Thriving Farmer Case Study: Southwest Gamebirds

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Southwest Gamebirds

These farmers learned to build their brand and create a website they can control

Michael and Christy Rose are the husband and wife team behind Southwest Gamebirds, a family farm that focuses on research and propagation of game birds. Whether it’s hatching eggs, live birds or even frozen quail, they have a passion for game birds, such as Coturnix quail.

So, how did these guys find their way into the world of gamebirds?

“Now that’s a story!” Michael says. “We both studied chemistry, earned graduate degrees, and had nice careers ahead of us. A year or two into this we saw our lives flash before our eyes. We were in the rat race. So we decided to get out while we still could. I’ve always enjoyed genetics research, and we like the business case for quail as an undeveloped industry. We spent our first year learning from the experts and studied quail characteristics at a biochemical level. We modified a few things in our husbandry practices and our customers noticed, so now they’re very loyal since our quality is hard to match. Our growth was slow at first like a lot of businesses, and it’s been a tough switch from our desk jobs, but I think we’ve set our farm up for long-term success. We’re in a really interesting industry and it has a lot of potential.”

One of the keys to success in many small businesses is to focus. Too many businesses, especially small farms, try too many enterprises or product lines and never achieve excellence or profitability in any one area. Michael and Christy are keeping it simple, focusing almost exclusively on quail and quail eggs.

So, with a focused business plan and a passion for genetics, why did Michael and Christy engage with Small Farm Nation?

“Before we joined Small Farm Nation we had a one page website that couldn’t handle transactions properly, and didn’t know anything about farm marketing. We were basically surviving off of word of mouth advertising.”

And that’s how most small farms start, with one local customer at a time. But it’s hard to scale and grow that way. The successful farming businesses we all know and admire learned that, at some point, they had to establish a farm brand that resonates with potential customers. That way, the farm could become a magnet that attracted customers to them rather than constantly having to hunt for customers.

Small Farm Nation taught us how to build our brand, and gave us the resources to create a custom website that we could control. Tim has also been a great help whenever I break our website. I remember one time I loaded 70,000 zip codes into a plugin, not knowing this would crash the entire site. Tim had it running again within a couple of hours and gave me some advice on how to accomplish my goals without breaking the website again.”

Today, Southwest Gamebirds has a beautiful website that makes it easy for customers to find them, and make purchases online. Hindsight is 20:20, of course, but that doesn’t mean other farmers can’t learn from Michael and Christy’s experience. So we asked Michael what he sees as the most challenging part of running a profitable farm business and what he wishes they would have focused on earlier.

“I think this is different for every farm, but for us it was sales. Our product is so specialized that we couldn’t just go to a farmers market and sell what we produced. Instead, we had to tap into specific market segments nationally and grow our brand awareness online. Sales and marketing are not our skillset, so I think if we were able to give ourselves advice a few years ago it would have been to find a way to learn or outsource what we weren’t good at as soon as possible. A business is nothing without sales and marketing; it literally can’t exist without them. It’s hard to put a value on the kind of service and response time we get from Small Farm Nation.  For us, it’s just one more thing not to worry about, which is important when you’re starting a business.”

Small Farm Nation designs and
hosts custom websites with online stores
for farmers. Our web designs meet the needs of each individual farm.

Small Farm Nation Academy offers
online farm marketing courses that help
farmers to master marketing and increase profitability.

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Southwest Gamebirds

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Auburn Meadow Farm

This Pennsylvania farmer sharpened her online presence and created a slick, modern farm website.

Some people grow up on a farm, so it’s natural they farm as adults. Not Jackie Cleary, who took a rather long and winding road to the farm.

“Yep, it was a long, convoluted way, through food and animal welfare interests,” Jackie says. “It seemed a bit random, as I was working on real estate at the time, but I was raised showing and training horses, and worked in the horse industry for years before my real estate career, so I was used to the work and large animals, and really missed them.”

Farming is hard enough as a family, but Jackie goes it alone in Pennsylvania. It didn’t start that way, though.

“My husband and I divorced early into it, and I had to buy him out to keep the farm. That was a real blow that frankly I have not bounced back from,” Jackie said.

