both in
the quality of the product and the appearance of the farm
— the benefits of the pasture-based system.
“It gives them a whole new concept of agriculture,”
Adele says. “Everything looks mowed and manicured because
Jim is moving the animals so often. We feel a large part of
our job is to educate.”
In cooperation with the local conservation district and a
local farm and food organization, the Hayeses offer a course
on diversified, sustainable farming. People come for two weekends
and stay at the farm to learn about marketing, planning, fencing,
livestock handling, veterinary care, observation skills and
Adele warns against the temptation of following an early success
in any enterprise with rapid expansion. “I have the
same advice for everybody,” she says. “It’s
the same as cooking a piece of meat on a grill — go
low and slow,” Adele says.
Daughter Shannon and son-in-law Bob live nearby. They make
jellies, baked goods, lip balm, salves and soaps and sell
them at the farm and plan to become more deeply involved in
Neither Adele nor Jim enjoys managing hired labor, and they
feel their current size is a good match for their management
and marketing abilities.
--Photograph by Beth Holtzman