Named to honor a beloved family pet, an adopted black Lab-Border Collie mix, Black Dog Farm originally started with four chickens and a dream and has since grown into a successful woman-owned rural small business on a 35-acre homestead in the hills near Livingston, Montana.
A few years back while living in Corvallis, Oregon, owner Kira Jarosz, a veterinarian by training, and her husband, Tim Anthony, wanted to find a healthier, more sustainable source of protein to fuel their Cross Fit lifestyle. So, they made the rounds to as many Corvallis-area farmers markets as they could to learn about locally grown and raised food products like poultry.
This eventually led them back to their family roots in Montana where they carved out their homestead and started a farm in 2017 with 70 laying hens, 50 meat chickens, and a few breeding pigs, eventually finding success selling in the local niche poultry and pork markets.
“No one was raising chickens in southwest Montana on a scale that would make it profitable for retail, and no one was selling chicken to fill that space, and only a few people were selling pork, but the demand is high,” said Kira. “People appreciate the local appeal of growing food.”
As only one of two state-inspected, licensed poultry processing facilities on small farms in Montana, Black Dog Farm operates under a 20,000-bird exemption and can only process poultry and waterfowl it owns and raises on its farm.
Another point of pride for Kira is that the farm’s meat chickens carry the “Certified Animal Welfare Approved” label by A Greener World, which “guarantees animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range for their entire lives on an independent farm using truly sustainable, high-welfare farming practices.”
But running a small farm is challenging for two people. When they started, Kira and Tim were doing everything – feeding and caring for livestock, processing animals, and managing farm projects in addition to daily business operations like inventory and processing orders. So, in 2022, they connected with USDA Rural Development for assistance and applied for a Valued-Added Producer Grant.
The grant funding was used to finance processing, packaging, marketing, to increase their meat chicken inventory to raise enough year-round and increase their layer flock to better meet demand for eggs. Additionally, because the grant lightened its load, Kira says they are now able to employ a farm manager full-time who attends to many of the farm’s day-to-day activities, including animal care.
They currently process 400 chickens each week and sell poultry at local farmers’ markets in Gallatin County and to some restaurants in Bozeman. They also provide local delivery to Gallatin County and within Livingston city limits or offer on farm pick up of online orders. Complementing their poultry, Black Dog Farm also has a selection of processed pork, eggs, dog treats, bone broth, and lard made from raw products on the farm.
“Our business is getting bigger and bigger each year, and the grant has helped us focus on the things we need to do and also get us the help we need,” said Kira. “You can see the tangible results of the work you’ve accomplished at the end of the day, and that is what drives me.”