Free-range farmer benefits from raising animals the old-fashioned way

Aug 12, 2019

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Andreas Zinn says he was born to raise animals. If the autobiography he wrote at age six is an indication, that’s true. It documents his plans for the future: get up early, raise crops, raise chickens and pigs.
 
It was a solid prediction.
 
At age 13, Andreas got his first goat as a birthday present. “It kind of just snowballed from there,” he said.
 
Today, Andreas runs Zinn Farms near Springstein, southwest of Winnipeg, with his mom Monika Zinn. They raise free-range chickens, pigs, goats and rabbits for meat, along with layer chickens.
 
Zinn Farms
When Andreas was growing up, Monika ran a commercial chicken operation while his dad ran a landscaping company. He grew up working in the barns and raising a backyard flock of meat birds for the family.
 
In 2006, Andreas’s parents sold their chicken quota. In 2008, they bought Berkshire hog breeding stock. Monika sold chickens and eggs to her friends and neighbours. Andreas had since grown his goat herd and began selling goat meat to her customers.
 
The farm wasn’t big enough to employ Andreas full time. He went to university, initially to study animal science, but switched to agronomy. He figured he could get a full-time job as an agronomist and work part time on the farm.
 
“After a day of soil sampling, or whatever agronomy was doing, I was always looking forward to going home to do some more work on the farm,” Andreas said.
 
In 2011, the farm was expanding and becoming more successful. Andreas was unhappy in his agronomy job and saw his chance to return to the farm full time.
 
Free-range farmers
Today, Zinn Farms raises about 1,000 meat chickens per year, about 200 rabbits, 250 to 300 pigs, 110 goats, and 150 layer chickens. It raises these on a combined 24 acres, and has 38 acres dedicated to forage crops.
 
They farm using a highly managed but free-run method. They keep their hog-breeding stock indoors so they can farrow year round while the meat animals go to pasture. The chickens also live in a barn with access to pasture. This allows them to have animals to butcher year round to keep a consistent inventory.
 
“I didn’t really like the big-barns style,” Andreas said, of choosing to farm free range. “I could see that it was a lot of stress on my parents too, kind of like in terms of that many animals and just the type of raising that you’re doing.”
 
Some people need convincing that it’s worth spending a little extra on pasture-fed meat, Andreas said. He tells them that the heritage breeds produce fewer offspring and grow slower, but they produce meat with better marbling and flavour.
 
“It’s better for the animal, it’s better for the environment. Ultimately it will be better for the people who are eating the meat because the animals are healthier, less stress, therefore the food is better.”
 
Not everyone needs to be sold. “Farmers’ market customers are going to be more interested in that they’re more increasingly concerned in how the animals are raised,” Andreas said.
 
Besides farmers’ markets, they sell through community-supported agriculture (CSA). The CSA allows people to buy a subscription and receive monthly boxes of meat. Andreas said this allows people to get bulk prices on meat even if they don’t have much storage space. It also lets Zinn Farms move more product with one purchase.
 
Zinn Farms also has its meat in over 20 local restaurants, thanks to a friend with chef contacts and a lot of cold-calling.
 
Work-life balance
Andreas said that until he took responsibility for the farm, he didn’t truly appreciate how much work it would be.
 
“You have to be there whether you’re with the flu, you’re whatever. Doesn’t matter the weather, you’ve got to be out there and you’ve got to feed them because those animals are relying on you,” he said. “It’s non-stop.”
 
Their farming method is a bit more labour intensive than keeping animals in a barn year round, he said.
 
Andreas plans to modify his rotational grazing practice to a mob grazing style. This would see the animals pastured on smaller sections of land and rotated more often to cut down on overgrazing.
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