Episode-832- Darby Simpson on Full Time “Beyound Organic” Farming — 48 Comments

  1. Jack,

    Why do you keep using that line about the Boy Scouts not getting The Boy Scouts are not a commercial entity; they are a non-profit organization. For them to have a “.com” would be misleading. Try going to

    • @Evan, because anyone can own a dot com, dot org, dot net, etc. The only TLD is with any restriction on ownership is .gov, the belief that only non profits or charitable organizations or churches or what ever can use a dot org is a complete myth as is the belief that they must use one. Trust me if the Boy Scouts could get their hands on today, they would do so. I personally own many dot org domains.

  2. Awesome interview! As for the national security issue – no one will care more about your health than you will . . . how many times has China poisoned our animals, children and us? I don’t care if it was intentional or not, but if we import our food (which is increasingly happening) we have nooo idea what’s in there.

    • Josh,

      Glad that you enjoyed the interview, I enjoyed sitting down with Jack to do it. Loads of fun!

      The single best way to help correct the issue which you mention above is to a) grow your own food and b) support local farmers 12 months out of the year. When you choose to vote with your wallet, the free market will respond! If you eat it, the farmers will produce more of it and new farms will spring up.


  3. As far as national security goes, think “One Second After”. After the EMP in the book, most people in the US starve because there is no significant amount of local food production.

  4. This is the type of podcast I’d like to see more of. We have 7 acres and are clearing the front acre for fruit and veggie production. The goats have cleared all the scrub and now we are clearing by hand. Need more great info. Thanks

    • Phillip,

      Sounds like a potential job for pigs! They will root and make a mess of things, but they do the job without your labor and equipment. Long term, hogs make excellent grazers under fruit trees to clean up the leftovers and convert that into a salable meat or for your own use. If you have fence that will keep in goats, you can keep in hogs, but I would suggest a hot wire inside your current perimeter fence and keep it hot 24/7. You could also scatter veggie seeds Sepp Holtzer style for the pigs to forage on, that’s something I’m investigating.

      Best of luck!

  5. I’m so excited to see you have Darby on the show. I found his website thru an earlier listener feedback episode where you read a letter from him. I’m also in Indiana but a bit further north, and also looking to make our property more productive.

    • Sherri,

      Great to hear from you again! I’m thankful I wasn’t on the show today for the reasons my letter was a few weeks back.

      What are your interests to “make (your) property more productive”?


    • We’re on 13.75 acres and about half of that is woods and scrubby overgrown pasture. Your mention of pigs as a side income really caught my attention. A lot of our woods is oak and I”ve heard that acorn-fed pork is supposed to taste great. The pasture is currently fenced with old woven-wire fencing. When you’re using pigs to clear an area do you confine them into a smaller subsection and move them as the area clears, or do you just let them have the run of the whole area? The pasture I’d like to work on first is roughly 2 acres.

      • I use a portable pig fence from Premier Fence Co.

        Do small sections at a time, so you can “manage” what they are doing, where, and how much. Pigs always need shade too! They will sunburn just like us. I would suggest 7 sections of 100′ fence. 100 x 100 (4 sections) is almost 1/4 acre. Then you can set up three more adjacent to this, rotate, leapfrog the fence, rinse and repeat. You need a HOT FENCE with pigs! If you have power close by, just spend the money and bury a powered wire back there and use an always on charger – a good one! Don’t go cheap on this stuff with pigs. If you use a solar charger, I would use this one (at least this one) and you will want to have two – so when one dies (and it will) you have a charged one to swap it out with.

        Use a water nipple with a pressurized garden hose (April-Nov) and a portable feeder and you are good to go. Use a heavy feeder, they will turn over a bucket and waste the feed. Used 1-ton or 1/2 ton feeders and be had for $50, mount on 4×4 treated skids and move with a garden tractor and cable.

        The acorns will help in the fall, but the acorn finished pork from Spain (totally forest raised pigs, no grain) take over 4 years to grow, the ham takes a year to cure, and it sells for well over $100/lb. Nice thought, but it’s a slow and long process.

