News story about Pigeon River Farm and our Animal Welfare Approved system.

Pigeon River Farm offers virtual tours through QR code technology

By:  Lee Pulaski lpulaski@wolfrivermedia.com

 

Animal Welfare Approved chickens

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Robert Braun walks around the high tunnel where the chickens are housed in the winter months with a bucket full of squash for the birds to consume. The eggs at Pigeon River Farm are Animal Welfare Approved, and Braun is in the process of getting organic certification for his farm.

 

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Robert Braun scans the QR code on a carton of his eggs via his smartphone to demonstrate the virtual tour of his farm provided through A Greener World. Braun is looking at eventually selling his eggs in grocery stores, and having the QR code on the carton will give more consumers an idea of where their food comes from.

If you’ve ever been to Pigeon River Farm between Marion and Clintonville, you know how their eggs taste.

Now, folks can see where their eggs come from, via a virtual tour of the farm. Whenever consumers buy a carton of eggs from the farm, the carton includes a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone, and they’ll get information on the farm’s animals and about how the chickens at Pigeon River Farm are Animal Welfare Approved.

“All the details about my farm — our whole story, how we do things and all that — are all here,” said Robert Braun, who owns and operates the 50-acre farm with his wife, Kim. “A consumer can just take their smartphone, and they know everything about my product.”

Pigeon River Farm is listed in an online directory for A Greener World, a nonprofit organization for North America’s leading food labels. A Greener World developed the QR program as a service to farmers and consumers who seek further transparency in the food system.

“In a marketplace crowded with misinformation and greenwashing, A Greener World’s trusted third-party certifications deliver real transparency for farmers and consumers,” said Andrew Gunther, the nonprofit’s executive director. “This QR technology democratizes traceability and helps give consumers reliable information about where their food comes from and how it was produced.”

The farm went through its latest AWA audit in February. Braun said a licensed veterinarian traveled from Washington state to tour the farm and examine every last detail, from where the farm gets its feed to how the animals are moved around to how they are treated.

“The Animal Welfare Approved (philosophy) is something that I’ve believed in my whole life,” Braun said. “We, as humans, are really lacking in these micronutrients. People take vitamins for their health, and it’s not a bad thing, but it isn’t very effective. Of all the vitamin (required), you’re probably getting a fraction of a percent.

“They always joke that, if you grind up the vitamin, and put it in your garden, it would do some real good.”

Pigeon River Farm has been AWA-certified since 2015. Audits take place every 11 months, so AWA inspectors will eventually see the farm operation in every season.

Braun’s chickens are allowed to roam the farm, although at this time of the year, most of them prefer to stay in the high tunnel set up near the farmhouse. The high tunnel allows Braun to grow vegetables, strawberries and raspberries for the chickens to consume for a longer period of the year than outdoor crops, reducing the amount of feed Braun has to bring in for the birds’ dietary needs.

When the chickens come out in the warmer months to roam, they get their nutrients from pecking at the ground where the farm’s grass-feed beef cattle have left manure and urine. There is a portable trailer with nesting boxes that Braun moves every few days when he rotates the cattle to another field for grazing, allowing the recently grazed area to recover and regenerate.

“I acquired an old chopper wagon, and then modified it,” Braun said. “The feed is on one side, and the nesting boxes are on the other. This is moved typically every three days. The cows will be in a particular pasture for one to three days.”

The farm has a rich population of dung beetles, Braun said, but the chickens are able to consume them from the manure for protein. Many farms have all but wiped out their beetle populations due to the use of chemicals, he noted, but beetles are returning because other farms are allowing their cattle to be free-range and graze.

“When an animal takes a supplement, only a small fraction does it any good,” Braun said. “What does the good is the manure and the urine.”

Because his animals are healthier, they produce healthier meats and eggs, and that makes for healthier customers for the Brauns. Besides the 150 chickens, Braun also has 50 head of Scottish highland cattle that he raises and sells the meat.

“We also have some Angus jersey crosses, and they are bred back to the Scottish highland bull,” Braun said. “It’s an extremely lean meat, leading toward buffalo level. It’s very healthy for you, but not everybody likes it.”

Even before Braun participated in A Greener World’s QR code program, he had people traveling from all over the state to get his eggs. Braun noted many of his customers are health professionals, like doctors and nurses.

“It’s a real high percentage — medical professionals are 20 percent of our customers,” Braun said. “A lot of them will come by and get 10 dozen at a time.”

It is the good health of others that Braun keeps in mind with the way he farms. He noted that he could adopt the mono cropping style that other farmers use, which is cheaper, but that strips the soil of needed nutrients, and then his chickens wouldn’t be as healthy.

“Everything is symbiotic. We’ve got to think of the web of farming as symbiotic,” Braun said. “In 1970, food costs were about 30 percent of our income, and medical costs were less than 10 percent. It’s flipped, and now food costs are below 10 percent, but our medical costs are climbing well beyond 30 percent. We are getting sicker and sicker and sicker, but we have cheap food.”

Braun is also trying to get his farm approved for organic certification, as well, but he noted the bar is set very high for farms to be officially designated as producing organic food. Also, the area does not have a processor that is certified, Braun said, although a processor in Tigerton is working to earn its certification.

“That’ll be a game changer for us, and likely for other farms. Consumers desperately want this certification” to be shown on the foods they eat, Braun said.

Braun said the farm plans to expand beyond its under-150 flock soon as he takes over a neighboring farm, which will require him to get a state license and be subject to state inspections. Braun hopes to have the state license by summer.

He noted that he already a state license for the beef he sells.

The farm currently generates about five dozen eggs per day on average, Braun said, so much of the farm’s income comes from its meat sales. However, he hopes to move the egg sales into a more dominant role once he expands his flock.

“We have grandiose goals,” Braun said. “We have about 142 birds now, and I’m hoping to expand to around 600. We have our current customers, but we hope to expand to commercial sales. With the QR code in place, now it can give the trust to the consumer. Once we have the state license, we can start soliciting stores.”

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