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
• 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 off.
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
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 and Vermont.
“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 options.
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
“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 says.
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 weeks.”
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
“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 biodiversity.
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
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 the enterprise.
Neither Adele nor Jim enjoys managing hired labor, and they feel
their current size is a good match for their management and marketing