        They will clean it up though! Cows will clean up trees and stuff too. Goats might be an option, but I don’t do goats. If it won’t hold water, it won’t hold a goat.

  6. @Darby, loved the info you provided. I’ve been researching exactly what you talked about the last couple of weeks and it was very helpful. Do you sell your pigs retail or wholesale? What have you found has been the best avenue of finding customers? Farmers Markets?

    • Evan,

      Thanks for the nice comments about the show, it was a lot of fun to do!

      In a word, the answer is “yes”. We sell by the cut and by the pig, and the same goes for poultry and beef too. Our “bulk” business (whole pigs, cattle, chicken CSA, chefs) is about 50% of our business. The FM is the other 50%, and often times those folks become bulk customers when you can explain the financial benefits of bulk buying.

      And yeah, FM are a constant stream of new customers – we collect every e-mail we can and use that to promote all types of things (sign up for the newsletter if you want just to learn that art, thru the website). Your customer turnover will be about 20% per year due to no fault of your own, and you have to constantly replace them. People move, die, loose interest, get out of the habit, loose the finances, etc. There is a bit of an art to picking a good FM too, which I hope to cover next time Jack and I can sit down.

      Let us know what other questions you have!


  7. Wonderful episode and interview. Timing was perfect since I just watched Food, Inc. last week and went to my first farmer’s market to buy some ‘real’ food. Yes, the chicken was more expensive than store bought but much tastier. I also have to say that I have never liked working with chicken because of the ‘slimyness’ and thought that was normal. Nope, the insect eating chicken I roasted wasn’t gross to work with at all. Going back to buy more and looking forward to my first steak made from a real grass only cow. And since I live in Central/Southern Indiana I am definitely going to take a trip to the city and visit the farmer’s market there.

  8. @Darby,
    I really enjoyed the show. I was wondering if you have more information on the chicken pens/tractors that you use. You mentioned that you needed to modify the Salatin pens to deal with humidity. I’ve had to run mine under and near trees to keep them cool enough during the midwestern summers. Any information or pictures you could point us to would be great.


    • Byron-

      Glad you enjoyed the show!

      I didn’t just modify the Salatin pens, I ditched them completely. This is what I “began” with, but we are now on Mark IV – imagine two TSP listening engineers upgrading a chicken pen over two years 🙂

      I’m not sure of how to upload a digital photo to the comments section (Jack?) but if you will e-mail me I can send you a photo of our final product. The framework is very close to what is shown in the pdf (we don’t use electric, too complicated) but Plamondon uses that for layers and I’ve modified this for broilers. However, we also use if for turkeys, layers, sheep shelters, pig farrowing huts (although they tend to tear them up) and it could be used for a small calf as well. You can also pull the tarps back in the winter, cover with plastic and BAM! Instant hoop house.

      The main thing I hated about the Salatin pen is that it’s an oven, but also that it’s a single function item. My pen has at least six uses.

      As for the broilers in this pen, yields are up, deaths are down and they are a heck of a lot easier to load into crates!

      An e-book is on the “agenda”…..someday.


    • Darby I’ve only had time to listen to 50% of this episode so far so I apologize if I’m asking something you already talked about. How do these houses stand up to predators? Between the coons, possums, and coyotes I have not been able to successfully raise even a small laying flock. I’m getting very tired of being the local wildlife’s version of KFC. 🙁

      • It’s cattle panels, solid galvanized metal, tac-welded wire mesh and treated lumber – these things are big, heavy and built like a tank. We have not had any issues. Shoot me an e-mail and I’ll send a photo.

  9. What a good episode. Between this interview and the one with Joel Salatin, I am very inspired. I just moved with my wife, kids and mother from the suburbs to a 90 acre farm and we have been learning so much. Interviews like this really get you thinking about the endless possibilities we can have as hobby farmers. I have been nonirritating my wife by drawing out my fields and dividing them into pastures and leaving my notes all around my house.

    I am lucky, that I have a job so I can slowly develop my farm such as Darby did and not have as much stress in trying to make it work right out of the gate. Thanks so much for all the information, and I hope to hear Darby back on the show soon.

  10. Darby, you mentioned in the interview and again in response to Byron that you modified the plans for broilers. What does that mean? How is the pen different with broilers than layers?

