Spencer family provide consumers with a more natural approach to their plateUnderneath bustling traffic on Interstate 540 sits a piece of Eden in rural West Fork, Ark.
Here, Terrell and Carla Spencer raise laying hens and meat chickens the natural way. Down the hill from their house and across a little creek, thus the name of the farm, Across the Creek, are narrow and hilly meadows where chickens graze on grass and eat locally raised feed.
While on a recent tour of the farm, Terrell Spencer, or Spence, who has a bachelor’s degree in soil and water science from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Ark., shows a place where hens were over-wintered and its absence of grass shows the lesson learned. The current area where the hens were over-wintered this year is an example of how the Spencers use proper management of the hens to improve fertility of their land.
Constant rotation of all the chickens in the pastures is maintained to build and protect fragile hillside soils. Soon, the small farm will have more meat goats to serve two purposes – their meat will be sold and they will clear brush and weeds. Their manure will add further nutrients to the soil.
“Nothing goes to waste on this farm. It either gets sold or it goes back into the soil,” said Spence.
They have lived here for 4 years, and have two sons, Simeon, 3, and Silas, 1. They moved here from Farmington, Ark., which is only a few miles away, after Spence, a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, returned from a year-plus combat tour in Iraq and Carla had finished her master’s degree in environmental microbiology from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla.
In addition to farming, Spence works as a poultry specialist for the National Center for Appropriate Technology in Fayetteville, Ark., whose focus is helping people throughout the nation by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions.
“I convoyed through areas of Iraq, the birthplace of civilization, that used to grow wheat and barley, that are only good for salt today. You should always leave the land better,” said Spence.
Spence has experience with the USDA’s organic regulations, and has worked with the USDA through NCAT explaining the regulations to farmers.
Poultry is difficult livestock to certify organic, he said, because the organic feed is usually two to three times as expensive as non-organic feed.
He does feed his meat birds a custom ration of GMO-free grain (GMO is genetically modified organism); his laying hens receive a conventional laying ration.
For now, the best natural credentials the farm has is for customers to come out and see how the birds are raised. Spence said he has never had to use antibiotics on his flocks, and their roaming free, along with a diet of grass, clovers and the highly nutritious ration, make for healthier and happier birds. Yolks at times are almost orange they are so full of nutrients, he said.
Spence says the farm, which raises 150 egg layers and just under 1,000 meat birds a year, has operated as a true business for about a year and a half “and when I say that I mean profit-driven.”
It has just secured its first restaurant customer, The Brick House Kitchen and Kafe in Fayetteville. One of the venues to sell the meat is The Wren’s Thicket, a farmers’ market in south Fayetteville.
The farm direct-markets to a customer list and sells eggs to Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville.
Spence is giving back to his comrades in arms; he helped with a three-day workshop in mid-May for veterans to learn about farming, specifically focusing on sustainable livestock production.
Many veterans are from rural areas, said Spence, where the job market is weak; veterans farming seems to make sense.
“There’s a growing number of people that see it as a solution to the aging farming population,” said Spence.


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