Riverslea Farm, Epping, NH
“In 1991 when we bought a 200 year old farm in disrepair, we did not have a plan, we just thought it would be a nice place to live and fix up,” says Jeff Conrad who, with his wife Liz owns Riverslea Farm in Epping, NH.
The Conrads’ early renovations, however, began to take on a life of their own. After turning their old farm house into a comfortable and infinitely livable home, they went to work on their barns, three of them, and with that task complete, came a eureka moment; the barns, the Conrads realized, cry out for animals, and Jeff and Liz had begun their journey toward raising sheep and goats.
Today, their “nice place to live,” has evolved into a 45 acre working farm, with herds of sheep and goats. The sheep are primarily a cross of Leicester and Dorset because “the Leicesters are good mothers who produce twins, triplets, and beautiful wool,” says Liz “and the Dorset blood gives rapid growth and fine grained meat.” Their cross bred goat does (Nubians, Alpines and Boer) are mated with Boer Bucks to get a meatier animal with lean and tender meat.
And as the farm continued to take shape, so, too, did the Conrads’ plan take form. Because the couple have been unable to grow all the wool or livestock that they sell, the Riverslea Farm has become what the couple refers to as “a point of sale and resale.” While Liz cares for the animals on the farm, Jeff, is in his truck picking up livestock to finish and grow out. “Many sheep and goat owners don’t want to market their animals,” says Jeff, “so they readily sell them to us after they find they are too much work or want to go on vacation, and I generally pay more than an auction house.”
The yield may not be as great, but the Conrads’ focus is on slaughtering fresher younger animals that are not fully grown out because customers prefer the flavor and more tender meat. Today, the farmers average sales of 200 of their own stock and about 300 that they have purchased to grow out or finish for meat sales.
Along with their increasing sales at the Winter and Summer Seacoast Farmers’ Markets, the Conrads continue with their ethnic customer base that began as one of their first ventures. “Here in North America,” says Liz, “we rely on the expertise of our grocer for quality food, but in most parts of the world the consumers rely on seeing the whole animal and using all of it for food including the head, internal organs, and intestines which are not readily available in the stores.” After an order is placed by phone to the farm, Jeff slaughters the animal at a custom exempt slaughterhouse. The customer then picks up the carcass from the farm to share with friends and family.
A third source of meat sales is USDA inspected cuts and carcasses to local restaurants such as Republic, Manchester, Black Trumpet, Portsmouth and Blue Moon Evolution Restaurant in Exeter.
Blue Moon has been certified by the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection as focusing on the use of locally grown ingredients. “We want to sell whole animals,” says Jeff because “Economically, it works best for both the restaurant and for us.” So, as with the ethnic customers, Blue Moon Chef Ted McCormack buys a whole inspected carcass from Riverslea Farm and breaks it down into primal cuts. The cuts in most demand he uses in the restaurant; the others become ingredients for a variety of frozen meals such as curry goat, shepherd’s pie, lamb, kale, and sausage soup, and even a goat liver pate to be sold at the restaurant, Riverslea’s farm store, and at their farmers’ markets.
Liz and Jeff acknowledge that they cannot operate a profitable business without selling all of the product from their animals. While they sell their meats and meals at farmers’ markets, their yarn and skins are most often sold at sheep and wool festivals, their farmstore, and mail-order through their website, www.riversleafarm.com.
They produced their first yarn in 1995 and since then have added variety and color to their inventory. Products include hand-dyed and hand-spun yarns. Batts, roving, and felts – hand-dyed blends of their wool with alpaca and silk. Tanned goat hides and washable lambskins, lambskin slippers, pillows, winter wear, blankets custom-woven from their wool, as well as and other handmade items from their wool and leather products. There are also nesting balls for bird-lovers.
“So,” sighs Jeff, “though the farm has brought two hip replacements and a year of diverticulitis for me while Liz carried on, we’ve never regretted buying this old place which has come full circle–– from a rundown derelict house and a bunch of ramshackle barns to being named a “Farm of Distinction” in 2006, by the Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food.” And they didn’t even have a plan.
Jeff & Liz Conrad
362 North River Road
Epping, NH 03042
Retail:(direct to customer sales)
Seacoast Eat Local Farmers Markets
Wholesale:(bulk sales to market, restaurants, stores, schools, institutions)
Restaurants: (* certified by the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection)
Black Trumpet, Portsmouth
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