Today, Jackie farms grass-fed Devon beef and pastured pork on Auburn Meadow Farm. But she never intended to enter farming as a solo act, and the sudden divorce created enormous challenges. But Jackie fought to keep the farm going and get it profitable. But to do that she had to get customers, and that meant she had to master marketing.

“Because of my background in sales and marketing, I was successful at selling my beef the very first year it was available.” Jackie said. “I spent a lot of time on my website and blog and teaching about food, and engaging with other bloggers, chefs, and policy makers. But, the systems are continually changing, and I had stopped changing with them.”

Jackie found that she loved writing, photography and storytelling and sharing that via her blog. But she didn’t love technology and found the ever-changing tools and applications time-consuming to keep up with.

“I started to drift away from what had been working for me,” Jackie added. “But Small Farm Nation Academy helped me refocus, sharpen up my online presence, and get back on track with a more modern site that is more secure in my ownership of my platform.”

Jackie launched a modern, responsive farm website with an online store with the help of Small Farm Nation.  Now she’s back to blogging and photo-journaling her farm life. That’s good news because it not only allows her to connect with customers, but blogging is a great tool for search engine optimization. But her long and winding journey since starting the farm hasn’t been all roses.

“Well, to be honest, I am more cautionary tale than a success story,” Jackie says. “Though at first, it seemed to come easily for me. Over attempting to try to speed things up after my divorce was an expensive mistake. I would say pace yourself, not chasing after requests from customers without financial commitment upfront, and healthy, positive relationships with anyone your farm business depends upon, like a spouse, family, landlord or investor. It is much better to start slow and build on a solid foundation than to rush and ignore red flags.”

Jackie says that joining Small Farm Nation helped her to accomplish something that was difficult for her as a farmer, and something she really needed.

“It forced me to focus, Jackie said, on joining the Academy. “I tend to over complicate things with all the things that shouldn’t be on the menu. Tim’s video library of courses reminds me to stay focused, keep it simple, and remember I am running a business, rather than a hobby.”

Small Farm Nation designs and
hosts custom websites with online stores
for farmers. Our web designs meet the needs of each individual farm.

Small Farm Nation Academy offers
online farm marketing courses that help
farmers to master marketing and increase profitability.

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Southwest Gamebirds

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Fort Rock Farms

We have a long list of customers who are ready to buy whatever we produce!

Joel, his wife Amy and daughter Sadie are the farmers near Lake Havasu, Arizona.  Several years ago, Joel’s family began an adventure in search of wholesome food. That led them to form Fort Rock Farms as a way to produce and distribute nutritious, naturally grown food to their Lake Havasu City friends and family. The same food we set out in search of so long ago.

Joel’s path to farming began with being lured by, as he says, “Joel Salatin’s silver tongue.” They underestimated the difficulties, rewards and how it would completely change their path forever, something they’ve documented in an amazing series of blog posts of their 7-year journey to going completely off-grid.

Fort Rock Farms produces grass-fed beef, pork, pastured chicken, eggs, veggies, and honey. Back in 2010 and prior to starting the farm, Joel ran into some business challenges after the recession. 

“In 2010 we had a few clients fold up which left us holding a hefty stack of unpaid invoices,” Joel explained. “This was the first and only time I have been left with the uncomfortable feeling of financial insecurity for my family. Never had a life without a mortgage, car payments or utility bills seemed so appealing. We buckled down and fought our way through it, coming out much stronger on the other end with the urge for simple living now front and center. We hopped in Amy’s Jeep to hit the road for a week, looking at rural property and researching what it would take to turn the daydream into a reality. It took over a year to find an untouched 50-acre property that fit our needs which were good soil, great water source yet still close enough to Lake Havasu to commute while we built our new life.”

Thus began their exciting farm dream to financially sustain their new lifestyle. But as Joel discovered, starting a farm is much more challenging that starting other businesses, because he was both starting a business AND building an off-grid home. This made it very difficult to stay focused on critical business priorities.

“Before joining Small Farm Nation Academy we had the same struggles all small businesses face,” Joel explained. “A lack of focus, trying to do too many things at once, etc. But Small Farm Nation Academy helped us set clear goals regarding marketing and narrowing down the number of key products we would focus on.”

