MARTVILLE, N.Y. — Having a marketing niche can help a farm stand out with consumers.
For Happy Hooves Organic Farm, that niche is meat with elevated levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Owner Della Jastrzab founded the 135-acre operation in 2007. All of her animals are pastured, but the beef cattle are 100 percent grass-fed and finished.
Every five years, the farm tears out an old pasture and replaces it with a pasture mix from Lakeview Organic Grain in Penn Yan. It includes alfalfa, clover and a seed mix.
The poultry and pork also receive certified organic feed, but no corn. Jastrzab feeds them flax, sunflower and field peas for protein because it increases the profile of omega-3 fatty acid in the meat and eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids are said to support heart and brain health, and they’re a plus when marketing to health-conscious consumers.
Crystal Creek provides the rations and the minerals for them. A few seasonal employees help Jastrzab.
Jastrzab spent her teen years on a small farm. Her husband, Ted grew up on a farm.
“We went away from farming for many years,” Jastrzab said.
While vegetable farming in the early 2000s, the couple purchased more property for deer farming. They realized their location was unsuitable for this operation and bought their current place.
The couple added 50 beef cattle, 1,000 meat chickens, 200 to 300 hens, 65 turkeys and 50 pigs.
They quit raising deer and, because few wanted to buy it, ducks.
They’re certified to process poultry on the farm, but send out the beef and pork to Joe’s Meat Market in Ontario, a USDA inspected processor.
As for the poultry, Jastrzab watched YouTube videos and helped someone else do it.
“Some of it went back to my hunting days and I had to process the animals,” Jastrzab said. “It carries over from there.”
She learned about food safety through a course from Cornell.
“A lot of it is common sense,” she said. “Handle the meat the way you’d want someone to handle your meat.”
She sells at the Brighton Farmer’s Market in Rochester on Sundays. Otherwise, people come to the farm to buy.
Jastrzab markets through the farm website and through word-of-mouth advertising. A few years ago, a broken leg laid her up for several weeks. She worked on the website and also networked with sites such as www.localharvest.org and Facebook. Optimizing her website has helped gain page hits.
“I’m not ranked first, but I already have more business than I can take care of,” Jastrzab said. “The demand for what we do has grown more every year, not just for me, but others growing organically. When I first started out, I had trouble getting rid of eggs. Now I can’t come close to scratching the surface for what people want.”
She said customers want half and whole cows and purchase their chicken supply for the winter.
“I have to remind them I can’t raise chickens on pasture in December,” she said with a laugh.
She keeps her laying hens, however. The cows and hogs are outside in winter with shelters in the field.
Her biggest daily challenge is just sticking with it.
“There’s never a day off,” she said. “It’s about 13-hour days with barely a break. It would be wonderful to find reliable help but you just can’t. When I’ve tried that, I’ve had someone come to learn and help out, thinking it will work out, but it’s more work for me to follow them and fix what they didn’t do. They won’t listen. Few people are willing even to try and they don’t know what they’re in for.”
She enjoys working with the animals and working on the family’s land.
She wants to keep her farm manageable in size and keep the soil in good condition.
“When the day comes when we can’t do it anymore, we’re not sure if we want to rent out fields and stay in the house or sell the place,” she said. “We cover our investment. I hope to retire in an RV traveling the country.”
The couple has six grown children, several grandchildren and a couple of great-grandchildren.