    • @Fritz-

      Basically, Plamondon’s design has the entire top and back covered with tarps (see photo in link):

      He does this due to his climate: Oregon. Lots of rain and wind, cool temps, etc. He doesn’t need ventilation. With broilers in the midwest, if you don’t ventilate you will kill them. My design has the front 1/3 of the pen open with just chicken wire over a cattle panel, tarps cover the rear two thirds. The back has a flap that can be left down (rain, wind, cold) or flipped up open to allow air to blow thru (I guess I didn’t get away from HVAC engineering even in farming did I?). That’s the main difference. We also bolstered the framing a bit, and I use solid metal on the lower back half (faces West/South) for wind and rain protection. I also use tac-welded wire mesh on the front bottom 24″ to help keep canines and coons out.

      Hope that helps, e-mail me direct if you would like a photo.


  11. Great interview, always inspiring on this show. I too wanted more info on the Pens, will play with the link provided, but it would be something you may consider doing a small e-book or such on. I think mine will approach slightly differently, but I think that is the beauty of sites like this where I can see and learn a different approach, then use the materials, tools and experiences I have to make something that works for my situation.

    We have been thinking of doing 2 or 3 pigs this year, and thinking of some of the feed coming from the local Mexican restaurant that we frequent more than we probably should. We would get about 10 to 20 gallons a day of food scraps that we would need to take away daily (on the way home from work)

    Have you ever done scraps like this and do you have any suggestions along that line? Thanks

    • Alan-

      We don’t use food scraps, because we promise our customers no chemicals, no gmo’s, etc. and a beyond organic product. Restaurant scraps come from veggies supplied by the likes of Cisco, and may have even been grown outside the USA where farming is less regulated. You have no idea what you are eating at said Mexican restaurant, or would be feeding your pigs. I won’t even give my pigs free locally grown pumpkins that have been given a chemical application.

      That being said, if you are comfortable with this the pigs will eat it and convert it to meat. It would be a great way to reduce the cost of raising your pork. It’s also a great way to ingest chemicals and have higher health care bills later. Not trying to slam your idea, just laying out the facts. Now, if you could find a local organic/chemical free veggie farm nearby, I promise you they will have product all season that is not salable or doesn’t sell and they would give it to you for a very low cost.

      If you have the room to raise the pigs, would you also have the room to raise some of their feed? Perhaps sowing an area with sweet corn, and let them graze it just before the kernels form? Or raise lots of squash to give them? You can supplement with whole kernel gmo free corn, wheat, oats, etc. A general grain mix might only run you .20/lb. Typically, it’s 4lbs of grain to 1lb of gain (as a rule of thumb on pigs) but if you graze them you can get 3-1, and if you supplement with squash, sweet corn stands, etc. you could hit 2-1. Figure a 50lb wiener pig would need (normally) 1000lbs of grain ($200) to hit a 300lb live weight. If we cut that in half, it’s only 500lbs (that will fit into two 55 gallon metal drums btw) and only cost you $100.

      I would feel better about feeding $200 worth of grain than restaurant scraps if it were me, but I don’t know your situation or circumstances. Would be happy to answer further questions for you.


  12. What an awesome interview! My grandparents were multi-generational farmers as well and I had every intention of taking over the family farm. But my grandfather insisted that farming was a non-profit occupation. They sold most of the farm in 1990.

    Now, all of these years later, it is my goal to get back to the land to raise my kids and as much of my own food as possible.
    My goal is also to raise livestock and possibly eventually having some sort of CSA operation.

    I had a recent conversation with my grandparents about the great depression and how they survived since they grew up during it. They both commented on how they didn’t have much, but because they raised their own food, they never went hungry.

    What I also found interesting is that they leased the original farms that each grew up on and never owned their own farm until they had been married for several years. So that kinda goes with what Jack said. Now, rather than being set on owning my own farm, I will look at renting/leasing.

    Once again, thanks to you both for an awesome show!

    • JD-

      If you are interested in leasing and livestock, this is a great book to start with. Greg Judy is one of the best high stock density mob grazers in the country.

