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Goosetree Family

By: Joann Pipkin

As the four-lane winds westward out of Monett on this unseasonably cold November day, hints of the area’s driving force begin to take shape. Turning south on Highway 39 bound for Wheaton, the long, narrow houses line the roadway. Poultry is king here.

With six companies making the area its home, names like Cargill, George’s, and Tyson are among those helping Missouri rank ninth in the nation in broiler production in 2012, raising 271 million of the birds valued at over 650 million dollars.

As the two-lane winds its way to Highway 86 and on to 76, barren fields of corn and soybeans are gentle reminders of the recently completed harvest. Tucked just inside the northeast corner of McDonald County, more signs of Missouri’s often forgotten treasure lead us down a quiet country road to the place Gary (Dan) and Sarah Goostree call home. Here, one might say the birds take center stage. But, for the Goostrees it’s all about family.

From the Ground Up

Although Dan grew up in agriculture around cattle, row crops and hay, Sarah was raised in the metropolis of Stella, Mo., with no farming background. Married for about a year, the Goostrees were just 19 and 20 years old when they decided to try their hand at farming.

“It’s hard for young people to get a loan,” Sarah says.

The Goostrees thought poultry farming might be for them. At the time, Sarah was working in a bank, while Dan worked at the Missouri Highway Department out of Longview. They discovered they could earn more income with two broiler houses.

chickens drinking waterThe Goostrees made an offer on a farm while their house in town sold in two weeks. It took about four months to finalize the paperwork on the farm so they commuted from a house in town.

“It was hard to be approved for a loan back then,” Sarah recalls. Tyson Foods and FCS Financial joint-financed the Goostree’s initial start in the broiler industry in 1996 with two houses. Two more 40’ x 400’ houses followed suit in 1998, while in 2008 the Goostrees built two 55’ x 600’ structures. They have plans to construct two more of the larger houses in the future.

Equipped with tunnel ventilation systems, the operation has a 192,000-bird capacity in the six houses, which raises seven flocks a year.

“I decided a long time ago, that I wanted to stay home,” Sarah says, noting she left her job at the bank when they built the first two houses.

And, raising broilers has allowed her to do just that.

Over the years, Dan has hauled litter and de-constructed poultry houses. He opted to work solely in the operation in 2000 after buying another farm. The Goostrees currently grow corn and soybeans on about 300 acres.

According to Dan, the couple’s daughters— Adison, 15, and Tori, 13, — were the reason for the change. “They’re growing up,” Dan realizes, noting he doesn’t want to miss out on their activities.

Day to Day

Although both Sarah and Dan begin their day in the houses monitoring the birds, Sarah is the primary caregiver. She manages temperature and air controls in the houses all day long.

Most of the morning is spent reviewing flock mortality in each house, although Sarah takes time after the initial check to get breakfast and the girls off to school.

Then, it’s back to the houses. “They are her houses until something is broken,” Dan chimes in. He does the final house check at about 10 p.m. and handles clean-out between flocks.

“I’m kind of neurotic,” Sarah admits adding she likes to stay in control. With a lot of money invested in the birds, Sarah says there is no time for vacation or leaving home too much when they have a flock.

Sarah strives to raise broilers just like Tyson runs a business; she wants to produce the best broiler she can while keeping her costs in check. And, 17 years of growing broilers has provided the Goostrees with a wealth of knowledge to fall back on.

Sarah Goostree monitors birds throughout the day.One thing experience has taught the Goostrees is to not fret over what they can’t control. “Like the cost of propane,” Dan says. “It is what it is. We can’t change it.”

“Every day is different,” Sarah says. “With the broilers, you have to be here. That controller can’t smell or see the chickens. I can walk in a house and instantly tell what’s wrong.”

With each grower ranked based on performance, the veteran grower today consistently ranks in the top 20 percent among the nearly 100 other producers in Tyson’s Monett complex. Admitting she was last on her first flock, Sarah says, “You go in thinking you know everything and you don’t. Then you start realizing what you need to do.”

“We don’t gamble,” Sarah says, “but farming has to be one of the biggest gambles. There are so many variables out of our control.”

In the beginning, the Goostrees operated with conventional houses, complete with curtains and different brooders. Today’s houses are equipped with radiant brooders that don’t have to be lit all the time. Much of the heating, cooling and ventilation of the houses is automated with the help of a computer.

