Kansas Farm Profile : Lazy S Farm
by Tom King
Lazy S Farms breeds and raises several varieties of heritage livestock in north central Kansas, selling primarily to high end restaurants and food businesses through Heritage Foods USA. “Heritage” is defined as a breed of animal unchanged by genetic modification. Heritage meats are antibiotic, hormone, and cage-free.
Lazy S owners Larry and Madonna Sorell started as conventional hog farmers, growing a few heritage pigs for their own interests, primarily an endangered breed known as the Red Wattle. But in 1990, an early Heritage Foods turkey grower asked the Sorells to grow him some turkeys to help meet rising consumer demand. Now, the Sorells grow as many as 3,000 heritage turkeys per year, and Heritage Foods markets Lazy S Farms’ Red Wattle pork to restaurants and food businesses all over the country.
Products Raised and Sold
– Red Wattle pigs: A breed imported to the U.S. in the 1700s, and now on the endangered list of the Animal Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). The Sorells sell approximately 1,000 Red Wattles per year.
– Standard Bronze turkeys: An American breed going back at least 200 years. Lazy S Farms usually produces 1,500 to 2,000 turkeys per year. Madonna notes that feed costs for heritage turkeys can be expensive, due to a special mix requirement.
– Katahdin sheep: A breed developed in America and introduced in 1985, the Katahdin is a “hair” sheep, a meat sheep that doesn’t need shearing. The Sorells raise 30 Katahdins, sold primarily at the Salina farmers market and occasionally to a few groceries and restaurants.
– Jacob sheep: Raised for wool and sheepskins. Madonna Sorell spins her own wool, and sells to other spinners and weavers.
– Scottish Highland cattle: Listed as a recovering breed by the ALBC. The Sorells maintain a small herd, primarily for their own use and private sales.
– Large Black hogs – A British breed placed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust Critical Endangered list in 1973. The Sorells have several sows, reserved for personal use and occasional private sales.
– Heritage Meat products – Lazy S Farms sells several 100% Red Wattle pork products by mail: bratwurst, hot dogs, summer sausage, breakfast links, pork roasts and ground pork. Heritage meats can be ordered by phone or online, and are shipped by FedEx. Sheepskins are also available.
– Retail – Lamb, and sometimes beef and pork, sold at the Salina farmers market. Mail order (via phone or Internet), of Red Wattle pork products. The Sorells also make private sales of lamb, beef and pork on the farm.
– Wholesale – Lazy S delivers turkeys and Red Wattle pigs go to Heritage Foods in Trimble, Missouri, which handles the processing, marketing and distribution. Lazy S Farms also sells Katahdin lamb to Prairieland natural grocery in Salina, and supplied Local Burger in Lawrence.
– Distribution – Heritage Foods distributes turkeys and Red Wattle pigs to buyers. All other distribution to customers is fulfilled by Larry Sorell.
– Production logistics – Supplying such a specialty market is not without its challenges. Although demand is strong and heritage breeds command a significantly higher price, Larry and Madonna report there are many production challenges. Death loss due to farrowing, sickness, predators, weather is a challenge. Also, Heritage Foods’ production standards leave no room for error. “They brought five groups of chefs from all over the country to the farm last year, and their first priority was that all the animals were raised outside, unconfined. Then they wanted to know about feed,” says Madonna. “The special feed mix is very expensive.”
In addition, the business is demanding Larry and Madonna Sorell have been livestock farmers for over 40 years. As they get older, and the consumer demand for heritage meats increases, new production systems will be needed. Larry Sorell looks to the new generation of farmers for his solution. He now has a group of young farmers in Kansas and Nebraska growing Red Wattles, helping them them get started, teaching them, and then buying back their pigs. “Larry even picks the pigs up when they’re ready. It’s a co-operative system,” Madonna says.
– Heritage Foods USA brand and promotion
Slow Food’s Ark of Taste program catalogs over 200 unique foods in danger of extinction. For high-end food business and restaurants with exacting quality standards, Heritage Foods is a resource for many Ark foods. Through Heritage Foods, Lazy S Farms’ turkey and Red Wattle pork are served in some of the finest restaurants in the world.
“Heritage Foods does a lot of promotion for us,” says Madonna Sorell. “They feature us in their brochures, postcards, and press releases. Through them, we’ve had articles about the farm in Time magazine, the New York Times, and the Kansas City Star. Demand for product always picks up after those articles, even at the farmers market.”
Online catalog of Heritage Meat products, primarily sausages. The site also describes breeds raised, growing methods, and information about heritage livestock.
– Animal Passports
“All of our meat can be traced directly back to the farm. How they were grown, what they were fed … Our customers know exactly how their food was produced.” Note: Animal passports are also vital to tracking sources of food-borne illnesses.
– Market Signage and Packaging
The Lazy S Farms logo is used on booth signage and package labels. The logo can be seen on their website.
The Sorells also operate the Rustic Remembrances B&B on their property, once popular with pheasant hunters. “Business dropped off after 9/11. We see only 30 to 50 people a year now. It’s not a money-maker anymore.” The Sorells also host school tours at the farm several times a year and private tours by appointment.
– Rising popularity of heritage breeds
“Because heritage animals are rare and expensive to produce, they sell for a higher price than conventional meats. At first, that limited the customer base to upscale food businesses. But people are more concerned about food quality now. The fact that we specialize in heritage breeds is starting to give us a mainstream advantage.”
“Most of the restaurants that use our pork list the farm’s name on the menu. We get a lot of calls because of that.”
**This Farm Profile is an excerpt from Finding Your Niche, A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms, published in January 2013 by the Kansas Rural Center. You may CLICK HERE to view the guide’s full Table of Contents and print or download other profiles and resource documents. Finding Your Niche: A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms offers a great starting point for envisioning the potential your farm has to increase and respond to local demand.
To receive a printed and bound copy of the 200+ page guide, please order here or contact the Kansas Rural Center at 785-873-3431. A limited number of copies are available for a suggested fee of $25 to help cover printing, shipping and handling costs.