      He also offers a school at his farm in May – $800, but well worth it. I learned more from that guy yesterday in two hours about grass and cattle than I have in the previous two years.

      Good luck!


      • Thanks for your reply Darby, I greatly appreciate it. I will check out the resources that you suggested. Realistically I am 3-4 years away fom being financially ready for such an undertaking. So, for now, I am learning all that I can, which includes raising my own suburban garden. I am also setting up my small property to raise rabbits. Between everything that I reading and these activities, I should have a good starting base for when I am ready to move to a larger setting.

        Speaking of books, I live near Columbus, Ohio and there is a huge library system here that carries several copies of most of Joel Salatin’s books. I tried to reserve several but most of the are checked out and there is a LONG waiting list. I have found this to also be true of many of the homesteading and self-reliance books. I thought you might find this interesting since you are a Joel Salatin fan too.

        Thanks again.

        • JD-

          Read everything you can, attend conferences, and find a local farm to volunteer on. You will learn more by doing than from any other source. And at some point, you will just have to jump in. The ground that Greg Judy leases is so trashed from decades of row cropping that no one else wants it, so the price is right on it. Just be opportunistic.

          I find the long waiting list refreshing, it tells me lots of people are interested in getting back to basics which is a huge positive. I will tell you though that if you are really wanting to do something, poultry for instance, then just buy the book. You will refer to it again and again. Mark it up, dog ear the pages, highlight stuff – make it like a textbook you are using for an exam.

          But I can’t stress enough, go to conferences now and go work on a farm – even if it’s not what you want to do for an enterprise. Get exposed to as much as many things as you can so that you will have a better idea of what you want to do, and more importantly what you don’t want to do. And learn your state laws, especially for meats and dairy!


  13. Forgot to mention this resource to folks, one of my favorite places to buy books for farming. They also have homesteading and homeschooling materials as well. Skip over the “religious” undertones if that isn’t your bag. This is a family owned business, and I have bought things from them for less than what Amazon sold it for!

  14. Darby,

    What a great episode. Haven’t heard that kind of chemistry between Jack and a guest in a long time! You mentioned “transitional organic” grains that you get from local sources. I assume that means that they farm without chemicals and use non-GMO seeds but the farms haven’t been certified organic yet, right? All I could think was, “That must cost a fortune!” From most of the scuttlebutt out there on GMO corn etc, it seems like it’s impossible to even get non-GMO seed corn but I guess that’s not true. Could you expound on that aspect or maybe this is a question for the Darby part II podcast?

    • It’s not impossible to find GMO free, but difficult. I think we are at an advantage, being in the center of the grain belt. Finding transitional organic is tough though. And yes, it does cost more (try $10/bushel corn vs. $6/bushel) but it’s how we role. GMO’s are bad bad bad.

      And yes, they must play by the organic rulebook for 36 months to get certified. So there can be chemical residue on the ground, and some in the plant thru the soil but its a huge step in the right direction. Not ideal, but it works for us. We can’t afford pure organic, I don’t think the market would support it and frankly there is little difference in the grain product.

  15. @Darby — Are you feeling the love? I’m thrilled to see such a positive response to a fellow Hoosier. You and Jack did an excellent job!

    When Jack read your letter about the trip back to your truck in Indy, I thought, “Wow! There are TSP fans who’re much closer than I realized.” Never did it occur to me that you’d come onto the show and stir such excitement and enthusiasm within us all.

    I do have to say though that I’m bummed that you’re not my neighbor. 🙂 Over here outside of Columbus, my husband and I (who don’t know anything about gardening, livestock, trees, and the like) have big ambitions for the homestead this year. We’re wanting to build a chicken tractor for laying hens, and we’re going to have our first garden. What complicates matters is the fact that I’m the one with all the time for research and manual labor with the kids, but I’m blind, so it’s not just a simple matter of picking up a book.

    Your podcast really inspired me though, and I’m thrilled to learn that there are some other TSP folks in central Indiana!

    • Sarah,

      Thanks for your e-mail and comment here. Laying hens and a couple of raised beds are a great place to start! Start small, gain knowledge and work your way up. Lots of chicken tractor plans can be found online, or we can send your husband some photos to look at and he can copy our design. It works! And with just a few hens, you could move it a couple of times a week, not everyday.

