Having a passion for their operation and a willingness to think outside the box are characteristics of the successful livestock enterprises we visited on tour in Indiana in early September.

This was all a part of the 104th annual meeting and professional improvement conference of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents in Fort Wayne, Ind., in September.

Direct marketing to consumers is something several of the farms visited are doing. Joseph Decuis Wagyu beef farm at Columbia City, Ind., sells directly to top restaurants in the larger Midwest cities and offers their product through their own restaurant, which is just minutes from where the animals are raised. They have a side venture that offers a venue for parties and wedding receptions to urban customers.

Gunthorp Farms has its own USDA inspected processing plant on the farm and markets hogs, chickens, ducks and turkeys through this facility. They raise pigs on pasture and sell their pork and poultry to upscale restaurants in Fort Wayne, Chicago and other larger cities in the upper Midwest.

Several of the operations process manure produced on their farm to be used as fertilizer. Their success led neighbors to ask them to handle manure from the neighboring farms and a co-op enterprise resulted.

Agri-tourism, telling about how livestock are raised and crops are produced, is a way of improving consumers’ understanding of food production, but also building confidence in the quality and wholesomeness of the resulting products.

Over 98% of the people in the U. S. are not connected to any kind of farm or ranch and know very little about how food is produced, or understand all the factors involved in managing an agricultural operation. Allowing interested people to visit a farm or ranch is not only a fun outdoor experience, but also gives urban residents a better appreciation for what farmers and ranchers do.

Cook’s Bison Ranch, Fair Oaks Farm and the Joseph Decuis Wagyu Farm welcome people to visit, see the animals and ultimately to taste some of their fine products. Fair Oaks, a multi-farm co-op, expanded to become an actual theme park for dairy farming with 30,000 cows that are milked three times per day. Visitors are taken by bus from the loafing shed to the milking facility and around to view all aspects of the dairy operation.

Rose Acre Farms (RAF) is the largest family-owned egg producer in the U.S. It grew from a small family operation in the 1930s to its current position, having farms at 17 different locations in the central states with its headquarters in Seymour, Ind. It has 25 million chickens in egg production.

RAF is always striving to improve housing and feed for their chickens. They mix the poultry feed in their own feed mills using grain purchased directly from grain producers. RAF markets eggs to many of the large retail stores and food service companies across the U.S.

While visiting 12 different and very interesting livestock based operations, it was easy to see things are not stale in the U.S. livestock industry. It was a testimony to the intelligence and creativity of the many people in agriculture who find a way to direct their agricultural business so that it is productive, profitable and enjoyable.

Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He can be contacted at dwarnockgreenerpastures@gmail.com.

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