A Fresh Start on the Farm
By Karen Weir-Jimerson
Before David Eltz donned muck boots as his daily footwear, he was a journalist. When he met his wife, Suzanne, a project manager, on Twitter (they fell in love in just 140 characters), they knew they were kindred spirits. Ready to shed corporate stress and start a new life, they bought a farm in Tennessee.
“When we came up to the farm, we were trying to figure out what to do with our lives. We wanted to grow safe, clean food,” says David.
They started their research by reading Joel Salatin’s book, You Can Farm. That was the game changer, says David. Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley became the model for Dazi Acres. Polyface Farms is a local food, direct-marketing farming model that pasture-rotates livestock. Salatin follows grazing and feeding models that mimic nature.
Reading about the methods used at Polyface Farms “was an ah-ha moment,” says Suzanne – the pivotal moment that gave her and David the direction for their new venture. So they began raising livestock and growing vegetables for themselves and as a business.
They marketed their goods directly to their local customers. “This direct marketing is the fastest and most profitable type of agriculture,” says David. “We get to keep 100% of our dollars when we sell something.”
Dazi Acres (pronounced like the word daisy, it is a combination of David and Suzi, Suzanne’s nickname) started with a little of everything. David and Suzanne bought chickens, cows, turkeys, and pigs over a period of a couple of months. The plan was that every animal on Dazi Acres would be pastured and rotated. The Eltzes started out with small numbers – with sustainability in mind – and picked breeds that would fit their farming model.
They chose Cornish Cross chickens because they are good meat chickens and they do well on pasture. They bought two Angus-cross steers at a local auction.
They bought Yorkshire pigs the first year and then heritage crosses of Chinese Spotted, Berkshires, and Chester Whites.
The farm continues to widen its meat offering, adding sheep, duck, and rabbits.
“The sheep are Katahdins, a hair sheep,” says David. “They do really well on pasture. They are highly resistant to parasites, so we don’t need to vaccinate, and we don’t use antibiotics.”
Management-intensive grazing means their animals are moved frequently – twice daily in spring. The cows graze, the sheep follow the cows, and finally the chickens and ducks follow the sheep. Each animal grazes in the way typical to their breed. This method of multispecies rotation grazing keeps the grass nutrient-rich and weed-free without pesticides or fertilizers.
David and Suzanne call themselves farmers, but their true job is creating relationships – with the animals and land and with their customers and healthy food choices.
“We love getting out and meeting our customers,” says Suzanne, who sells vegetables, baked goods, and handmade soaps at local farmers markets. Their meat and eggs are marketed through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program and at farmers markets.
The days at Dazi Acres are long. Weeks fold into months. The animals grow large and healthy. Tomatoes ripen, berries plump out, pumpkins gain heft. Farm life is hard work, but it is fulfilling. “My job in journalism made me feel like I was sitting on my butt and doing nothing,” says David. “Now, we feel good about what we do. We are providing great food to our customers, and we give our animals a good life. I’d been asking myself for years what I was doing to make the world a better place. Now I know.”
Every three weeks, David Eltz gets 100 to 150 Cornish Cross chicks from a hatchery. As soon as the chicks start jumping up, they go on pasture.
The chickens live in 10×10-foot moveable shelters. The lightweight shelters are covered with hardware cloth and tin roofing to protect from weather. The shelters are moved every morning to another 10×10-foot space, leaving behind 300 pounds of nitrogen (from manure) in an acre. “It’s natural, organic, not brought in, not petroleum-based,” says Eltz. “We are building the soil. We want to leave a much healthier farm than when we got here.”
The open-air processing area includes an electric chicken plucker and galvanized killing cones. They process 30 to 35 chickens a week. The chickens are 7 weeks to 9 weeks old and about 4 to 5 pounds.
Dazi Acres grows a bounty of fruits and veggies, including heirloom pumpkins, squash, and watermelons. “We laid down 250 feet of black plastic to help with weed control,” says David Eltz.
Pigs graze in the woods and eat natural food such as acorns, plants, roots, and insects.