Striving For the Best
Written by Julie Turner-Crawford
Producing the best animals possible is the goal of BF Farm, and owners Mark Bengtson and Jodey Fulcher.
Mark and Jodey have incorporated three livestock species – Black Hereford cattle, Kiko goats and Kunekune (pronounced koo-knee, koo-knee) pigs – at their Huggins, Mo., farm in Texas County. They feel each species complements the other through natural pasture management, and brush and weed control, which helps reduce parasites.
Mark and Jodey moved to the Ozarks in October after establishing the operation in 2013 in Georgia. They made the move due to their desire to expand their operation and the availability of property within their price range.
The farm’s management philosophy is that cattle graze grass, goats eat weeds and woody plants, and the pigs eat wide leaf weeds and other plant material that goats and cattle will not. They feel the management system allows them to spend less on inputs, so they can buy higher-quality breeding animals.
Mark and Jodey have structured their business plan to emphasize the Kikos, which were developed from a feral herd of goats in New Zealand.
“It was kind of like survival of the fittest,” Jodey explained. “Kikos are a performance goat in the meat goat category and tend to have a higher resistance to parasites, which is what really attracted me to them. It doesn’t mean they don’t have parasite issues, they just don’t get them as easily as other breeds.”
Prior to going to a Kiko operation, Jodey had a commercial goat herd, which was labor intensive. Since going to Kiko goats, BF Farm has not used a chemical wormer in more than two years.
“He’s worked so hard to buy some of the best stock out there,” Mark said of Jodey’s stock selection. “We’ve heard of Boer goat breeders losing half of their herd because of parasites; we just don’t have that problem.”
The goats, Jodey added, are very low maintenance, require every little hoof trimming and have few kidding issues.
“They are great mothers,” he said. “With the Kikos, I have never had to bottle feed a kid. In my commercial herd, the last time they kidded, I had a houseful of babies.”
Kikos typically produce twins, but Jodey said does are usually able to raise triplets with few problems. Kikos have been crossed with the meatier Boer goats and they also cross well into a dairy goat herd, but Jodey prefers to maintain his 100 percent New Zealand and purebred, registered animals.
“It’s a tradeoff,” Mark said. “We might get a little less at market than a Boer goat, but the trade off is worth it due to the lower management costs. We are also marketing to other breeders, not so much the meat markets.”
Like most other purebred livestock producers, Jodey carefully reviews all performance data. Because there are no official confirmation standards for the breed for showing, the data – such as material and paternal traits, growth rates, birth and weaning weights – are key marketing tools.
The Kunekune pigs, a smaller-framed pig also from New Zealand, are Mark’s area of concentration. Some of the stock at BF Farm was purchased from producers in Pennsylvania and New York, who are some of the original importers.
The breed is known as a pasture pig and the maximum weight of a mature animal is about 225 pounds. Unlike other breeds of swine, Kunekune pigs are slow growing and do not continue to grow throughout their lifetime.
“We got into these pigs because we had just a heinous weed problem in Georgia and within two years, they had eradicated all of the broadleaf weeds,” Mark said. “They prefer the broadleaf weeds because the root systems are similar to a carrot or potato, and it tastes sweet; they will pull it out of the ground.”
Because they are pasture raised, Mark said the meat from a Kunekune is very low in fat and can be compared to the fat content of chicken.
“When you cut the meat, it is almost red like beef, so they are a healthy alternative,” he said. “These guys don’t eat slop or any kind of meat product. They get a little grain at night, but 90 percent of their diet is what they can find in the pasture, so that keeps the fat content pretty low.”
Kunekune pigs are not known for excessive rooting because their snouts are very short and turned up, making their noses unsuited for digging.
Gilts can be bred at as young as 6 months, but Mark and Jodey prefer to wait until the females are at least a year old before breeding.
With the Kikos and Kunekunes, Mark and Jodey said they are seeing growing popularity for both, due in part to the homesteader and small farmer movement.
With the goats and pigs doing most of the work, the Black Hereford cattle at BF Farm complete the process by reaping the benefits of improved grass production. Like the pigs and goats, the men are concentrating on quality over quantity.
“With the Black Hereford, you get the best of both worlds because you get that black hide with the Angus that everyone wants, plus you get that larger, muscular animal that the Hereford brings,” Mark said. “I am seeing Angus breeders who want those Black Hereford bulls because they producer bigger, black baldie calves… People are willing to pay more for those bulls if they can get a 30 percent bigger calf. You have an animal with a low birth weight that grows quickly and we have some great EPDs with our herd. Plus, they are just really a good looking animal.”
Mark said they plan on taking their cattle operation “really slow.”
“I just don’t go out and buy cattle to buy cattle,” he said. “We have some of the best bloodlines that money can buy and we are going to just take it slow and see where it goes. Our goal isn’t to become millionaires; we just want to pay our bills. I just want to have a comfortable retirement and I just want to work on improving the breed.”
Improving their chosen breed in all species is the goal of BF Farm, as well as the farm’s reputation for quality.
“I want us to be known as the best breeders in the world for Kiko goats, Kunekune pigs and Black Hereford cattle,” Mark said.