The problems that Fork Rock Farms faces today are now a bit different than what many farmers face…too many customers and too few products. Joel explains:

“Having enough product to sell is typically our challenge. There are so many buyers ready to invest in our story, it’s hard to feed them all. Big dreams mean big expenses. Focusing on the business side of farming and having a clear plan would have saved us thousands of dollars in the beginning.”

Ah, but hindsight is 20:20. After excitedly starting a farm business many of us later learn that it would have been best to prioritize marketing, strategy and the business side of farming earlier. But Joel has advice for others who have yet to embrace marketing the way he and Amy did.

“You started farming to farm; not become a marketing professional. After the first season with Small Farm Nation Academy, that’s exactly what we were able to do. Marketing is less than 15% of what our time goes to now. Our email campaigns are simple yet effective. Our social media presence is minimal as we now have a long list of direct customers that are ready to buy whatever we produce, many of them in bulk.”

Small Farm Nation designs and
hosts custom websites with online stores
for farmers. Our web designs meet the needs of each individual farm.

Small Farm Nation Academy offers
online farm marketing courses that help
farmers to master marketing and increase profitability.

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Southwest Gamebirds

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Our Local Farm

We understood farming, but we needed to learn marketing!

Kimmie and her husband, Phil do pretty much everything on their Raleigh, NC area farm..with the “help” of their three children. Originally from Mattawamkeag, Maine, Phil moved to North Carolina nearly twenty years ago. Though trained as a master automotive technician he became interested in regenerative farming after becoming friends with several Polyface Farm associates. Phil’s desire to farm grew as he researched and studied more about our food and farming systems in America.

Kimmie grew up on a diverse farm in Augusta County, Virginia just several miles away from Polyface. So she kind of has regenerative agriculture and farming in her DNA.

“After attending NC State for my undergraduate and graduate studies I worked in the Raleigh/Durham area,” Kimmie said. “Since becoming a mother I have made my family and the farm my main job. Now we have three junior farmers. The oldest two, Olivia and Elisah, are responsible for collecting eggs and helping feed and water the animals.”

Phil and Kimmie named the farm “Our Local Farm” because they wanted their local community to connect with them, and they wanted to be as essential to their community as farmers were just a few generations ago. Their farm serves Raleigh and the bustling RTP area of North Carolina. 

But, while they studied regenerative agriculture and farming extensively, they found (as most farmers do) that marketing and technology required a whole new set of skills.

“Prior to joining Small Farm Nation Academy, we just felt like we did not know what the heck we were doing in any area of our business,” Kimmie said. But Small Farm Nation has been a great resource because we get help whenever we need it in many areas of our farm business, especially website assistance.”

Marketing and technology is a critical challenge that almost all small business owners struggle with, but none more than farmers. Farming demands so much, day in and day out, that it’s difficult to know what the marketing priorities should be, what to do and when to do it. Most farmers struggle to clearly focus on the important priorities that can propel their sales and profits.

“Joining Small Farm Nation Academy helped focus us. It is really comforting to know we have someone to turn to when we have a farm business or marketing question.”

Small Farm Nation designs and
hosts custom websites with online stores
for farmers. Our web designs meet the needs of each individual farm.

Small Farm Nation Academy offers
online farm marketing courses that help
farmers to master marketing and increase profitability.

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Southwest Gamebirds

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Freedom Valley Farm

How this Maryland farmer embraced relationship marketing.

Ryan Hamby farms in Maryland with his mom, dad, and three younger brothers. Ryan says they chose the name Freedom Valley Farm because their farm is in a big valley and farming in it has given his family freedom from the “rat race.”

Like many modern farmers, Ryan’s path to farming started not outside…but inside, watching documentaries such as Food, Inc. But rather than doing what most people do (such as just supporting a local farmers market), Ryan’s family went in whole-hog, so to speak, and started farming themselves!

“We started with just a few backyard chickens and it grew from there!” Ryan said.

Today, Freedom Valley Farm produces grass-fed beef, pastured chicken and turkey and woodlot pork.

Ryan found and joined the Small Farm Nation Academy back in 2018 because, as he says, “We were struggling to figure out farm marketing and websites, and just didn’t even know where to start!”

But that was then. Since joining the Academy, Ryan says they’ve learned so much that has helped their farm to really get growing!

“Tim is awesome, and his courses have taught us best practices and how-to for relationship farm marketing! He has also helped us build a state-of-the-art farm website!” Ryan said.

