“They’re happy animals that live a good life here,” says Beth D’Agata, co-founder of D’Agata’s Farm, which raises cows, pigs and chickens for sale in West Suffield.
Visiting today, you’d meet six Hereford cows, their four calves and an Angus bull. Some may saunter curiously to the fence to greet you, while the sows and piglets next door snort and roll lazily in the muck as you approach. Their concrete pens border seven peaceful acres for grazing.
Soon a few will be picked out by customers and custom slaughtered at the farm. Others will be sold. Some will be butchered in a USDA-certified facility with the meat returning for sale in D’Agata’s small retail store. (Meat sold to the general public must first pass USDA-inspection.)But as Beth stresses, “They’re all treated humanely.”
The farm also raises egg-laying chickens year-round and broilers for sale in the spring and summer.
Outgrowth of a personal goal
Raising and selling animals was never Bruce and Beth D’Agata’s intention when they bought their 13.5 acres in 2000.
Bruce had worked locally in the autobody industry, while Beth worked — and still does — in information technology. Neither grew up on farms.
His goal was to become self-sustaining by planting a garden and raising a few goats, cows and pigs.
It took the couple three years to clear the land. In the meantime, a few friends of friends approached Bruce about raising pigs and cows for them, which he did. That led to others asking if he’d also butcher and process their animals. He did that too and found it profitable.
A business was born
Eventually, the D’Agatas built nearly one dozen buildings – almost entirely by themselves – including a slaughterhouse, smoke house, animal pens and a small retail store. Soon they’ll be finishing a new slaughterhouse, converting the existing one to a processing center for cutting and packaging meats.
If it’s like the old facility, it will be immaculate and organized, with an epoxy-coated floor and walls covered in white fiberglass reinforced panels for easy cleaning.
Devoted second generation
Today the D’Agatas 27-year-old daughter Sarah is preparing to take over. She manages breeding and is dedicated to humane raising and killing.
As a youngster, Sarah was deeply involved in 4-H, breeding and showing her pigs and cows and winning many awards. At Suffield High School, she enrolled in the Agriscience Program and joined the FFA.
Today she holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science with a minor in business management. And for the last five years, she’s been a USDA inspector working out of Springfield.
Wild game processing with a bonus
From September through December, the D’Agatas are busy butchering up to 20 deer, bear and other wild game, daily.
That’s where Sarah’s rich animal background and USDA inspector experience is most beneficial. She spots likely diseased animals, as her father butchers them.
“We had a deer come in this year with an infected leg and it looked septic to me, so I called the customer and said I wouldn’t recommend eating it,” she recalls. The customer thanked her and told her to send the carcass for rendering which converts it into fuel, feed and other uses.
Pigs are good business
The D’Agata’s most popular product is pork. Annually, 10 to 15 customers buy pigs in the spring to raise on their own. Then they return them in the fall for butchering. Others buy butchered pigs the D’Agatas raise.
Whole roasting pigs – three to five months old – are most popular in the summer, particularly the Fourth of July. They weigh 50 to 100 lbs.
Since pig gestation is only 114 days, Sarah times the mingling of their boar and sows so the arrival of piglets is in sync with customer demand.
Like their slaughterhouse, the D’Agatas’ retail store is clean and orderly. You’ll find farm eggs, meats and a variety of products Sarah makes. She crafts earrings from peacock feathers and thin antler slices. Her soaps are all-natural.
When the new slaughterhouse is completed, the D’Agatas plan to become a small USDA-certified facility, with inspectors on premises when they butcher.
Then they’ll be able to sell meat to the general public that has been grown and processed entirely on their farm. Currently, they truck their livestock to a certified slaughterhouse and return to pick up the meat that they package in their butcher house.
And to think it all started when an enterprising couple pursued a dream of self-sufficiency.