Pasture-Raised Pork & Chicken From Our Family To Yours
Diverse and sustainable nourishment for your family, our community, and mother earth.
Wills Family and farm history
In March 2004, newlyweds Brent and Anna Wills purchased 100 acres of mountain land in Goose Creek Valley near Montvale, Virginia, nestled against the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Bedford County. The land had originally been part of the Hutchens family farm and is located at the end of the road bearing the same name. The next spring, the first egg-laying chickens were brought to the farm–and were quickly dispatched by Dakota and Dumpster, the resident beagles.
Learning their lesson, Brent and Anna beefed up their housing and started over with new birds, adding more in order to have a few hens to process for the freezer at the end of the season. When the time came, the birds were processed and given to neighbors and family, who promptly put in orders for more birds the following year, thus giving root to what has grown into Bramble Hollow Farm.
More meat birds and pigs were added to the farm the next year and within a few years, an on-site poultry processing permit was acquired and investments were made in equipment and infrastructure to enable the Wills to be more efficient and expand their product offerings for their growing customer base.
As the farm grew, so did the family. Jack (2007) and Marren (2012) joined the crew, turkeys and cattle were added to the farm and in 2017 a high tunnel was constructed allowing the Wills to produce tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and herbs through the season and greens and cover crops in winter. That same year Anna embarked on a new venture–breeding heritage chickens–and in 2022, Bramble Hollow Farm received the National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP) certification allowing the farm to offer hatching eggs and day-old chicks for sale to those looking for high quality genetics or local breeders.
In 2016, Jack acquired the laying flock of around 100 hens and Jack’s Eggs was off and running! Selling locally to the community as well as through online markets and CSA’s, Jack’s Eggs are a favorite for all egg eaters and cooks alike!
An on-farm commercial kitchen building was constructed in 2020, providing Bramble Hollow Farm the ability to value-add their existing products and expand their offerings to their loyal customer base and offer a place for other farmers and growers to process and prepare items required under inspection as well.
Because they are supposed to be!
From the beginning, Bramble Hollow Farm was conceived as a pasture-based farm, as the topography (mountain land) and soil type (very sandy) were not a natural fit for cropping. Cattle, turkeys, pigs and chickens have all been raised on perennial grassland traditionally so the Wills built a homestead that revolved around raising animals on pasture, utilizing the power of photosynthesis to grow healthy and diverse forages for their livestock while avoiding many of the harsh inputs of a more conventional farm. Using mobile infrastructure and solar-charged electric fencing–as well as roaming flocks of geese, ducks and guineas–livestock are raised in a way that builds fertility in the soil and increases soil carbon, enhancing the biological systems that the forages thrive on, thus imparting a higher quality and nutrient profile for the meat animals raised on pasture, not to mention those pastured eggs!
Soil health = plant health = animal health = human health
As the farm grew, so did their knowledge of soil health and its direct effect on forage quality. The light, sandy soil that had been so dominant in the beginning was starting to improve in structure, water holding capacity and organic matter content. Pasture plants like clover and vetch were moving in where they had not been before. Using rotational grazing paddocks and mobile housing allows the Wills to focus on areas of the farm that need the impact of well-managed grazing animals while offering the rest that pastures need in order to maintain a healthy stand. Multi-species cover crops are harvested in the high tunnel in winter and early spring to feed to the livestock, giving them a diverse diet even when the pastures are dormant.
Why on-farm breeding?
Seed and livestock genetics are one of the most crucial aspects of agriculture. Breeds and varieties have been cultivated for centuries and have been selected over millennia to achieve a desired outcome. Modern breeds have for the most part bypassed that natural system, whether it be genetically-modified crops with foreign DNA inserted or intensively bred livestock meant for living in unnatural conditions with the main goal of producing higher yield in a shorter period of time–arguably fine for the ‘industry’, but not so much for family farmers.
On-farm poultry breeding allows Bramble Hollow Farm to select for, enhance and build on traits and characteristics in their animals that make them hardier and healthier, enabling them to thrive in a pasture-based situation while affording an independence from the more industrial systems producing more industrial genetics. Bramble Hollow Farm has built a reputation and solid customer base on high quality meats so having control of those genetics is the best way to guarantee a sustainable farming operation.
There are other reasons why on-farm breeding is an important aspect of Bramble Hollow Farm production. When we focus on egg-layer genetics, we select for specific traits that pertain to eggs and the hens that lay them: temperament, rate of lay, egg color, egg size, hardiness. The majority of our females (pullets) hatched on-farm are saved for future egg-layers or breeders, so this is a great way to select for specific traits for how the birds will be utilized.
But selecting for egg-laying traits doesn’t work well for breeding larger male birds (cockerels) and since we only need a few males for next year’s breeding stock, we raise most of our males as meat birds for the table. In the commercial egg-laying industry, almost all day-old cockerel chicks are euthanized to save the company money and time raising and marketing those birds. That is a horrible management system, not to mention a true waste of resources. Remember: If you eat eggs, you should also eat the males that are a byproduct of the egg-laying program!
Since 2004, Bramble Hollow Farm has pioneered a trail in the direct-to-consumer and wholesale markets for their products, from selling at farmers markets and local retail establishments to on-farm pickup and CSA delivery to our customers. As time has passed, the Wills have expanded their involvement in the farming and food community in many ways, including selling to local restaurants and health food stores, offering products through the Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP) mobile and online markets, providing products to local conferences and catered events and implementing high quality on-farm workshops and educational programs.
In 2017, Brent was elected to the Board of Directors for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF), the non-profit dedicated to promoting, educating about and advocating for biological and organic farmers in Virginia. Serving as President of the Board of Directors since 2017, he has volunteered hundreds of hours educating, networking with and coordinating programs and technical assistance for growers all across the Commonwealth in the areas of soil health, beginning farmer programs, regenerative grazing projects and climate-smart vegetable growing.
Bramble Hollow Farm are founding members of Edible Goose Creek (EGC), a local Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) program created to provide a wider diversity of goods to the community from multiple family-owned and -operated Montvale area farms working in collaboration. In addition to farm products, EGC also provides outreach and training programs for the community: growing herbs and cut flowers; making and using composts and other on-farm fertility tools; cooking demonstrations and workshops; backyard poultry and processing demonstrations; wild plant walks; seasonal on-farm celebrations; potluck gatherings and much more.
Bramble Hollow Farm is proud to partner with, provide sponsorship to or hold membership in the following groups:
- Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF)
- Edible Goose Creek (EGC)
- American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA)
- Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP)
- Land & Table
- Sustainable Poultry Network (SPN)
- Heritage Poultry Breeders (HPB)
- Virginia Soil Health Coalition (VSHC)
- Roanoke Foodshed Network (RFN)
- Virginia Biological Farming Conference
- Mountain Run Jam
- Bedford Area Family YMCA
- Floyd Fest
- Deep Dango!