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Hoffman Brothers Launch Small Organic Farm

by Courtney Schafer

Published: Friday, February 3, 2017

Hoffman Certified Organics in Huntertown is home to 28 laying hens, 4,600 meat birds during the spring and early summer months and a handful of Mangalitsa pigs. The farm is ran by brothers, Ben and Don Hoffman and is a local United States Department of Agriculture Certified Organic farm that specializes in pasture-raised certified organic poultry. The farm sits on 60 acres and the Hoffman Certified Organic operation was launched in 2015.

The brothers are Indiana Grown members and have appreciated being a part of that organization.

"Indiana Grown is a great organization that offers a lot of support to individuals who wish to get their product out in the markets and into the hands of consumers," said Ben. "They do a lot of marketing and highlighting their members, especially in central Indiana."

With no farming background, Don and Ben thought they needed to come up with something to utilize the land that the farm sits on. When they decided to look into farming, they looked at a wide variety of specialty crops from garlic to blueberries.

Don, who has always had backyard chickens, brought up the idea of raising laying hens to sell the eggs.

"I think everyone should have backyard chickens so they don't have to buy eggs from the store," he said.

The brothers agreed to chickens for multiple reasons. Both men have full-time jobs and they thought raising chickens would be relatively inexpensive. After a trial run with 400 chickens a couple of years ago, they agreed that free-ranged pastured chickens were not the way to go. By the end of that season, they had lost 142 chickens out of the 400 they started with.

Finding the perfect bird to raise was key for Ben and Don. After three years of researching, they finally found the bird they wanted, the White Mutton Broiler.

"The hardest thing was to find a breed of chicken that works well on pasture," said Ben. "We also wanted to offer meat that tasted like what it is (chicken) and wanted a hearty bird."

Both Ben and Don agreed that they wanted meat chickens that would be able to offer the most product to their customers and they wanted laying hens that would last longer than the normal layer.

As most know, having a prime animal/product requires inputs, such as nutrition, to be the best possible.

"Our feed supplier has the best feed ever. We tell them exactly what they want and they make suggestions on additives, etc.," said Don.

With the organic eggs that they sell, the brothers are fortunate that, even though the cost of the feed is pricey for both the layers and pigs, the eggs sold cover the feed costs.

The unique thing about Hoffman Certified Organics is that when the White Mutton Broiler chicks hatch, Don's wife, Stephanie and their mother, Dotsie, drive to a location near Sandusky, Ohio to pick up the chicks.

"We don't have the chicks shipped to us," said Don. "We like taking care of the transport ourselves and ensuring that everything is being done properly."

During the first couple weeks of their lives, the White Mutton Broiler chicks live in the brooding barn on organic bedding and organic starter feed. In addition to the feed, Dotsie, offers the chicks a platter full of clover and alfalfa each day.

"Offering the clover and alfalfa to the chicks each day and making sure they all get a bite is critical," said Don. "That way, when it is time for them to go out on pasture, they know exactly what to look for and eat."

After their time in the brooding barn, they are rotationally grazed in pasture full of organic clover and organic alfalfa for maximum protein intakes. The chickens are placed in the mobile chicken coop in pens of 40. Each day, they get a new plot of pasture to munch on.

The meat chickens on the farm are fed out for 55 days. Last year's 4,600 birds were raised on 4 acres of pasture, allowing Ben and Don to see there is room for additional chicks in this year's flock.

"For us having 28 acres of pasture and only utilizing 4 acres for 4,000 plus birds is pretty good," said Ben. "We know that we could have raised more because of our acreage, but we didn't want to go out of the gate too hot. We wanted to make sure we had our plan figured correctly and that it was achievable. And we really just felt comfortable with the 4,600 number."

The processing of their chickens takes place in Colfax, Ind. at the only certified organic processor in the state.

"We hand load every bird, haul them ourselves to processor, we have to physically watch the birds go into the plant, watch them be processed, and then once they are through production, then we can take our eyes off of them," said Don.

Currently, Ben and Don market their meat chicken products at the Fort Wayne Farmer's Market. They also sell some product at LaOtto Meats and market some to local restaurants.

"With anything organic, there is always a sticker shock to a lot of people," said Ben. "We knew that we would have people hesitant to buy, but also knew that after they tried our products, they would look beyond the price. And we were right because we are almost completely sold out of chicken."

In addition to chickens, Mangalitsa pigs have made their way to the Hoffman farm. This breed of pigs is native to Hungary and Austria. The pigs live on a five-ingredient diet made up of: oats, wheat, oat bran, barley and acorns.

"As long as they are kept on their feed regimen, the end result of the meat quality and marbling will make up for the 2 years it takes to feed them out," said Ben.

The first Mangalitsa will be processed in July. That will be their proof of concept and will allow them to move a step further in growing more of these pigs. The fat on the meat has to be snow white.

Currently, Ben and Don are searching for a processor in Indiana that is organic and that can process these pigs.

The breed is known for its heart-healthy red meat, intramuscular marbling and monounsaturated fat content. They are also known for Charcuterie, which is hams that are dry aged and can sell for up to $1,500 or $10-12 per ounce.

"They Mangalitsa pigs are something we are slowly getting into," said Ben. "We have had people want to know if we offer other meat products like pork. Currently we don't, but we hope to expand on that in the future and may add other meat products."

Despite the work and effort it has taken both Don and Ben to get to where they are, they look forward to the future and the idea of expanding and adding more animals to their farm.

"It's a learning process and it's all about finding what is right for your business," said Don. "We have a lot of interest in our products, but we want to make sure we have everything in place before we get going too strong."

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