Twin Brook Farms

Farm in Tyler Hill, PA

Farm Facts

Type: Pastured Livestock, Meat CSA, Hay

Years in operation: 5

Annual revenue: 50k-100k
(Average over last three years)

Overview

Twin Brook Farms is a diversified farm nestled in the rolling hills of the Delaware Highland Region in Pennsylvania. The farm is managed by Erik Roneker and Cassie Schweighofer, and has been in the Schweighofer family for 100+ years. We own 55 acres adjacent to the family farm and both farm full time with summer help from Cassie’s father. For 5 years we have also managed, rented, and farmed hundreds of acres of adjacent land owned by various family and friends. Twin Brook Farms currently has two main production areas: All Natural Hay and Grass Fed/Pastured Livestock. We currently raise 30 head of beef cattle, 600 sheep and lambs, 40 goats, 35 hogs, 200 or so free range chickens, and harvest over 1500 tons of hay. We retail our hay to other small farmers and equine centers and utilize a Meat CSA and direct sales to market over 98% of our livestock. We dream of creating a closed system and also dabble in butchering, beekeeping, sustainable logging and timber harvesting, vegetable, and fruit production.

Inside the Farm

How is your approach to farming different than other farms in the same category?
We are a larger livestock farm than most within our region, but we don’t compromise our principles to make a quick buck. Our livestock are grass fed, rotationally grazed, and born and raised outdoors. We never use any kind of growth hormones and only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary. We allow our animals to self-wean and strive to reduce stress. We select heavily for traits that promote mothering, out of season breeding, and the ability to finish solely on pasture. We utilize an all-natural accelerated breeding program, thanks in large part to focused genetic selection started by my parents 15 years ago and focused by us, to maintain a stable supply of finished livestock all year round. Our fields and pastures are fertilized with our own manure and compost and we never use pesticides or herbicides. We only grow the precise number of livestock that our pastures can sustain in a given year, and we have a confirmed market for each and every one. We have shunned livestock auctions and brokers in favor of direct marketing, and this has enabled us to make a living without expanding production towards feedlot situations. Almost all of our large livestock, over 500 each year, are direct marketed and the vast majority of our customers come directly to the farm to purchase meat for their families. Our customers, many of whom travel over 2 hours from NYC, feel an intense connection to our farm and often come with picnics and extended family to spend the whole day exploring our farm. Our Meat CSA has been a great way to connect with local families that can’t afford to buy or store a whole steer, hog, or lamb.

How does your different approach contribute to a long-term profitable growth strategy for your farm and other small farms like yours?
Direct marketing and developing our Meat CSA are the best things we’ve done on our farm. Customers want to form a connection with the people who grow their food. They want to feel good about the meat they feed their families and know that the animals were raised with care. Often customers are buying our farm story more than they are buying the meat we produce. They love to stop in unannounced and catch us completely frazzled or covered in something disgusting! Returning customers who enjoy supporting us often begin sourcing other foods from neighboring farms and we love to direct them to local farms who produce unique products or offer vegetable, milk, or cheese CSA’s! The local food movement has been slow in coming to our area, but we have seen incredible growth in the last 5 years. On the livestock end of things, we have proved that adopting a low stress, accelerated breeding program and focusing on genetic selection can help grass fed livestock producers maintain a consistent product supply year round. There is a growing demand for animals that produce well on low input grass based systems. We sell these genetics to other grass based farmers, loan out sires for free, offer low cost animals to youth in our county, and act as mentors to other grass based farmers in the area. We strive to improve the soil by rotationally grazing livestock over the steep side hill pastures that are unsuitable for other types of agriculture and maintain all of our land in permanent native grass species to minimize erosion and nutrient runoff.

How would you specifically use a Mortgage Lifter Lift or Mini Lift?
Our largest expenditure each year goes to our USDA and Custom Processors. We trailer our animals and drive a minimum of 1.5-2 hours to reach the nearest USDA slaughter and processing facility. Not only is this stressful on the animals, but it is also time consuming. The processing costs have been increasing steadily each year with requests like nitrate free curing and preservative free sausages, which should be standard operating procedure, costing a premium. The processors seem to have high employee turnover and often are training new workers. These workers make many mistakes, package product incorrectly or improperly seal the vacuum packs, and fail to do our product justice. Processors lack variety and make only limited types of products. In some cases over 50% of our retail price on meat products goes directly to offset the cost of USDA processing or USDA processing mistakes. This leaves the other 50% to account for growing the animal (and the animals’ parents), trucking, and making some small profit. We would utilize a Mortgage Lifter to build an insulated pole building with floor drains and 16ft ceilings that could be converted over the next couple years into a retail meat cutting facility. We would then use a very small slaughter only USDA facility only 1 mile from our farm and proceed to cut and package the meats ourselves with a retail exempt license. Being able to cut and package our own meats would save a significant amount of money each year. Some of which we can use to increase our margins and some to decrease prices to capture a larger percentage of the market share to feed more families and promote growth.

Please share why you are so passionate about your farm and/or farming in general.
We were idealistic intellectuals when we first began farming five years ago. We had degrees in agronomy, plant science, and natural resource management from one of the top agricultural universities in the world. We had real-world experience gained by working on farms and doing agricultural research. We were excited to put all of that knowledge to practical use. Our business plans were well organized and drawn out for the first 15 years. Unfortunately, nothing worked the way the books said it should! 80% of theories put into practice were totally impractical, needlessly time consuming, and financially burdensome. In reality, the first two years were hell! Farming was a lot harder than it had seemed on paper, the long hours, no down time, and financial risk were all huge eye openers. We soon learned that our farm landscape and our livestock were completely unique, and we were forced to throw the books and plans out to design systems and management strategies that worked for us. Today, we make educated decisions and use the landscape and livestock to their greatest advantage. We still read up about current research and new production practices, but we view things a bit more critically now! We love our family farm and we’re still a little bit idealistic in believing that farming can be a viable business and way of life if you are willing to adapt and try new things! We are passionate about connecting with wonderful customers and providing them with incredible local food. We believe that large tracts of land should be maintained in agricultural or native use for all their environmental, agricultural, and social benefits. We work every day to keep our own land and land from the surrounding community in some form of low demand use. This farm is bigger than just myself and my husband. So many people, while not directly employed by our farm, benefit from the products we produce and the open space we maintain. We’ve linked our lives to the success and future of this land, and we labor every day to ensure that the farm has a strong future.

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