Roll'n with the Changes
Young Beginning Small Farmer Zach Snider Andy Snider

Having the opportunity to work in partnership with his father at a relatively young age gives Zack Snider the unique advantage of taking on responsibilities and management on their farm while his father is still actively involved. Running their diversified farm of turkey, hogs and cash crops requires them to be agile and adept at changing and evolving — something the Sniders have grown accustomed to over the past two decades.

In the past 20 years, the Sniders have faced two pivotal points in their history requiring them to make critical decisions on the future of their family business. The first was in 1996, when Zack’s parents, Andy and Beth woke to find their dairy barn, filled with registered Holsteins, engulfed in flames. While many of the youngstock were spared, the Sniders lost their barn and 60 head of dairy cattle.

With the dairy operation gone, the Sniders began expanding on the turkey operation they had started in 1994 with Bil-Mar Foods and their sow operation. In 1998, they were faced with another challenge when Sara-Lee (formally Bil-Mar food) announced the closing of their turkey processing plant in Michigan, leaving the current growers without a market.
With the loss of their market, the Sniders and other turkey growers in west Michigan pulled together to create the Michigan Turkey Cooperative, giving them a processing option in their area.

“My dad always embraced technology and was willing to try new things,” Zack says. “The farm has grown a lot since my dad took over and I am grateful that he is here to help me continue what he started.”

Young Beginning Small Farmer Zach Snider Computer Technology

Zack returned to the farm in 2013 after completing his bachelor’s of science in Agribusiness Management at Michigan State University. His introduction to the farm management came as they were in the process of increasing their turkey production by 50 percent. In his initial role as operations manager, he was in position to oversee the construction of the new barns and facilities.

Today at the age of 27, he and his wife, Priscilla, are in the fifth year as full-partners with his parents. He continues his role as an operations manager overseeing all three enterprises as well as managing a crew of 10 employees. Priscilla works alongside his mother managing the office operations and record keeping.

Looking for the Niche

With three relatively modest sized enterprises, the Sniders look for ways to maximize their products to add value instead of adding quantity. While Zack runs the farm as a collective unit, each enterprise is evaluated to capture the most value.

“We call it the three-legged stool, with turkey being the biggest leg,” Zack says. “Our involvement in the turkey cooperative allows us to control our destiny more with the turkeys than the other areas.”
With the turkey expansion, Zack is able to segregate the turkey flocks into different management practices giving him the ability to use different feeds. Currently, they raise 26 flocks a year for a total of 250,000 birds annually. The birds are raised in an antibiotic-free setting on a vegetarian feed, giving them the designation of AVF (antibiotic free and vegetarian fed) on their meat. This specialized designation takes close coordination with their feed supplier as well as on-farm management. They also raise about three flocks of organic turkeys each year.

Young Beginning Small Farmer Zach Snider Turkeys

“I spend a lot of time on the close-out data on each flock to determine the performance of the birds,” Zack says. “Feed conversion is king. There are a lot of factors that impact the feed conversion but it’s how we measure the profitability of the flock.”

Zack correlates the same business strategy to the hog operation, looking for ways to maximize their investment while finding added value where possible. Currently, they work with other growers to supply weaned pigs to larger operations.

“At our size, we don’t have enough volume to meet the demands of larger operations, so we are looking at ways to stay in the hog market without expanding,” Zack says.

Recently, Zack has entered into discussions with genetic companies to be a genetic multiplier for the company, raising breeding stock.

“We are good at what we do with the hogs, and raising for the genetic market, allows us to stay in the business without having to expand,” Zack says.

Zack employs the same management techniques with his crops – closely monitoring costs and looking for ways to add value or cut costs. With 48 different landlords covering 2,800 acres, Zack spends as much time monitoring relationships as land.

“My dad always embraced technology with the cropping, which makes it easier for me to transition into the management,” Zack says. “We have variable soils from sandy to heavy, so having yield monitors in the combine allows us to closely manage what we do.”

Using the data from the equipment, soil samples and good record keeping, Zack can create cropping plans each year that maximize the inputs. The Sniders recently hired a full-time agronomist to manage their crops and implement cropping plans.

Good Employees are Key

While Zack keeps close tabs on all the data flowing through the farm, he relies on the team of employees to keep everything running smoothly.

“Our crew of employees is really our key to success,” Zack says. “We can’t do the work here ourselves so we depend on all of them. Four of the 10 have been here for over 10 years, and one of our managers started when I was a year old.”

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Zack and his dad, Andy, credit their prior loan officer with putting in place the need for good records – something they rely on daily as their business grows and diversifies.

“Our past loan officer forced us to know our numbers, not just what was in the checkbook,” Andy says. “It made us better managers. I can sleep well at night because I know we are fine; we have done our work and know our numbers.”

Young Beginning Small Farmer Zach Snider Eric Smith

“When I was 7 and wanted to be a farmer like my dad, I didn’t picture spending my time in the office crunching numbers, but it is important to really understand what is happening. But I would still rather have a wrench in my hand!” Zack adds.

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