Iconic farmer Will Harris will teach how to profitably scale up a mixed-species, diversified livestock farm at Practical Farmers’ 2017 annual conference

For Release: December 22, 2016

AMES, Iowa — When Will Harris started transitioning White Oak Pastures, the nearly 1,300-acre family farm he runs near Bluffton, Georgia, from an industrial cattle farm to a grass-based, multi-species operation, he says it was the start of a conscious effort to return the sixth-generation farm to a model based on respect for the land and animals.

“During the latter half of the 20th century, our farm only produced calves for the industrial beef production system,” says Will, who now rotationally grazes cattle, sheep, hogs, goats and five poultry species. “I worked for my father – who was a great industrial commodity cattleman – and I learned a lot from him. We ran the farm that way for 20 years.  But I became increasingly sensitive to the unintended negative consequences of that system to the land and animals. I eventually became disgusted with it, and that caused me to look for a better way.”

The search for a “better way” began in 1995, when he stopped feeding his cattle grain and ceased using antibiotics and hormone implants. A few years later he eliminated chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Will then built a USDA-inspected beef abattoir on the farm, diversified his livestock, and added vegetable and egg production to the farm.

Today, White Oak Pastures is the only farm in the U.S. that has both red and white meat abattoirs on site. The farm has also obtained numerous certifications for its animal welfare and land stewardship practices, including Certified Humane, Certified Grassfed, Animal Welfare Approved, a Step 5+ rating by the Global Animal Partnership, Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA Organic and Certified Naturally Grown.

Learn more about Will Harris’ farm model, which has allowed him to profitably scale up, at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2017 annual conference, “Pass It On,” Jan. 20-21 at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames.

  • In “Profitable Vertical Integration of Livestock: Production, Processing and Marketing” (Friday, Jan. 20, 12:30 – 4:30 p.m.), hear an in-depth explanation of White Oak Pastures’ farm model, from how the Harris family implements the Serengeti Plains Rotational Grazing Model to how they process and market their many species of livestock – and the impact the farm’s transformation has had on the local rural community.
  • In “Q&A With Will Harris,” attendees can bring their unanswered questions for Will and continue the conversation on diversified, pasture-based livestock.

Will is also a featured speaker at the Iowa Forage and Grasslands Conference, just prior to the PFI conference. On Thursday, Jan. 19 he will lead a session called “Multi-Species Grazing: The Serengeti Model” (7 p.m. at the ISU Alumni Center), where he will explain the rotational grazing systems he uses that relies on multiple livestock species.

Register online at https://www.practicalfarmers.org, or contact Erica Andorf: erica@practicalfarmers.org or (515) 232-5661. Those who pre-register by Jan. 12 will save $10 per day. Special rates are also available for students and PFI members.

This year’s conference celebrates the impact of farmer-to-farmer learning on farmers’ confidence to explore new or different farming practices, and their ability improve farm profitability and land stewardship. Livestock farmers of all enterprises will find sessions relevant to them. From pigs to poultry, goats to grazing, the 2017 PFI annual conference offers sessions intended to help beginning and experienced livestock farmers with a range of production, marketing, business planning and management issues.

Additional livestock sessions at the conference include:

  • Lessons Learned: First 10 Years of Farming – features two livestock farmers
  • The Natural Medicine Chest for Livestock Health and Wellness
  • Saving Bacon: The Conservation of Traditional Breed Pigs
  • Feed-Formulating Alternatives to Corn and Soy
  • Business Plan Vetting – features a beginning farmer raising crops and livestock
  • Forage-Fed Pigs
  • Grazing Cover Crops
  • Expanding Markets and Creating Identity at Hansen’s Dairy
  • Building Relationships to Access Land – features two farmers each raising crops and livestock
  • Goat Production for Ethnic Markets

Poultry Short Course: Those who want to learn more about establishing or scaling up a pastured poultry operation can sign up for a pre-conference short course – “Scaling Up Pastured Poultry” –  on Thursday, Jan. 19, from 1-7 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 20, from 8-11:30 a.m., at the Scheman Building. This year’s conference marks the first time PFI has offered a livestock-focused pre-conference short course.

This in-depth course will cover pastured poultry production from chick to plate, focusing on ways to help farmers create a profitable pastured poultry business that can be scaled up. Housing consideration, breed selection, economics, feeding and management, humane slaughter, marketing – and more – will be covered. The course will be taught by farmers, a researcher and feed formulator, and a holistic veterinarian.

Keynote Address: The conference will also feature a keynote address on Friday, Jan. 20, by three renowned Iowa farmers: Susan Jutz, of Solon; Vic Madsen, of Audubon; and Dan Wilson, of Paullina. These long-time Practical Farmers members – and guiding stars – are all past presidents of Practical Farmers’ board of directors and recipients of PFI’s Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award. During the keynote, Susan, Vic and Dan – who together represent the diverse range of farm enterprises Iowa is capable of sustaining – will each share words of wisdom from their decades of farming experience, including three insights they feel are most important to pass on.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2017 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Applegate Organic & Natural Meats; Grain Millers; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Rimol Greenhouse Systems; and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Practical Farmers of Iowa strengthens farms and communities through farmer-led investigation and information-sharing. Our values include: welcoming everyone; creativity, collaboration and community; viable farms now and for future generations; and stewardship and ecology. Founded in 1985, farmers in our network raise corn, soybeans, livestock, hay, fruits and vegetables, and more. To learn more, visit https://www.practicalfarmers.org.


Tamsyn Jones | Outreach & Publications Coordinator | Practical Farmers of Iowa | (515) 232-5661 | tamsyn@practicalfarmers.org