      Good luck!

      • Can layers tolerate an IN winter in a hoop coop? I LOVE the concept. I even found some YouTube videos with folks making rabbit huts out of them.

  16. Darby,
    Thanks so much for all the info! It sounds like I’m in a similar situation you were a few years ago. I recently purchased my 6th gen farmhouse and three of the surrounding 80 acres that is currently leased for corn/bean production in NW Ohio (only about 3 hrs from you). On my 3 acres I have started a garden, planted some fruit trees, and am planning for a few layers this spring. I am planning to by more (eventually all) of the land and get more livestock but am just in the learning/planning phase now. I was wondering if you have any advice on starting/building pasture from corn/bean fields. Do your cattle/pigs pasture year round or do you need to provide hay? I would like to build a robust system from the beginning to eliminate/minimize inputs. Thanks!

    • Brian,


      We are working on grazing beef year round and not feeding hay, but that takes a lot of time and we are not there yet. We do have animals year round, the pigs need forest and sometimes some basic housing but the right genetics can hack it. Best to raise pigs March-November starting out though. Also, pigs are grain intensive! If you don’t have some forest, pigs may not be for you. They need that cool area for summer heat.

      Converting row crop to pasture, I’m still learning. Highly, highly, highly encourage you to contact your local USDA NRCS office (the one good branch of the USDA is NRCS). There are programs to help pay to convert those fields to grass, build fence, bury water, etc.

      Would also tell you to read Greg Judy’s first and second book. First book shows you how to lease land and graze it. If I were you, I would start leasing some ground from the family (maybe 5-10 acres at $100/acre/year) to graze and go 100% grassfed beef/lamb (start with beef). They should give you a break on the price per acre! It’s not too late to start this year, but start now. Get it converted and you could be grazing cattle next year. And attend a grazing conference, look in ACRES USA or Stockman Grass Farmer for those upcoming events, and call NRCS as they put some on. Would also say subscribe to Stockman Grass Farmer if you want to do cattle. Grassfed means no inputs!

      Call NRCS yesterday and get to know them, they will work with you – they really are “from the government and here to help”. You won’t hear me say that about the government often.

      Last, go visit a grass based operation in your area – but maybe far enough away that you wouldn’t be a direct competitor. Most farmers are happy to share, especially if you will work for free while asking questions. Best way to learn.

      Good luck,

  17. Thanks Darby and Jack.

    I’m looking forward to picking up a few egg laying hens and a rooster this spring. Great to hear about larger livestock applications. Any suggestions on good “in-town” birds or possible web resources to check out?


    • Dan-

      My experience is with Black Autralorps & Rhode Island Reds. I’ve also used Golden Comets which are a hybrid RIR & Golden Buff Orp. All of them are very quiet and would do well in town. I’ve never met a rooster that was quiet though! That is a great way to make your neighbors not like you, but if you don’t have a law against it and want one, get one.

      I would simply do an internet search for “backyard city chickens”. It’s a big social thing to have chickens right now, and sites are everywhere. A small, portable half open/half enclosed coupe will do the trick for 4-6 birds. An a-frame is a great building style, with two external (enclosed) nest boxes on the back and a flip up lid to collect from the outside.

      Happy farming!


  18. Thanks for the quick reply and awesome tips and resources! About 15-20 acres of the family land is forested (oak, hickory, beech, maple) and I plan to use it for pigs if I go that direction. As for local grass framers to contact, is there a good resource/directory to find them or just do a web search?

    Thanks and God Bless!

    • Brian,

      Is the wooded area being leased from your family to anyone? If not, consider hogs – you can finish a 50lb wiener pig in about 4-5 months and make a reasonable profit. If the woods are unused, offer $100/5 acres per year and go for it. Hogs require a good amount of labor when you move a portable system from one place to the next, but on a day to day basis they are the least amount of labor.

      Just thinking out loud to give you an idea, but this might be a good place to start. Stockpile the earnings, then rent some of the pasture land to do cattle in a couple of years.

