Farm to Table - Sarah Knust (Sawmill Creek Farms LLC.)
This week we have a little treat in store! Sarah Knust of Sawmill Creek Farms LLC. shares with us how she started her retail food business and the growth it has encountered over the last few years!
A Little About Sarah
I grew up on dairy farm in Northern Michigan. My family and I had to sell in 2009 when the market crashed. For about 3.5 years I worked on other farms, and I was a calf manager for a large dairy for a couple of years. I met my husband in 2012 and we got married in 2013. My oldest was then born in January 2015.
We have 60 brood cows that we calve out every year. I also raise about 120-130 Holstein bull calves every year. The bottle calves really are my specialty. We buy them from a large dairy north of us, and they come to us about 2-10 days of age. I try to stay away from the stock yards and the disease that gets passed around there.
Clostridium has been a problem for me in the past. I keep anti-toxin in the fridge for instances like that. I think I have pretty well figured out the cause of that issue. Our water wasn’t hot enough, and the milk was cooling down too much before we could feed it.
E. Coli and Crypto are also things that we sometime struggle with. Recently, I started giving my calves Surveillance. The calves get 10 cc. daily in their milk, and if there is one that is under the weather, I drench them with 30 cc. directly in the mouth. Since starting that protocol, I have about 5% of the issues that I used to have.
I also have goats and I put the Surveillancej in their water when they are kidding. They suck it right down and it seems to help them through the stress and transition.
Starting A Meat Business
My husband has a sawmill and a crop farm. Since I grew up on a dairy, I really missed the cows. So, we started out with just getting like 6 calves at a time and we would raise about 12 per year for a couple years. We would then sell them by the half or the whole to family and friends.
In 2016 we started selling the meat retail and have been growing ever since. We have added pigs, meat chickens, and laying chickens to our farm. When COVID hit our business just exploded to the point that we now send about 140 beef, 120 hogs, 2,300 meat chickens to market every year. We also sell 5-6 dozen eggs per day when we are open. We have a store front here on our farm. In our store we sell our own meat and eggs, and have added milk, honey, and maple syrup from other farms to our offering.
We are done expanding and now are critiquing everything and making it more efficient. It’s hard to find help right now, so it’s a lot of work for just my husband and me. We have well over 260 head of cattle on the farm right now, and a bunch of chickens. We are trying to find ways to be more efficient and make things easier until our children are old enough to help a little more.
One of my biggest challenges is convincing customers that farm raised meat is higher quality than meat from the grocery store. It is a struggle to prove that our meat is worth what we charge. One customer wanted to bring the chicken they bought back because chicken in the store was $1.99/lb. and we had charged $3.25/lb. It’s important to educate the customers, they need to take into account that store bought chicken is injected and they are paying for water. Another thing to consider is that our hamburger, being 90:10, is much lower in fat compared to the 73% lean hamburger at the grocery store.
Our biggest advertising platform is Facebook. In 2019 we had 119 followers and now 3 years later we have 3,100 followers. We have a website and also use an app called barn2door to do online sales, and mail chimp to send out a newsletter about all our specials. Another thing we have found effective is to pay to have an advertisement on the placemats at certain local restaurants.
Processing and Pricing
We have 3 different processors that we use. One specializes in Summer Sausage and Jerky and things like that. I try to book processing dates a year at a time.
Pricing is difficult especially right now with rising fuel and fertilizer prices. We try to keep our prices reasonable for our community.
Thank you, Sarah, for your commitment to producing high quality meat products for the consumer and for sharing all about Sawmill Creek Farms with us! It was great to gain a little insight into what you do!
Written by: Mariah Gull, M.S.