They’re working to not only meet an ever-changing market of consumers, but also creating a farming system that will be prosperous for future generations.
Tom and Mary Cory, along with their five children, make up the Cory Family Farm southeast of Elkhart. The family welcomed visitors to their farm Monday, July 15, as part of Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2013 field days.
The Cory family raises sheep, goats, cattle and chickens, using multi-species rotational grazing practices. Visitors to the farm were able to watch how the family processes chickens they raise, as well as tour the pastures where the livestock graze.
Tom said he no longer has the conventional mentality of farming a corn and soybean rotation. Rather, the 85 acres of land they own near Alleman that used to be row crop without any fences has now been converted to 20 acres of pasture with 3 1/2 miles of fences. The remaining acres are used to raise crops to be fed to the livestock, such as non-GMO corn. The pasture is a 50 percent grass and 50 percent legume mix.
"We think they’re getting the finest salad bar," Tom said of the forage the animals are provided.
The family’s Cornish-cross chickens are just one of the animal species that make use of the pasture. They are kept in several 10’x12’ pens that sit low to the ground, with each pen holding approximately 80 chickens. The pens are pulled to a different part of the pasture once a day when the chickens are young, and twice a day when the chickens get older. Moving the pens provides the chickens with a fresh patch of forage to graze, and also prevents the pasture from becoming overgrazed to the point where it will take longer to regrow. Having the pens enclosed on all sides except the bottom provides protection from predators.
To supplement their diet, the chickens are provided an all-natural feed that does not contain soy. The family chooses to keep soy out of the chickens’ diet because of nutrition principles. Tom said he thinks his family is "on the front side" of the no soy mentality. Just as some consumers do not want their food to contain such things as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and high fructose corn syrup, some consumers are now wanting to find products that lack soy.
When the chickens are approximately eight weeks old, they are processed. It takes seven people to complete the processing, each having their own task. Several visitors were able to get a hands-on experience by taking part in the gutting of the chicken carcasses on Monday.
The family and their helpers spend three days processing all of the family’s matured chickens. Monday was the second time the family has processed chickens this summer, and they likely will do another round in August.
"It gets to be an art getting all the feathers and stuff cleaned out," Mary said. "It’s such a joy when they’re clean."
The Cory family sells the processed chickens to their customers, in addition to the meat products from the goats, cattle and sheep. The family’s goal in their farming business is to provide their customers with quality products, while maintaining the land for future generations.
"If we want to keep this mulitgenerational, somehow we’ve got to be able to create a system that is sustainable," Tom said.