By Gregg Hillyer
Progressive Farmer Editor In Chief
Matt Tiefenbrun loves to talk turkey. And why not? Since he and his wife, Eleanor, established Buttonwood Farm in 2010, their pasture-raised poultry operation has seen impressive growth -- from 75 turkeys and 400 chickens to 4,000 turkeys and 55,000 broilers/3,500 laying hens -- in seven short years. This is serious business for the 30-year-old couple, one that has allowed them to fulfill their dream to farm.
That dream started at an early age for Matt. As a young boy, he loved playing with toy tractors. Green paint was his brand of choice. When he reached his teens, Matt bought a calf, raised it at his aunt and uncle's farm and then sold it. He was hooked.
"As long as I can remember, I was super intrigued with farm equipment, cows, and the whole ag thing," recalled Matt. The fact he was a city kid living in the St. Louis suburbs didn't deter him.
He met his future wife -- Eleanor Krautmann -- when he was a high school sophomore working at her parents' organic produce farm located about an hour's drive southwest of St. Louis. Matt and Eleanor continued to date while he attended the University of Missouri to study general agriculture, and she enrolled in nearby Stephens College to earn a degree in design.
They married in 2010. That same year they acquired 120 acres near California, Missouri, adding another 40 acres two years later. Matt had always wanted to raise cattle, but, "We realized we couldn't just buy cows and land and make an income," he said.
Matt had some experience with poultry from working on the university's poultry farm while pursuing his degree. The couple decided to buy a few hundred chickens and turkeys that first year. Poultry was relatively inexpensive to raise and had a much faster turnaround than cattle. Matt did get his cattle, too, investing in 150 feeder calves.
The Tiefenbruns set their sights on a premium-priced, high-quality product to capitalize on the growing farm-to-table movement. They further defined their niche by focusing on natural (hormone/antibiotic free), pasture-raised Cornish Cross chickens and Broad Breasted White turkeys. Matt and his dad began cold-calling restaurants in St. Louis.
"When we started out, folks driving by would slow down to observe the birds roaming the pastures," noted Eleanor. "I'm sure some thought we were crazy, but as they've seen our business grow, I hope we're gaining credibility."
From those humble beginnings, Buttonwood Farm -- named for the sycamore trees on their land -- has averaged 20% to 25% annual growth. Their clientele of restaurants and butcher shops are located in St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia and Jefferson City. The Tiefenbruns are eyeing other locations in the state as well as outside Missouri (www.buttonwoodfarms.com).
Matt works with the community's Mennonites to help raise the chickens, and all the birds are taken to a local processor. They recently added eggs to the business, selling roughly 1,500 dozen per week primarily to restaurants.
"Sometimes we pinch ourselves we are doing this," said Eleanor.
Gregg Hillyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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