Technology has simplified their business, according to the Goostrees. And, it’s helped them become more efficient growers.

The old broiler houses were made using steel trusses, while those built today are constructed using solid walls, which help improve efficiency, Dan says, noting that the newer houses are equipped with dropped ceilings and are about one-third more efficient than the older counterparts.

Arriving at the Goostree farm the same day they are hatched, each broiler spends about 32-33 days there before being shipped out weighing 3.80 pounds. Sarah notes 17 years ago, a 42-day-old bird had a target weight of 4.00 pounds.

Down time between flocks runs between 18 and 23 days and there’s plenty to do during that time. Houses are cleaned out and maintained and three days alone are spent just preparing for a new flock.

Give and Take

While the gently rolling hills of southwest Missouri aren’t exactly a haven for growing row crops, Dan has found the venture to not only help diversify the operation but also to add profit to their bottom line.

Dan GoosetreeAs grain prices rose in recent years, Dan saw opportunity and began converting pasture to row crops. “I got started about six years ago,” Dan explains. As the cost of propane went through the roof, he purchased some pellet stoves and decided to grow his own corn to fuel them. The venture developed into further crop establishment.

The row crop trade was one Dan learned as a youngster watching his dad raise soybeans. “Plant it, God will take care of it. And, it will grow,” he reasons.

Planted strictly by no-till, Dan grows corn and soybeans on both owned and share-cropped acres. And, he’s primarily a one-man show taking on planting, spraying and harvesting duties himself.

“I don’t have the fanciest equipment, but I don’t have 10,000 acres either,” Dan says.

This crop year was rewarding, too, as Dan says he put the best soybeans he has ever raised in the bin. His corn also performed well.

Marketing isn’t a problem for the Goostrees as nearby George’s Poultry at Butterfield and Cargill in Purdy are often buyers of locally-grown corn.

“That’s where everyone is going with their crops,” Dan says. “The poultry processors pay a premium in this area over other grain markets.” Soybeans are sold at Port 33 in Tulsa.

Dan says he hauled litter for 10 years and saw how willing people were to purchase it for fertilizer. “I got to thinking if the litter was worth that much to them, it must be good. Chicken litter will grow corn and soybeans.”

Once harvest is complete, Dan sows cover crops like wheat, triticale or tuber radishes to help penetrate the soil and assist with fertility. The ground is leased out during the winter to graze cattle or harvest silage hay.

The Goostrees appreciate the diversity that row crops bring to their operation. It helps them spread their risk.

“If the crops do good one year, the propane may be high and it will help offset that cost,” Dan explains. “There’s giving and taking.”

A Flexible Partner

“One of my favorite tools that FCS offers is flexibility,” Dan states. With operating, real estate and equipment loans through the agricultural lender, Dan says he likes to work with one entity for all of his needs.

“They know what we have and what we’re worth,” Sarah chimes in. “FCS is good to know what we need.”

Goostree with Beth Luebbering, FCS FinancialWhile the Goostrees had worked with FCS Financial through its Neosho office in the past, the facility most recently was consolidated with the opening of the new FCS Financial office in Joplin. FCS Financial’s Beth Luebbering says the cooperative’s overall goal was to create a hub where a team of employees are available to help each customer since individual needs are different. Additionally, FCS Financial maintains its excellent customer service through on-farm visits and online account access.

Sarah says they hope to use more of FCS Financial’s online business in the future. They already interact with Luebbering via text messaging and email.

According to Luebbering, customers like the Goostrees are a testament to how profitable the poultry industry can be. “You can get started in this industry and flourish if you manage your daily activities from business expenses to your personal life.”

She adds, “Sarah and Dan are very analytical from the birds to the equipment it takes to maintain them.”

All Over Again

What might seem like a big leap into farming, Sarah Goostree says is one she would do all over again. “I am blessed to be able to go to school and help and be a part of my kid’s lives and to be a part of our church,” she reasons. “We’re tied down, but it’s still a relaxed environment. There’s not someone constantly looking over me.”

The family is fortunate to enjoy a vacation every year. And, this past summer Dan and his daughters also took part in a mission trip to Wyoming.

As Dan sums up, “It’s all about family.”

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