At A Glance
poultry, goats and sheep on 10 acres
• Member of an 84-acre
religious community dedicated to agriculture and
for rural living. Rosa Shareef,
her husband, Alvin, and their children are members
of a religious community that established New
Medinah so they could live and work in a rural
place. From Chicago and other large cities, most
members had little direct experience with agriculture
but felt a strong desire to earn their livelihoods
with their hands and raise their families in rural
The Shareefs opted for chicken production, thinking
poultry meat and eggs would complement the other
enterprises. They have since expanded into sheep
and goat production.
The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural
By the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
© 2003, Beltsville MD. Used by permission.
Pp. 109 to 111
For complete text or to order: www.sare.org/newfarmer
To contact SARE:
Phone (301) 504-6425
Fax (301) 504-5207
Friends : Rosa Shareef (right) plans to
expand her processing operation to about 1,000 birds
84 acres were carved from a larger farm. The group first purchased
64 acres in 1987, then added 20 adjacent acres several years
later. Prior to the purchases, the whole plot had been used
as cattle pasture.
New Medinah lies in Marion County in south Mississippi, about
an hour due west of Hattiesburg and just east of the Pearl
River. Its rolling hills grow steamy hot in the long summer,
providing a long growing season. Many small row crop farms
in the area have given way in recent years to cattle and cash
To learn more about raising poultry on pasture, the Shareefs
participated in a SARE grant project headed by Heifer Project
International (HPI). Funded to help southern farmers with
the “nuts and bolts” of alternative poultry systems,
HPI organized hands-on training sessions, offered start-up
funds and provided small-scale processing equipment.
The Shareefs learned a lot at a three-day seminar hosted by
Joel Salatin, Virginia’s authority on raising livestock
on pasture. Salatin has written well-regarded books and articles
about the considerations and the moneymaking potential of
pastured poultry, and conducts frequent seminars at his farm
in southeastern Virginia. He has spoken at conferences and
farmer forums throughout the country to spread information
about this alternative system. In his three-day poultry seminar,
he offers information on everything from construction of the
portable chicken cages to processing to bookkeeping, and the
Shareefs felt reassured after participating in it.
“I’m a city girl raised in New Jersey,”
Rosa Shareef says. “My husband was born in Mississippi
and raised in Chicago, so we needed as much education as we
Focal Point of Operation —
The Shareefs are one of four New Medinah families raising
poultry on pastures. The poultry includes Cornish Cross chickens
for their meat, broad-breasted white turkeys, and Rhode Island
Red chickens for their eggs. The Asian population in and around
Hattiesburg prefer her older egg-layers, Shareef says.
Like all other community members, the Shareefs practice rotational
grazing with their poultry and other animals. The Shareefs’
10 acres are subdivided into two permanent, five-acre pastures
with smaller paddocks defined with electric fencing. To minimize
the possibility of disease, she rotates her poultry around
one five-acre plot for a year, then switches them to the other
plot for a year. The goats and sheep then rotate through the
plot just vacated by poultry.
Using a simple plan designed by Joel Salatin, the Shareefs
made cages that are supported by a 12 x 12 feet wood frame,
enclosed with chicken wire and rest on wheels. They keep 50
to 95 chickens in each pen, moving it daily. The chickens
harvest their own grass, bugs and worms, but the Shareefs
also supplement their diet with a high-protein poultry feed.
Though New Medinah is a community made up of people of the
same faith, it is not a commune where all the work is shared.
Shareef says each family was responsible at the start for
determining what types of enterprises they preferred, and
each family is expected to support itself. At processing time,
her husband and her children are there to help kill, clean
and package the 95 or more chickens they can butcher in a
The Shareefs maintain their own customer base, and market
their eggs and poultry under their own label.
Economics and Profitability
Diversity is the watchword around the Shareef household. They
have income from a number of different sources, although they
hope to make enough of an income off their agricultural efforts
to make that their primary occupation. Currently, Alvin teaches
at a junior college in Hattiesburg, although they plan for
him to quit teaching computer courses to participate full
time on the farm.
