By JOHN SCHMITZ
For the Capital Press
DALLAS, Ore. -- He may not be pulling down as much as he used to, but Silicon Valley software-engineer-turned-pastured-poultry-rancher Scott Jondle is 10 times more content.
Jondle, 60, who operates his Abundant Life Farm on 200 acres near Dallas, is one of the more diversified small livestock ranchers in the state, with pastured broilers and eggs two of his mainstays.
Beef, pork, lamb, ducklings and turkeys are also in his portfolio, as well as raw milk.
Jondle, a University of Wisconsin chemistry graduate, got interested in the business about 10 years ago after reading "You Can Farm" by pastured poultry farmer Joel Salatin of Virginia. The Jondle family then spent the summer of 1999 on the Salatin farm to learn the business. Salatin, who is credited with popularizing pastured poultry, is featured in the New York Times best-seller "Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan.
One of Jondle's chief aspirations at the time he was seeking to switch careers was starting a venture involving the entire family. And that's exactly what happened.
Today, Abundant Life Farm is solely a family operation, with Jondle's three sons and his wife, Marilyn, heavily immersed in the business.
One of the challenges of being so diversified, he said, is "we're finding that as we get a little older it gets a little tougher."
Jondle runs 200-bird rotations. He starts each 200-bird lot with day-old, Hubbard-reared chicks delivered to the Dallas post office by the U.S. Postal Service.
After two weeks in the brooder, the chicks are moved to the field, where they are put in floor-less, portable pens that hold close to 70 birds each. "They deposit their manure exactly where we want it," Jondle said. "It's a wonderful fertilizer. Whereas in a confined situation, that's one of the worst by-products to have to deal with."
The pens are moved with the help of a dolly to fresh pasture every morning. Six weeks after going on pasture, the birds are ready for processing and bagging, which takes place on the farm.
Jondle sells only whole broilers. He charges $3.50 per pound to several buyers clubs. It took him seven years to start operating in the black.
Broiler losses in the field during hotter weather can be as high as 30 to 40 birds. "The older they are, the harder it is on them."
Egg layers, which are productive for about two years and number roughly 300, are kept in larger hoop houses that are moved around in the pasture every week.
While he's not certified organic, Jondle uses no prohibited chemicals or antibiotics on the farm.
Though he wasn't entirely comfortable with the marketing end of the business at first, Jondle has gone on to establish four buyers clubs: one in Salem, one in Beaverton and two in Portland. He delivers to all four distribution points himself.
Customers e-mail him with their orders, so he has no unsold product at the end of his sales day.
He also sells his birds off the farm and to a Corvallis restaurant. Jondle has been under quite a bit of stress these days due to a notice from ODA declaring that parts of his little on-farm processing plant do not comply with state regulations.
"We got a letter three months ago saying they're re-interpreting their regulations, and they now want to take our (processing) license away unless we make some changes. That's pretty discouraging. We only process about 2,000 broilers a year, so obviously we can't be putting tens of thousands of dollars into our processing facilities."
Jondle has hired a Florida attorney who specializes in such cases.
The modifications ODA is calling for include tearing out some screening and building a solid wall in its place. He has also been directed to upgrade his drainage system.
As a small, independent operation, Jondle said, he pays much more for feed grains than larger, conventional operations, which buy in carload lots.
Unlike 100 percent grain-fed conventional broilers, Jondle's birds are filled out on a diet of 80 percent feed and 20 percent field nutrients.
He does not irrigate or overseed fields.
Freelance writer John Schmitz is based in Salem, Ore. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.