Putting the family out to pasture
How one couple involved their three children in their pastured livestock operations.

By Pat Michalak

Farm Life ...
Family. Marriage. Kids. Legacy.
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Editor's NOTE

We first met David and Joy back in April at a large Rodale Institute Learning Capsule-a daylong series of talks by several dozen farmers about their production and marketing operations-and decided right then that we'd some day tell the story of their family partnership. They've experimented with pastured hogs, too, and they talked about the whole family trying to run down the hogs in a field, without much luck. It was quite a picture this quiet couple painted in their low-key way. We're looking for more stories like theirs: stories of success and failure at involving kids on the farm; reflections on the family farm legacy, and how to pass it on. If you have a good story, or know someone we should talk to, let us know.

By the way, the Stutzmans went on vacation before we could get a picture. We'll add it later.

Farmers David and Joy Stutzman are making certain their three children not only learn how to farm-they hope they'll enjoy it, too. The Stutzmans raise pastured beef, hogs, chickens, eggs and turkeys and market directly to consumers in rural eastern Pennsylvania. Their farm, called Pasture's Pride, is a family operation, since each child has full responsibility for their own piece of the puzzle. Trevor, Jenna and Andrew Stutzman work as entrepreneurs, and make their own production, marketing and financial decisions (with advice from mom and dad).

It's early August, and nine-year old Trevor checks to make sure his 34 turkey poults are kept warm until they are ready for pasture in eight weeks. Trevor is especially proud of several poults of the 'Bourbon Red' variety, developed by settlers in early Pennsylvania. Since this is Trevor's first venture, it's difficult to predict how his season, which ends with the Thanksgiving holiday, will go.

Jenna, age twelve, manages a flock of about 30 laying hens. Jenna remarked, "It's a lot of work to wash the eggs and put them in the cartons, but I pretty much do it on my own." For each dozen eggs, Jenna pockets $1.50, and 50-cents goes back to the farm. So far, Jenna bought a bookcase with her profits, and she is saving for a CD player. Jenna's biggest problem is moving the hoop-style chicken house-on-runners with its portable poultry netting. Dad David said, "It takes the whole family to move the chickens on pasture. We hook up the 4-wheeler and everyone grabs a corner of the house or a piece of the fence and we go!"

Andrew, fifteen years old, oversees 500 broiler-type chickens a year while planning for college and related expenses in a few years. Twice each summer, Andrew buys 250 chicks, timing the batches so that the family has room for a vacation in the middle of the summer. The Stutzmans believe that it's important to get away from the farm, too, so their children won't resent the work. Andrew found that farming isn't so bad if the workload and income are spread out. Three portable pens, built on the design of pastured poultry entrepreneur Joel Salatin, sit scattered on a hillside and house about 80 birds each.

While the children have individual responsibilities, each piece must be held together as a whole farm, and that job falls to their parents. Marketing is made easier since the Stutzmans already have 250 customers for their frozen beef. According to Joy, "It's not hard to add an item to your customer base once you have the base. It's easier for people to buy one more item-chicken, turkey or eggs-when they're already buying a side of beef." Raising pastured beef was an important first move. For example, David said, "We have a water line going up to the field for beef, so it was simple to tap that line for the pastured poultry."

David and Joy have avoided pressuring their children to be farmers. Andrew hasn't yet decided what he'll do after college. But, his parents feel that no matter where he is or what he does, Andrew knows how to earn money by managing poultry, whether he's farming or not. Adds David, "Our goal is to have a family friendly farm."