Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Be well, stay safe, take care. Happy growing.

Get the local dirt in our northwest corner

Conway Feed: Keeping it in the family

Sep 5th, 2014 | Category: Features

by Jessamyn Tuttle

Conway Feed’s owners, Scott and Kelly McKnight, have only been running the business for six years, but have a personal history with the nearly 100-year-old feed mill. Kelly, who also manages the office at her family’s farm, Pioneer Potatoes, grew up in the Skagit farming community. “I used to deliver grain here when I was young,” she said. “It was funny when the mill came up for sale… it came full circle.”

Bagging feed at Conway Feed. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Bagging feed at Conway Feed. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

Scott graduated from the University of Washington with a fisheries major before moving to Skagit County (where he met Kelly) when he got a job with the Moore-Clark fish processor in La Conner. When the company closed, he switched to fish farming in Poulsbo before moving back to Skagit a few years later. Scott started working at Conway Feed in 1998, and was primed to take over the business when it eventually came up for sale. “I had been here 10 years and knew the company,” he said.

The previous owner particularly wanted to sell to the McKnights to keep it a family business. “This business had been such a gift to him,” Kelly said.

With help from Kelly’s family, they bought the mill, and six years later the business is thriving. “We have 15 employees, and we need more,” Scott said. “We run about 12 hours per day, 5 days per week.”

Among their employees are two of Scott and Kelly’s sons, Galen and Chris, who have been helping out with the family business.

The mill – originally built in 1919, but greatly expanded in the 1980s – produces all kinds of animal feed, primarily for dairy cattle, but also layer pellets, pig feed, and mixes for rabbits, goats and sheep. Grain is dried, flattened or powdered, formed into pellets, mixed with minerals, and/or coated with molasses. There are standard blends for each type of feed but they also keep formulas on file for customers with special feed requirements, mixing to order. Much of the grain they use is conventionally grown but they also offer organic and non-GMO blends.

“There’s a lot of opportunity, a lot of diversity,” Scott said.

The McKnight family: Scott and Kelly with their two sons Galen and Chris. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

The McKnight family: Scott and Kelly with their two sons Galen and Chris. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

The company supplies large amounts of grain to commercial farmers, but also sell to residents with backyard livestock, as well as some distilleries. They also sell a few products that they don’t manufacture on site, like pet food, hay and fish food for trout ponds. (“I can’t entirely let go of my fish background,” Scott said.)

Conway Feed is a considerably smaller-scale business than many feed companies, but this allows them to keep their stock fresh. “I make layer feed every week,” Scott said. While they do sell some of their feed at co-ops and feed stores, selling directly through their Conway retail shop leaves out the middleman, which makes their feed more affordable, as well as appealing to customers who prefer to buy locally. Many people didn’t know they were open to the public until they cleared some trees and put up a sign announcing retail sales.

The grain is often locally grown as well as locally milled. “Local harvest is a big part of what we do here,” Scott said. He estimates that at least 20% of their grain, mostly wheat and barley, comes from western Washington. Expanding in the region to include all of Washington and British Columbia, that number is closer to 50 percent. Corn and soybean meal, however, comes from the Midwest.

Whether it’s local or not, the fluctuating price of grain is a huge issue for the feed business. Each day Scott tracks prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, while also keeping track of the schedule of rail cars that bring grain to the mill. Fewer grain cars have been available due to larger quantities of oil shipping, he said, which sometimes means higher costs for transport. However, thanks to good harvest seasons, national feed prices, which were very high last year, have come down considerably.

The Conway Feed mill dates back to 1919, and greatly expanded in the 1980s. All kinds of animal feeds are produced, primarily for dairy cattle, but also layer pellets, pig feed, and mixes for rabbits, goats and sheep. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

The Conway Feed mill dates back to 1919, and greatly expanded in the 1980s. All kinds of animal feeds are produced, primarily for dairy cattle, but also layer pellets, pig feed, and mixes for rabbits, goats and sheep. PHOTO BY JESSAMYN TUTTLE

“[The United States] is still the largest producer of corn and soybean in the world,” Scott said. “Those are the two items that drive all grain prices.”

The corn harvest, which this year is looking to be the largest ever in the U.S., drives prices for wheat and barley, and soybean drives prices for other protein crops like canola meal. Organic grain can cost three times as much as conventional, although lower-priced grain from Europe and Asia is gradually affecting prices here.

“I hope organic grain comes down – a lot,” Scott said.

As milk prices have generally increased and local dairies see improved financial times, it can be hard for organic dairies to charge enough to cover their costs, he said. Scott tries to make sure he’s offering correct prices for the grain they purchase, which is reflected in the price of the finished feed.

The McKnights enjoy their business, and the way it integrates them into the local agriculture community. “It’s really changed our lives,” Kelly said. “We have great customers.”

Conway Feed is located at 18700 Main Street in Conway, open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information, stop by or call (360) 445-5211.

One Comment to “Conway Feed: Keeping it in the family”

  1. James says:

    Hi,
    I am a cub scout. Do you offer tours of your feed mill?

    James

Leave a Comment