Author: Melissa Fery & Garry Stephenson
Publish Date: Fall 2008
In high school, Tyler Jones was trying to decide what he might study in college. He enjoyed working with animals on his family’s property but thought that he’d need a million dollars and land to be a farmer. Then one day, a family friend sent him a magazine article written Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia. He wrote Joel about the possibility of an internship and after a two year wait, Tyler spent a year in Virginia learning Salatin’s unique approach to producing a family income by raising livestock. Since his return to Oregon in 2003, he has been slowly and strategically building his farm business.
The Farm and Philosophy
Actually, Tyler has a longer history with farming. He raised chickens on the family farm his whole life and started keeping bees at the age of nine. In 1991, Tyler’s parents would help set him up at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market to sell the honey. Now, with several years into his adult life enterprise— Afton Field Farm—he is following Joel Salatin’s two main rules:
You can’t pick and choose what aspects of the farm you want. You must have it all! Using all livestock species to create a holistic and profitable farm.
Don’t short-change yourself. Pay yourself a living wage. Tyler says he is paying himself .between $25 and $40 an hour for his time.
Another aspect of Tyler’s approach to farming is educating people about what they’re eating. He sees high quality, nutritious food as preventive medicine. Eating a more healthy diet saves money in the longterm.
Afton Field Farm raises and sells poultry, beef, pork, lamb, turkey and manages 13 bee hives for honey. Tyler sees his role as growing grass and managing the grass with livestock. He currently is farming the five acre home place and uses two rental properties. In addition, he raises beef in cooperation with another local farmer.
He is hoping to purchase a farm of his own soon. Renting land is always tenuous and the type of improvements to land from good grazing management are a long term investment. For instance, using chickens on pastures is improving the soil and increasing grass production plus reducing weed seeds. Tyler says “it’s painful to watch all of the improvements and great grass regrowth on ground we may only be on for one year”.
Afton Field Farm uses several marketing venues: Onfarm sales, a farmers market (Corvallis Saturday), restaurants, and buying clubs in Portland. Afton Field Farm sells to Corvallis area restaurants (Big River, Magenta,) and Fife in Portland. Tyler is planning to add four more Portland restaurants next year. However, he says “customers willing to come to the farm have first priority for products.”
For the pasture raised broilers, Tyler uses Salatin’s classic 10’x12’x2’ pastured poultry pens. “He (Joel) has been doing this for over 30 years. He’s not a dumb man, he knows what he’s doing.” The pens are moved manually once a day. There are currently about eight pens. It takes about 25 minutes to feed, water and move pens. Broilers are
processed at 7 weeks old and 3 ½ pounds to fit the desires of restaurants. A new batch is started every 3 weeks. The first processing date is in May and the last is in October. A recent issue for the farm is a good feed source since a custom feed mill in Dallas went out of business.
Tyler recently received a state license for an on farm processing facility allowing the farm to operate under the USDA 20,000 bird exemption. This opens new retail opportunities. The processing facility is unique in its open-air design. Pragmatic but efficient, the birds go from “kill to chill” in less than five minutes. The farm currently raises and processes 2500 birds per year and is planning to expand to 6000 birds.
Tyler runs about 160 laying hens on pasture. He uses Road Island Red, Barred Rock, Black Australorp, Silver Lace Wyandottes, Buff Orpington. He chose heritage breeds because of their bigger body and they are good layers plus the older hens can be sold as stewing hens.
For the layers, a light weight shelter/roost is moved daily within an electric netting fenced area. The net fencing is moved to clean pasture every 5 to 7 days. Tyler uses sheep in the spring to graze grass down to a manageable height for the chickens. The hens are on pasture from March through October and live in the barn during the winter. Tyler estimates about 15% of the diet comes from foraging. The hens are always fed a high protein grain mix. The hens are also fed beer mash from a local brewery. Tyler cleans out mash in exchange for chicken feed and beer.
Predators are a problem with layers. A radio and Christmas lights on the portable roost help. Battery powered electric net fencing keep out raccoons and bobcats. Once, a Great Horned Owl was stealing a hen each night for 10 nights—baffling the farmers. Eventually, the problem identified and fixed by putting a tarp on the end of the shelter so that the owl couldn’t sweep in to get the birds.
Pork and Turkeys
Pigs are raised in the barn until they are about 100 lbs. While in the barn, they are on deep bedding which is later spread to the pasture. When heavy enough the pigs go on pastures in the oak woodland. Tyler uses Gloucestershire Old Spots crossed with Chester Whites. These breeds have good foraging and herd instincts. They are finished on acorns from the oak trees. Tyler notes this “adds a wonderful flavor to the meat.” Currently, pork is sold to individual customers. “Everybody wants it. Pork is not the other ‘white meat.’ It’s pink because it should be. It’s a healthy meat.”
Turkeys are raised for the holidays. They are sold on personal orders and processed in November for fresh or frozen use. Tyler raises the turkey poults with broiler chicks in the brooder for the first 3 weeks. He says the broilers teach the turkeys how to survive, how to eat, where to eat, drink, and so on. “Turkeys could top the list as the dumbest farm animal.”
Tyler is not all work. Not long ago, Alicia, a city girl from Portland, became interested in locally grown food and the importance of food for good health. She started buying eggs and honey from Tyler. The rest is history. They plan to marry in October of this year.