      Check out my previous references to swine fence and chargers, and read Greg Judy’s books on writing leases, etc. Always be extra careful when family in involved, you still have to treat it like a business, with a written contract.


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  20. I am late at responding to this show, but with work, kids, and school I listen when I can. I did enjoy this one alot and Darby got me to thinking about raising the broiler chickens. I have since contacted a local supplier of chicks and she will start getting the broilers for me 20 birds at a time once a month. I have to ease into this as my wife is not 100% on board with having live stock. Even though we are on 5 acres and I have 10 bee hives. Thanks again for the show I appreciate it.

  21. Hi Darby and Jack,
    This was one of the most meaningful interviews for me that I have ever listened to on this podcast. It speaks to an issue that weighs very heavily on my heart.

    My family owns a farm in central Illinois, near Champaign-Urbana. My grandfather farmed it, and my father grew up on that farm. However, my father left Illinois right after high school, became an electrical engineer, and has now lived in Massachusetts for 35 years. I was basically born and raised in the Boston area (I’m 35 now). Ever since my grandfather died in 1971, the land has been farmed by a family that lives on one of the houses on the property and has some kind of profit-sharing agreement with us. It’s all conventional row crops, corn and soybeans, corn and soybeans, corn and soybeans. Right now, my father owns the majority of it. I know that I stand to inherit at least half of it.

    Here is where my heart starts to ache. This land has been in my family for over 100 years. I want to be a good steward to the land, in honor of that history. At the same time, my life is here in Massachusetts. Although I love the idea of farming, my goals are more along the lines of having a scrappy little homestead in the mountains of Western Mass or upstate New York. Not to mention the fact that the conventional corn and soybean farming is the very type of thing that I have been learning is so problematic in so many ways.

    Right now, I am trying to at least learn more about how the land has been managed, specifically. I have convinced my father to bring me with him on the next trip out to meet with the farm manager. I also know that the income from the farm is part of what supported our family (a small part, probably, but still) and I don’t want to just dismiss that part of my own history.

    This is very long, I know, but this issue is such a huge one for me. When and if I inherit, I may not even be able to afford to pay the inheritance tax to keep the land. I may be forced to sell at least some of it to cover that. Do I hang on to as much of the land as I can? Do I try to change how it is being farmed? They’ll most likely see me as a know-it-all liberal so-and-so from Massachusetts with no real clue about how things really work out there, and they would be right to some extent. Or do I find a cousin to sell to, in order to keep the land in the family, use the money to buy my scrappy homestead out here in the hills, and make my own little family farm?

    I know you can’t answer any of these for me, but I am so grateful that I got to hear about your experience with a similar although different scenario in your own life.

    • Elizabeth,

      You are right, no one can answer those questions for you. And yes, they will see you as a person who has no knowledge of farming or what it takes to run a farm. Ask questions, listen and learn. Don’t offer advice. Understand the operation and if you want to make changes, then you need to study sustainable farming principals and try to slowly implement them over time. If you jump in and start telling them what to do, you will only alienate them and they will see you as a no-it-all liberal from MA who doesn’t know jack squat.

      In terms of your inheritance, you need to listen to the interview with the attorney on estate planning and get your Father to make plans now to save the family farm. Had my Grandparents not enlisted the help of an estate attorney (who my wife worked for as a paralegal) we would have had to have sold off the farm to pay the damn taxes. I thought I had all my ducks in a row, but learned I need to alter my estate planning to deal with our current administrations freaking theft that goes into effect next year.

      As far as selling it, keeping it, renting, etc. unless you are going to farm it and/or move there, my advice is to sell it. I understand your sentiment and the family history but you can’t manage land from 1,000 miles away. The only alternative would be to find a local farmer with an organic mind set to take over leasing the property and managing it in a way that is suitable to you. And you might well find one. Otherwise I would suggest you take the earnings, pay cash for your homestead and be debt free.

      And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t stay in MA or move to NY. If you want to have a homestead and stay in the NE, consider NH or Maine. I would choose a liberty loving state, and those are few and far between in the NE. Just my .02 there.

      Good luck,
      Darby Simpson