At A Glance
• Pastured poultry,
goats and sheep on 10 acres
• Management-intensive grazing
• Member of an 84-acre religious
community dedicated to agriculture and rural life
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 America.
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 per month.
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 timber operations.
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
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 could get.”
Focal Point of Operation — Pastured
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
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 typical day.
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
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, Shareef says.
“Good product at a good price tends to sell itself,”
she says. “All I have to do is keep working to make more of
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 and woodlots.
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
“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 our children.”
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 says.
“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 expansion.
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."