Jeneen Wiche and her husband, Andy Smart, took over at Swallow Rail Farm in 2003. Since then, they have focused on developing and marketing a diverse range of foods direct to consumers. Starting first with fruits and vegetables, the couple has now mastered raising a healthy flock of AWA laying hens. They are also raising AWA meat sheep and are building a following for their quality lamb.
Jeneen has lived on the land she now farms since age 10: “It represents the work of my late father, which is a meaningful legacy for me, and is a significant part of our farming philosophy,” she explains. Despite comprising just 20 acres, the farm is incredibly diverse and includes extensive pasture, a 5-acre tall-grass prairie, ornamental gardens, a nut grove and orchard, a farm lake, a barn where the hens have free reign inside and out, and a passive solar home. Tours are welcome and typically focus on horticulture and agriculture operations.
Swallow Rail Farm’s flock of 50 AWA laying hens are a mix of traditional breeds that include Brahmas, Wyandottes, Marans, Australorps, Rhode Island, Leghorns, Araucanas, and one Hamburg. The hens range freely around the property during the day and are secure in the barn and coop at night. Jeneen explains that the most important aspect of the farm’s husbandry practices is movement: “Everything gets to move and actualize its unique instinct. Everything gets to move away from its manure; everything gets to move on to new grass. Manure management, fresh air and sunlight are the key to healthy animals, and the only place to get all three is on pasture. For chickens especially, a varied diet improves vigor – as well as the taste and nutritional quality of the eggs.”
The sheep at Swallow Rail Farm roam green Kentucky pastures, ranging and foraging as nature intended. Jeneen explains, “They want to eat grass, legumes and forbs so that’s what we let them do!” The Katahdin breed was chosen because they are adaptable to cold and heat, resistant to many of the problems that other breeds face, are an excellent meat breed, lamb easily and are good mothers and do not have to be sheared because they are a shedding hair breed. They are entirely out on pasture and the lambs for harvest receive a small ration of feed that is free of antibiotics, steroids and hormones. Jeneen explains that this ration is really more for behavioural reasons: “They love the girl with the feed bucket!”
Jeneen sought AWA certification because of its potential to start a conversation with her customers about the disconnection between the eater and the farm, and the downsides of industrial food production. “If I can be a part of reconnecting people to the farm by telling the stories of how we care for our food-producing animals – even though some are ultimately slaughtered – perhaps people will once again have a greater appreciation of the food we eat, and the importance of making the right food choices,” she says. “The farm worker, the environment, the butcher… in the industrial model they are equally dehumanized for cheap food. AWA is the alternate awareness.”
Looking to the future, Jeneen and Andy have clear objectives: “Our long term goals are to perfect what we are doing and grow it to a comfortable number in each species. We plan to continue to direct market to the consumer and through the Community Supported Agriculture model.”
For more information on the farm and its products, visit www.SwallowRailFarm.com.