Their other most dependable source of income is the sale of
their pastured broilers, though their efforts in this area
have been hampered by weather and other setbacks. Blazing
heat and drought over the past two summers caused them to
suspend production for months at a time, resulting in losses
in potential income as well as halting the progress they had
hoped to make toward a goal of processing 1,000 chickens each
month. As it is, they’ve averaged only about 300 chickens
per month since they began.
Still, Rosa says, the potential is there, and if they can
get back to more normal weather, or when they can find the
time and money to construct shading structures, they will
be back on track to processing that higher number. When they
do, they expect an average monthly income of between $5,000
and $6,000. That’s the average weight of their chickens
(3.5 to 4 pounds) multiplied by a price of $1.50 per pound.
Shareef calculates the cost of raising one of her broilers
to an age of eight weeks is about $3, so the profit she makes
from selling each bird at the average weight is roughly $2.25.
Multiplied by her expected sales of 1,000 birds per month,
that’s a monthly profit of $2,250.
In addition, the Shareefs raise 50 turkeys each year, all
of which are currently processed and sold just before Thanksgiving.
“Those are the real money-makers,” Shareef says.
“I ask the same price per pound as I get for the chickens,
but my average turkey dresses out at more than 20 pounds,
so there’s more profit even if it takes longer to raise
turkeys and they eat more.”
Rounding out the income picture are the sales of eggs, watermelons,
spring and fall greens, any extra produce from the family
garden, as well as lamb, mutton, and meat goats. Shareef,
who is gradually expanding her herd of goats and sheep for
meat, so far has 22 goats and 15 sheep.
All of their sales come through word of mouth and through
repeat customers. Shareef spends no money on advertising,
nor does she need to leave the farm to peddle her product.
Many of Alvin’s students have become repeat customers
— and not because they hope to curry favor from him,
“Good product at a good price tends to sell itself,”
she says. “All I have to do is keep working to make
more of it.”
New Medinah was planned to have minimal negative impact on
the environment. All members of the community live in a concentrated
section of the property that surrounds a school for the community’s
children. That leaves lots of open space for gardens, pastures
The pastured animals deposit lots of fertilizing manure, and
because they tend to select different grasses and are moved
daily, they have only added vigor to the pastures, Shareef
says. That’s even during a protracted drought.
Community and Quality of Life Benefits
New Medinah members were sensitive to the wariness and outright
suspicion among many residents of Marion County when they
announced their plans to build a community there. Some even
circulated petitions to keep them out. However, in the nearly
15 years since, both groups have reached out and established
warm bonds with one another, Shareef says.
“We knew we’d have to prove to people we weren’t
a cult or a bunch of religious kooks, so we just started inviting
them to our homes to let them know what we intended to do,”
she says. “We offered to include them in all the efforts
we were going to make to improve our lives and the lives of
Those efforts now include programs that expose young children
to the care and feeding of horses, small engine repair and
cultivating seedlings in a greenhouse. While managed exclusively
by New Medinah members, the programs remain open to all children
in the county.
“A lot of the same people who didn’t want us here
now buy a lot of good food from us, so I think each side has
shown we can be good neighbors,” Shareef says.
She also notes that the other anticipated benefits of establishing
New Medinah are coming true, in stronger families and a more
sustainable way of life. “I wasn’t sure I’d
ever get used to it at first, but I love it now,” she
“Think big but start small,” Shareef says without
hesitation. “If you’re thinking about pastured
poultry that you process at home the way we do, make sure
you visit someone who does that on processing day and help
out. If you don’t enjoy that part of the job, my advice
is that you don’t even try it, because that’s
a big part of raising birds.”
The Shareefs’ foremost goal is to reach the point of
processing an average of 1,000 chickens each month. They are
certain the market is there, and say they just need the time
and budget to attend to all the details involved in such an
Shareef says the profitability of raising turkeys is so appealing
she’s going to expand beyond producing only traditional
Thanksgiving birds to take advantage of the sales potential
at Christmas and Easter, too. Their sheep and goat herds are
only in the early stages at this point, and they intend to
increase their numbers in the next two to three years.
Shareef also says she just helped a neighbor process ducks
last summer, and is thinking about establishing her own pastured
flock. “They taste wonderful,” she says, “and
I can sell them for more than I get for the chickens."
--Photograph by Heifer Project Intnl.