Spotlight on Koontz Family Farms, LLC in Mt. Jackson, Virginia
Koontz Family Farms, LLC in Mt. Jackson, Virginia, part of the Broadway Moorefield Complex, demonstrates consistently high performance and dedication to a job well done.
The Koontz farm is a family operation, with father John and son Kenny running the farm, and with John's wife Sharon Koontz handling the administrative duties.
"They're real conscientious about how their farm performs and how it looks, says Jim Bebber, boiler service technician. "They take a lot of pride in their work, they really take good care of their chickens, they stop to make sure the birds are comfortable and treated well, and they treat them very humanely."
The Koontz farm produces 19,000 birds per flock in each of its four 400x42 foot houses. The farm raises five to six flocks per year, up to 456,000 birds from farm to table.
Beginnings of a Family Legacy
John and Sharon Koontz have been the owners of the 250-acre farm for 55 years. John's parents, Alice M. and Shields C. Koontz, leased and farmed the property from 1908 to 1958. When the relatives who actually owned the farm decided to sell it, John Koontz bought it, and his parents kept farming it until they passed away. While his parents worked the farm, John Koontz spent his career working his way up the ladder in the Safeway Corporation, eventually retiring as the meat manager.
John and Sharon raised four children on the farm: James A., Lorrie Ann, Michael John and Kenny. The children were able to contribute to their own college education using funds they earned from participation in 4H as youngsters.
"The kids were all at 4H, and they would enter animals in the county fair. They had lambs or steers. We tried to take the money they won and put it back for them for their college education. They didn't want to stay on the farm, but the farm helped them with their education so they could go on to do something else."
After college, their son Kenny came back to Mt. Jackson to find his place in life, trying out a variety of jobs. None of the jobs really spoke to him.
Circle of Life
What Kenny discovered was that he wanted to run the family farm and start a poultry business. After coming to a partnership agreement, the Koontz family purchased three poultry houses in 1991 and built a fourth in 1994. Kenny began farming full time, and after retiring from Safeway, John joined him in their venture. Kenny and his wife Kelly have one 16-year-old daughter, Carter.
The Koontz family has taken measures to make their farm more energy efficient and ecologically sustainable. They even won the Pilgrims Environmental Sustainability Award a few years back.
"We've done a number of things to improve our environmental sustainability," says John Koontz. "We went to tunnel ventilation and we have attic inlets for when the birds are small. The sun warms the attic, then when the chicks are little we open the inlets and let the heat in, it helps reduce energy costs while heating the house. Aside from that, we've transitioned to a more efficient lightbulb to lower our energy consumption."
Each day the Koontzes get up and make the rounds on their farm. Kenny checks on the chickens first thing.
"His job is to check the houses for temperature, feed and water. He makes sure there are no broken waterlines or jammed up feed dispensers. He's there three to four hours per day and also checks on the birds several times in addition," reports John Koontz. "While he's doing that, I'm checking the cows and cutting hay. When he's done with the chickens he comes to bail hay with me. We're back and forth. Our priority is the chicken houses; all of the other jobs get done in between."
Other sustainability practices on the farm include new wells, cross fencing and rotation grazing to keep the cows from depleting the soil. The Koontzes perform their own soil testing annually, and employ a third party tester to give them a soil assessment every third year, adjusting their nutrient regimen as needed.
The Koontz family has traditionally produced calves on the farm, and they currently have 90 cows. They rent an additional 300 acres to grow hay for the cattle operation.
Living On and With the Land
"We live here too, and we have to survive off this land, so we've done a lot to keep the farm environmentally sustainable," John Koontz says.
"They're good folks," notes Bebber. "They take pride in their farm and they're real easy to approach. If we have suggestions we'd like for them to try, they are open to them. They are always looking to improve. They're consistently in our top 10 percent of performers."
John Koontz loves farming.
"Farming is hard work, it's dirty work and it's long hours, but I like it. I like the animals. My family started this farm with mules and horses. Now we have tractors and calves and technology in the chicken houses. You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy," John adds.