Today, Freedom Valley Farm has a slick, modern farm website with an online store and is selling out of product. This has proved critical as the Coronavirus pandemic hit, as it made it easy for Ryan’s farm to take and manage a rapid increase in orders. But with their online WordPress store, they can easily take orders and even allow customers to choose their pick-up dates and locations.

When asked what he sees as the most challenging part of running a profitable farm business, Ryan says:

“Right now, the struggle is in getting to a large enough scale to support a healthy economy of scale. We are getting there faster than ever now, but it certainly can’t come soon enough. Cash flow has also been a big learning curve as we grow, and figuring out how to finance that growth.”

As all farmers know, figuring out marketing and growing a profitable business is challenging. But, as Ryan says, it’s good to have help when you need it.

“Small Farm Nation has been an invaluable tool to have in our back pocket,” Ryan added. “Without it, we’d be stumbling in the dark when trying to figure out how to market and sell our farm products.”

Small Farm Nation designs and
hosts custom websites with online stores
for farmers. Our web designs meet the needs of each individual farm.

Small Farm Nation Academy offers
online farm marketing courses that help
farmers to master marketing and increase profitability.

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Southwest Gamebirds

Thriving Farmer Case Study: Holt Creek Jerseys

This busy farmer made time for marketing!

Ben Gotschall is a busy man. Working with his wife Tammy and their growing daughter Charlotte, Ben and Charlotte run two farming businesses.

Raising Jersey cows has been a passion for Ben since he was a boy. 

“Even at that young age, I was serious about developing a top-tier production herd of Jersey cattle,” Ben says. “I set for myself the goal of having the highest-producing Jersey herd in the state of Nebraska. I bred my cows to high-production bulls and purchased cows and heifers from high-producing herds in the Midwest, and by 1997, as a senior in high school, I had the top herd in the state for milk.”

Ben established a small herd of Jersey cows, one of the top 10 small Jersey herds in the U.S. for butterfat production. He sold commodity milk to the Dairy Farmers of America, who picked up every 3 days. Like many dairy farmers at the time, Ben fed the cows a specially-designed production pellet in the parlor, and fed the heifers a heifer grower ration of corn. He kept their calves in individual hutches where they were fed milk replacer and calf starter pellets until they were weaned at 6 weeks old.

It was a classic high-input, high-production, low profit business, even when milk prices were attractive.  It was not a system designed to be profitable under unfavorable economic conditions, and it was not sustainable.  When milk prices dropped in 1998, Ben’s income from milk sales to DFA was insufficient to cover his cost of production.  He was faced with the infamous choice many small dairy farmers then and now confront: GET BIG, OR GET OUT!

Ben had to find another way.

Today, Ben runs Holt Creek Jerseys, where he sells Jersey cows, bulls and semen with organic, grass-fed and A2A2 genetics. To help market that business, he built a website with the help of Small Farm Nation Academy

 

But Ben and Charlotte do more than raise cows. They milk them, too, and sell raw milk in Nebraska. They market raw milk, grass-fed beef and pastured pork through another business, Davey Road Ranch.

Ben’s parents run yet another farming business!

So, clearly, Ben has farming in his blood and has been around it all his life. But, like many farmers who transitioned to selling directly to customers, Ben discovered he needed to develop a new skillset.

He needed to become an effective marketer.

“Before joining Small Farm Nation Academy, I struggled with social media, creating a good website and email marketing,” Ben said. “But now I’ve learned how to design and maintain my website, and I’ve grown my email customer list and grown my social media/online presence.”

Ben has a tremendous amount of farming experience and has words of wisdom for new and experienced farmers.

“Knowing your financial numbers via accurate bookkeeping is vital to making timely and effective decisions on a farm. I wish I had outsourced my bookkeeping to a professional sooner so I could spend more time on marketing and customer engagement through my Small Farm Nation website and customer e-mail list.”

Small Farm Nation designs and
hosts custom websites with online stores
for farmers. Our web designs meet the needs of each individual farm.

Small Farm Nation Academy offers
online farm marketing courses that help
farmers to master marketing and increase profitability.

Small Farm Nation creates beautiful farm websites and offers online farm marketing courses that help farmers grow profitable farm businesses.