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Main Content

The Most Natural Way to Farm

By Jodi Helmer

Photography by Kevin Vandivier

Although he talks about rotational grazing, pasture management, and heritage breeds like he’s been farming all of his life, Kramer didn’t start working the land until 2007.

Before starting Yonder Way Farm, he worked as a firefighter. 

“We started buying food from small farms and that transitioned to, ‘Let’s see if we can raise our own food,’” Kramer recalls. 

Kramer, his wife, Lynsey, and four young daughters started the farm with 30 chickens, two pigs, and five calves. The couple didn’t know much about farming when they started but they were certain of one thing: They wanted the farm to be as sustainable as possible. 

“We wanted to do pasture-raised, to get our animals back on grass, because we felt it was the most natural way to farm,” Kramer explains. “This is not a new way of farming; it’s what our grandparents did (and) there is a network of farmers all over the country going back to that.” 

All of the animals on Yonder Way Farm are pasture-raised: Cattle graze, chickens peck and scratch, pigs root and wallow — natural behaviors that are impossible when animals are farmed in confinement. 

Kramer rotates the animals between pastures, allowing the animals to graze and add compost back to the land with their manure. The farm is not certified organic but the animals receive no antibiotics or growth hormones and chemicals are not used on the land. 

“You don’t have a farm if you don’t take care of the land,” Kramer says.  

As part of the commitment to sustainable farming practices, Kramer raises heritage breed pigs that are believed to be hardier, more adaptable to local climates, and more flavorful than commercial breeds.  

All of the pigs are birthed and finished on the farm and free to root and graze, feeding on grasses in the lush pastures and supplemental custom-milled feed free of corn and other GMOs.

Overcoming the Challenges

 It sounds idyllic but it wasn’t easy.

The cattle escaped their pastures to feast on chicken feed, trampling fences and chickens in their quest for grains, leading Kramer to develop a rotational grazing schedule that kept the species separated. 

The couple had no experience slaughtering chickens and relied on the Internet for instructions, taking their laptop into the shed and pausing multiple times to check the next steps, slowing down the process. 

“We just watched lots of YouTube videos and Googled everything; we were like sponges, learning everything we could,” he recalls. 

Finding a market was also challenging. Fayetteville is 95 miles from Houston and lacks thriving farm markets or farm-to-table restaurants. Prices for sustainable proteins also were higher and some of the breeds were unfamiliar, which required educating consumers of the benefits of pasture-raised heritage breeds and, sometimes, pivoting to respond to market demands. 

The Freedom Ranger chickens Kramer wanted to raise were not popular. The slow growing, single-breasted breed produced a higher ratio of dark meat and, Kramer notes, “Consumers want double breasted birds and white meat.” 

Now, they raise more-common Cornish Cross hens. 

Pasture-raised animals reach market weight at a slower pace than commercial breeds. His chickens spend 12 weeks on pasture — more than double the lifespan of birds raised indoors — and the longer it takes to send animals to market, the higher the farmer’s cost. 

Despite the challenges, Kramer pressed on because he strongly believes in the sustainable model. 

Yonder Way Farm raises 8,000 broilers, 2,000 laying hens, 400 pigs, and 250 cows each year, selling at multiple farmer’s markets and supplying sustainable proteins to restaurants throughout the area. A new onsite farm store helps bring customers to the farm and encourages a deeper connection to the animals, sustainable farming practices, and the farmers. 

“More than anything, we value and appreciate the community we’ve been able to be a part of that stems from farming and food. People differ on so many things but one thing that can bring everyone together is food.”