Bunnett Family Farm
“If you want to sell beef, you’ve got to have chickens.” That was the advice offered to Murray Bunnett of Steeves Settlement, NB, when he and his brother David went into the organic beef business. The idea is that a chicken is less of an investment than half a side of beef, so a new customer will take a chance. If satisfied, they’ll be back with confidence for the bigger purchase.
Whether that’s true or not, David Bunnett Family Farm does have a flock of 900 broilers, along with a herd of thirty-five cattle.
Murray now owns and operates the hog portion of the farm, and with his family plans to produce pork, eggs, chickens and turkeys. David is now owner and operator of the beef farm, producing organic grass fed beef, chickens, turkeys, and retailing organic grains, seeds, and pasta.
It’s typical of the Bunnett family to listen to advice and be open to new ideas. Both habits have reaped good results for their two-property organic farm, which involves Murray, his father Peter, and siblings David and Linda. When they started their cow/calf operation over ten years ago, there weren’t many organic farmers in New Brunswick. Murray says it took time to find alternatives to conventional methods.
“There’s a learning curve,” he admits. The key to maintaining the health of the mixed breed cattle has been to focus on the big picture, he explains. The herd is bedded in clean deep straw during the winter months, with outdoor access in good weather. The Bunnetts keep the feeding area tidy and try to minimize stress. Probiotic and other homeopathic remedies have been remarkably effective when an animal does get sick.
The grass fed herd spends the summer months on carefully managed pasture, utilizing a strip grazing technique that has proved very successful. The forward fence is rolled ahead every day, providing fresh forage, while the fence behind is caught up about once a week. This encourages the cattle to utilize the whole plant, while not being pushed to graze too tight to the ground where parasites can be picked up.
Fresh well water is piped to the cattle wherever they graze, and all ditches and water ways are fenced out.
With more beef farmers are choosing an organic approach, there was talk of organized marketing. However, for now the Bunnetts will continue selling beef to one customer at a time, by halves, quarters, and even eighths. Smaller packages can be purchased at the farm store at 4663 Route 880, near Havelock, along with other Bunnett farm products such as eggs and pork.
The Bunnetts’ farrow-to-finish operation produces natural pork raised with no antibiotics in the water or feed. Health care and handling methods also reflect organic standards, but the pork operation is not yet certified. Most of the pigs go to Larsen’s processing plant in Berwick, NS, at 150-155 days of age. Pork can also be purchased directly from the Bunnetts, who deliver to Moncton customers for a small fee. The Bunnetts’ products are also available at the Dieppe Farmers’ Market, the Kingston Peninsula Farmers’ Market, the Dandelion Health Food Market in Dieppe, and Jacob’s Larder in Sackville, NB.
Murray explains that neither of the brothers were comfortable with sprays or chemical fertilizers. Both tried to minimize their use, while spreading manure and using a proper rotation to build healthy soils. Becoming organic has been a natural progression, he says. They now grow more hay and do less ploughing than ever, stay off wet ground, and keep fields covered year round to prevent erosion and minimize freezing and compacting.
Their certification with Maritime Certified Organic Growers began in 1996, and now all four hundred acres are certified organic. “It helps with marketing,” Murray says, adding that educated customers and a few restaurants will pay a premium for certified organic products. For the Bunnetts, lots of small sales mean a more predictable income. “It’s important to us to be diversified in what we grow and how we sell it,” he sums up.
The Bunnetts also have 90 acres of woodland that they log for building projects and firewood. They are always looking for more markets for their hardwood lumber and ways to diversify there as well.
Reliable markets, diversification, and managed growth are themes for this successful family enterprise. Visit them in person during their annual fall open house or take a virtual tour at their website www.davidbunnettfamilyfarm.com.