Buxton family ready to expand niche market to feed for other animals

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Spencer Sorenson operates the Buxton Feed Companys mill. His parents, Jim and Darby, make deliveries, order raw ingredients, pay bills and interact with customers.When Jim and Darby Sorenson decided to grind their own feed for their Black Angus herd about 12 years ago, they started small, with only vague ideas of what they were doing.

Now they're shipping to retail outlets across the Northwest and responding to daily inquiries across the nation, fulfilling a niche market for feed that contains no genetically modified organisms (GMO).

As the first feed company in the Pacific Northwest to receive GMO-free certification for their pellet layer poultry feed, the Sorensons' Buxton Feed Company has taken off with a new marketing strategy that complements their support for healthy products and for local agriculture.

The Sorensons' path to GMO success began in 2000, when their son, Spencer, saw an ad for the mill in the Capital Press and the family decided to buy and assemble it, hoping to fulfill Jim’s dreams of owning a home business and Darby’s dreams of an agriculture occupation.

After about $20,000 in electrical work, the mill was up and running without a glitch.

Word of it soon spread, and in addition to producing their own cattle feed, the Sorensons were filling orders for their neighbors.

By 2008, they were producing feed for chickens, rabbits, goats, swine, cattle and horses at the mill on their family farm in Buxton. The business was a thriving, full-time venture — until the economy soured.

Many horse and cattle owners were forced to sell their animals. The Buxton Feed Co. was “limping through” the recession, Spencer said.

Then came the backyard chicken craze.

The urban poultry trend opened up the market for GMO-free layer pellets and brought the Sorensons out of their slump.

In the last two years, their chicken-feed sales have exploded, Spencer said. And their buyers are no longer just farmers. They have a strong customer base in Portland and Seattle, where they sell their products retail. by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - The Sorensons use a patented dry pelleting process as opposed to a more common steam pelleting process.

Dave Thomson, a Multnomah County code enforcement officer for the health department, said backyard chicken keeping has become an increasingly popular trend within the city of Portland, particularly in the last three years.

"GMO-free is all the rage," said Heather Havens of Concentrate Inc., an agricultural supply store in Milwaukie, where Buxton Feed Co. products are sold.

“People come back and say, ‘My chickens are so much healthier and they’ve doubled in egg production,'” Spencer said.

While all Buxton Feed Co. products are comprised of non-GMO ingredients, their Layer 16 Percent Feed is the only certified one so far — through Green Star Certified, an independent verifier endorsed by the United States Energy Council.

But the future holds certification for all feed types, Spencer said. This week, they're sending in their 18 percent rabbit and dairy goat feed to be tested for certification.

“We’ve recently seen demand for such product skyrocket. Yet without certification it’s been challenging to promote our product as GMO-free," Jim said. "The GMO-free certified label is powerful, and we’re grateful to have it.”

Spencer said 90 percent of the ingredients the family uses come from Washington County. Some, such as organic or non-GMO corn, comes from Iowa, and they purchase vitamins and minerals from the organic and natural company Fertrell, located on the east coast. They use only whole grains in their feed, and never add hormones or fillers, he said.

“We want to help build an agricultural industry in Washington County that’s sustainable for future generations,” said Spencer, who earned an agribusiness degree from Oregon State University. “If we can buy it here, we do.”

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