Farm to cell, Sheriff’s farm feeds budget and inmates

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Tulare County Sheriff’s farm is a helpful source of savings and meals for inmates

By Nancy Vigran
Reporter for the Sun-Gazette

TULARE COUNTY – The Tulare County Sheriff Department Farm, north of Visalia, provides much of the food supply to the surrounding Men’s Correctional Facility, Bob Wiley Detention Facility, and the Adult Pre-Trial Facility,  while saving the department and tax-payers money, and providing inmate work experience.

The farm engulfs 1,100 acres and has been managed by Tom Guinn for more than 25 years, the diversity and longevity of which is within direct correlation of his management skills.

The newest facet, one which the department is particularly proud, is the egg-laying operation. It was actually the idea of Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, when he asked Guinn in April, 2015, “Why not chickens? We could grow our own eggs.” Guinn jumped on the idea.

He researched free-range ideas and by the fall of that year, had created four portable pens – each with its own portable egg-laying unit, feed dispensers, and water dispenser. The department purchased some 2,000 pullets and started getting eggs almost immediately.

Each pen contains approximately 500 hens, mostly Warrens, a cross-breed known for good egg laying qualities. Currently, approximately 1,700 eggs are collected daily. The goal is 2,000 eggs per day, at which time the department will be saving $100,000 per year, Guinn said. He believes that goal will be met within a couple of months. To encourage year-round laying, lights are provided through solar units and maintained to provide 14 hours or daylight all year.

Inmates are responsible for hen care – feeding them first thing in the morning, while draining the water storage, flushing and refilling it. Then, they collect the eggs, which are washed, dried and packaged for delivery to the kitchen. The hens are checked on a second time in the afternoon, and eggs are collected again, cleaned, and shipped to the kitchen. No egg storage is provided on the farm. 

Despite this summer’s heat, the farm has not lost a hen, Guinn said. Additional shading is provided by flatbed trailers within each of the pens. Once the field under the pen is picked clean, each is rotated to a neighboring section of land to promote grazing.

“It’s been an interesting project,” Guinn said of designing and developing the laying hen operation. Having a few hens at home, he had some experience, but translating that to four pens of 500 hens each took a lot of research and development.

The chicken facility is a closed area. Outside traffic is closed off; only the cart utilized by workers for transporting eggs is allowed. Visitors who may have been exposed to other chickens, or other birds in general, are provided boots to wear, in prevention of transmitting potential disease.

Additional Livestock
Chickens aren’t the only livestock at the farm. It also contains a 150-cow Red Angus production herd with an additional 30 heifers experiencing their first pregnancy, with 150 yearlings to two-year olds growing up to join the herd.

Steers are raised to provide meat. While the bulk of the butchering is done by an outside contractor, some inmates gain experience in cubing and grinding hamburger meat.

Additionally, the farm maintains an 80-sow barn, producing 400 hogs per year. It has nine boars providing its own closed breeding unit. There is a birthing barn, where sow and piglets are kept for several weeks before being moved to a larger barn as the piglets start eating solid food, prior to weaning.

The beef and pork units combined provide approximately 3,000 pounds of meat per week. Fifteen inmates work the animal area of the farm daily. “I wish there were more,” Guinn said, but with the state-mandated early release program there are less approved workers for the program.

Inmates who work on the farm are non-violent offenders who may be serving time for such things as failure to pay fines, failure to appear, or burglary. They are offered the choice of working on the farm, or in the kitchen. Another 15, work the 10 acres of the garden, growing fresh vegetables and sorting fresh fruit. They are not paid for their work, but gain work experience and receive certification for their experience.

Fresh Vegetables and Fruit
While the garden is winding down from its productive summer season, the land will be disked soon and prepared for winter crops to include broccoli, cabbage and winter squash. A greenhouse is used to start seedlings. Still being harvested in August are tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, a variety of hot peppers, and watermelon and cantaloupe. 

Outside farmers and packers often donate a variety of fresh fruits currently including peaches and nectarines, which are the culls from packing for market with fruit that may be off-size or disfigured, but perfectly fit for consumption.

In addition to the garden and maintaining the grazing land, the farm also grows alfalfa, beardless wheat and triticale for feed. Of the 80 acres dedicated to alfalfa, approximately half is utilized at the farm and half is sold, paying for all of the alfalfa farming costs.

The Sheriff Department’s Farm will grow. As the South County Detention Facility is being built, so are design plans for its farm, which Guinn will also manage. Ten acres have been designated with a garden area and a chicken egg laying facility, too.

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