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The Green Book

PRODUCER PROFILE: Dan Bennett

PRODUCER PROFILE: Dan Bennett
By Aaron Silverman
Issue 19, Spring 2002

Dan Bennett farms 210 acres of pasture in Ottawa, Kansas, 30 miles from Lawrence, and 50 miles from Kansas City and Topeka. The farm is entering its 5th full season with plans of producing 15,000 broilers, 2,000 layers, 250 turkeys, along with grass fed pigs and cows. The whole family is involved in the farm, and the farm is their main source of income. Bennett Ranch emphasizes value-added products, and direct-marketing to restaurants, stores, and individuals.

Broiler Production System
Dan raises 600 broilers per week during a 27 week season - March through October. Typical harvest age is 8 weeks, and the Bennetts limit feed for the last two weeks to manage for desired weights. The average death loss grew last year from around 10% the three previous years, to a little over 15% in 2001. Dan attributes some of this increase to expanding production faster than management skills. He notes that 1/2 of the losses were in the brooder, so he plans on replacing the bedding between each batch in an effort to bring brooder loss back to the 3% he expects. Half the field losses were attributable to weather; the other half were due to Dan's experimentation with feathernet/day ranging approaches. Dan feels that the weather in Kansas is just too variable for these approaches to be successful in the manner he used.

The Bennetts use 12ft x 10ft PVC pens designed by Brower. Stocking density is 80 to 100 birds per pen. Pens are moved daily, and use Plasson gravity waterers and large Brower PVC feeders. Dan plans on transitioning the water system to cup waterers by GQF, with 1 gravity tank per 6 pens attached to a pasture water line. After his unsuccessful experimentation with dayranging, Dan is planning on producing exclusively in the
Brower-designed pens, 30 for the 2002 season.

After three years of grazing chickens on native prairie, the Bennett pasture is in transition to a cool season fescue pasture with no irrigation.

Feed
The Bennetts use the "standard" Fertrell broiler ration, composed of locally produced grains and mixed at the local coop. The feed costs him about $250/ton delivered.

Brooder Management
Nine (9) brooders are used, each approximately 10ft x 10ft, and containing 300 chicks. Electric heat lamps and hovers are used. Chicks are kept in the brooder for 3 weeks.

Processing
Bennett Ranch has all their birds processed at a local State licensed processor. Cost of processing is an average of $1.35 per bird; actual cost depends on whether birds are whole, parted, and packed. Very little product is lost due to parting, and everything that is processed is eventually sold. Some birds are frozen for winter sales.

Labor
Most labor on the farm is provided by the family. Dan and his wife Jenny manage the farm full-time, along with their daughter Jamen, sons Max and John, and nephew Justin. Part-time help is hired for collecting and processing eggs. Dan did a labor analysis last year which determined that the broiler operation used 1,570 labor hour per year. Spread over 30 weeks of production, this averages 52 labor hours per week. This labor figure covered the following:

picking chicks up at post office
brooder preparation
brooder management
transfer of chicks to pasture
field management
gathering chickens for processing

processing:
final packaging & marketing
delivery
building projects
repair & maintenance

Marketing
About 70% of Dan's sales are through direct marketing to restaurants and grocery stores. Of this volume, a little less than half goes through a distributor to a large grocery chain. Plastic totes with lids are used to deliver whole chickens to restaurants. Some of his customers will then cut large quantities of birds to sell as pieces.
The other 30% of sales are through on-farm sales. Most customers are generated through word of mouth. Bennett Ranch has a web site, www.bennettranch.com, and a newsletter published twice a year. For 2002, the Bennetts are trying a more aggressive buying club strategy to target customers from farther distances who resist driving to the farm.

Record Keeping
Dan uses Quickbooks and spreadsheets to track his farm's performance. Spreadsheets are used to track losses throughout the life cycle by week, weekly customer orders, frozen product inventory, and daily egg production. Sales information for products and customers are tracked through Quickbooks, as well as the other financial bookkeeping. A database is used to compile customer information for mailings.

The Bottom Line
Bennett Ranch is projecting approximately $200,000 in gross sales for 2002. The Bennetts own their land, which is both their largest asset and primary liability. Labor is almost entirely supplied by the family, but monthly land payments are substantial. Dan sees the whole farm getting to a 25% profit margin.

Unfair Advantages
The most substantial advantage Dan has is the availability of a processing facility in close proximity. Another advantage in marketing is his location, close to both the college town of Lawrence, and metropolitan Kansas City. Dan's background in marketing gives him an advantage in forming relationships with distributors, store purchasers, and restaurant chefs. Being in Kansas, feed costs are much less than other parts of the country.