relationship is foremost: "It’s
important that customers know where our farm
is and who the farmers are who raised their
food," says Cindy Madsen, pictured here
with Vic. "Once you form this relationship,
the customers identify you as almost part
of their family."
If you visit
Vic and Cindy Madsen’s farm southwest of Audubon,
Iowa, you’ll hear a rare sound for a modern farm—the
clucking of chickens.
In an era when most chickens are raised by the thousands
in large confinement barns, a flock of poultry in the
barnyard is a notable sight. The birds are one component
of a farm that has not bought into the “get big
or get out” philosophy of agriculture.
The Madsens farm 300 acres, which is a very small operation
by today’s conventional agriculture standards.
The Madsens have learned, however, that you don’t
have to farm thousands of acres to support a family.
The family raises corn, soybeans, barley, oats and hay,
along with hogs and chickens. To round out their diversified
operation, they would like to add cows or sheep. Currently,
the Madsens’ farm income is derived from the direct
marketing of poultry and pork (25 percent); pork sold
to Niman Ranch and on the open market (25 percent);
grain sales (20 percent); government payments (15 percent)
and hay sales (5 percent).
Direct sales of meat, and a focus on relationship marketing,
are a big part of the Madsens’ business.
“You have to have a relationship with your customer.
It’s important that customers know where our farm
is and who the farmers are who raised their food. Once
you form this relationship, the customers identify you
as almost part of their family. We host farm tours so
our customers can see where their food is grown. This
is a working farm, not a show farm,” Cindy said.
different way of farming
The Madsens share an agricultural heritage. They both
grew up on Iowa farms, and Vic has farmed since 1970.
In 1975, the couple purchased the farm where they currently
live and where they raised their three sons. They are
the third family to manage the farm, which was established
in 1886. The farm is located approximately 70 miles
northeast of Omaha and 70 miles west of Des Moines.
The Madsens became interested in sustainable agriculture
when their boys were growing up.
“When the kids were little, they wanted to help
on the farm, but we were always telling them, ‘Don’t
go near the equipment, don’t go near the chemicals.’
It dawned on me that the only safe time they could be
in the field was when we seeded oats. It seemed like
we were giving them a very negative view of farming.
We decided we wanted to find a way that would let the
kids become more involved,” Vic said.
Sustainable agriculture provided the answer. “Sustainable
agriculture is a whole different mindset. To me, it’s
more people-friendly, and it’s safer,” Vic
Today, Vic and Cindy provide the majority of the farm
labor and management. Their two older sons, Jeff and
Mark, are not involved in the operation. Their younger
son, Eric, 19, helps with farm work on weekends and
during the summer months.
Unlike the corn-soybean rotations that many Iowa farmers
use today, the Madsens raise corn, soybeans, barley,
oats and hay. They do not plant genetically-modified
The Madsens have 23 acres of organic production, but
they use herbicides, when necessary, on the remaining
crop land. “This year, we had heavy weed pressure,
so I used more herbicide. While we’re not purists,
we do prefer to use as little herbicide as possible.
You can use one-third less nitrogen if you place it
properly and time the application right,” Vic
In recent years, the Madsens have raised corn and soybeans
on their organic acres. They have sold organic soybeans
to Heartland Organic Marketing Co-op in Stuart, Iowa.
and poultry production
The Madsens have 40 sows and use three deep-bedded hoop
buildings in their farrow-to-finish pork production
Their swine herd includes Berkshire, Yorkshire and Chester
White genetics. “The Chester White/York genetics
mean hardy, prolific hogs. A study from the National
Pork Producers Council shows that Berkshire genetics
provide the highest eating quality,” Vic explained.
Some of the Madsens’ pork is sold to Niman Ranch,
and the rest is direct marketed. (Editor’s note:
Niman Ranch was started more than 25 years ago in California.
In the Niman Ranch system, livestock are humanely treated,
fed the purest natural feeds, are never given growth
hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and are raised
on land that is cared for as a sustainable resource.
Many Niman Ranch hogs are raised in Iowa.)
The Madsens have also raised poultry for 16 years. Each
year, they have about 100 layers and raise 900 broiler
chickens. Most of the poultry is sold locally, within
a 30-mile radius of the farm. The Madsens also sell
“We don’t feed our livestock hormones, drugs
or meat by-products. We use barn lime and good sanitation
to keep our animals healthy. For the chickens, we use
a poultry feed pre-mix that contains no meat-and-bone
meal but has extra vitamins and minerals. This makes
a big difference. When we started feeding the chickens
this product, they really perked up, and showed brighter,
whiter feathers,” Cindy said.
The Madsens’ poultry is processed nearby in a
state-inspected facility in the small town of Kimballton,
Iowa. Their pork that is direct-marketed is processed
in a state-inspected plant in Atlantic, Iowa. Because
the meat is not federally inspected, it cannot be sold
outside of Iowa.
The Madsens’ products are not organic, due to
the customer base in Iowa. “If we went organic,
I’d have to add quite a bit to the cost of my
chicken. The population around southwest Iowa isn’t
like the customer base in Chicago, or even West Des
Moines. We don’t have a lot of affluent, dual-income
couples like you find in metro areas. We have to sell
our products at a price people can afford,” Cindy