Our Animals--The Big Picture
We have chosen not to certify our animal flocks and herds, due to the much higher cost and difficulty of sourcing fresh, certified organic feed. That said, we sincerely believe that our production practices (read on!) produce a healthier, more delicious animal than many certified organic supermarket meats. Here’s what we do. We manage our livestock with three primary goals in mind:
happy animals, healthy land, and healthful food.
Continual rotation onto fresh, green pasture helps us work toward all three. The animals are happy because they have new things to explore. The land is healthy because the combination of intense grazing and long rest stimulate the soil biota. The food (meat and eggs) are healthful because the animals’ diets include live clovers, grasses, and bugs.
We give our pigs and poultry free access to a fresh, non-GMO grain-based feed, since they cannot live on grass alone. However, we try to maximize their consumption of our own perennial vegetation. Also, we never use any antibiotics, growth hormones, or parasiticides (a.k.a. “de-wormers”). Sunlight and decomposition (rest) take care of parasites before they cause problems.
Our Pasture-raised (Meat) Chickens
Our chicks arrive through the mail 1-2 days after hatching. We raise them in a secure brooder on peat moss until they grow their adult feathers and can withstand the temperature fluctuations of the outdoors. After about three weeks in the brooder, the broilers go out onto pasture, where they will spend the remainder of their lives in one of our two “range coops”–large, mobile greenhouses. We move our range coops to a fresh piece of pasture every day at dawn, when the birds are most active. They chow down on plants, bugs, and any worms they can scratch up. Our chickens receive a fresh, local non-GMO ration to supplement their grazing.
We are licensed and inspected by the Maryland Department of Agriculture for on-farm poultry processing. Processing our chickens ourselves on our farm not only eliminates the stress of long distance transportation for the birds, but also allows us to oversee quality from the first to the last.
Our Free-ranging Laying Hens
In the spring, summer, and fall, we manage our laying hens with portable electric netting that we move 1-2 times per week, in order to maximize their consumption of pasture. The laying hens and the steers are the only animals we keep all year long. In the coldest months of the year we move our hens into a outbuilding with southern exposure and wood chip bedding. We think that pasturing them in the winter would be counterproductive because: 1) the soil biota, which normally incorporate manure, are dormant, 2) there isn’t much in the way of grass or bugs to eat anyway, and 3) it’s cold out there! We feed the hens as much fresh, green matter as we can, but their intake of it is still much less than in the spring, summer, and fall. However, they remain free to express their natural behaviors of running around and scratching for things I can’t see.
Our Pastured Pigs
We primarily source our feeder pigs from Ernst Farm. Their breeding and management practices have led to pigs better suited to pasture than conventional pigs would be. Additionally, as Ernst grows and mills all of our non-GMO feeds, our piglets are getting their high quality, antibiotic and hormone-free feed from day one. Having been weaned from their mothers, the piglets arrive at our farm, where we first train them to electric fencing. So schooled, they move out onto our pasture. We move their paddock every four to seven days so that their natural rooting behavior encourages desirable plant growth, rather than leaving the area stripped barren.
Our 100% Grass-Fed Steers
We purchase weaned steers from Steve and Ruth Ann Derenbacher, who have been breeding and raising 100% grass-fed cattle for many years. Over the course of about 12 months, we then raise the steers to a market weight. We rotate our steers onto fresh grass every few days in the summer and we give them access to stockpiled forage grass and hay in the winter. They always have access to a free choice mineral blend. Our processor hangs our beef for a minimum of two weeks, which ensures tenderness and flavor.
Our Thanksgiving Turkeys
Our turkeys spend the first quarter of their lives alongside our chickens. Once out on pasture, their size and their aggressive grazing dictate that we provide them with their own space. We start them in floorless "Salatin" shelters, which provide protection from predators while still allowing ample grazing. We move these shelters daily to fresh grass. Once our meat chicken season ends and a range coop becomes available, we transfer the turkeys to the range coop for the remainder of their lives, as the range coop provides better shelter from November's variable weather. Turkeys are eager foragers, and they love nothing better than stalking bugs in the grass.