I have noticed this really interesting phenomenon that happens when people come out to the farm to pick up orders. They get out of their cars, stretch their legs (since most of them having driven a little distance to get here), take a deep breath as they take in the quiet, fresh scenery, and ask, “Where are the chickens/cows/pigs?”
And I look around with them, and if it’s not obvious, I answer, “Hmm… I don’t know.”
Well, is she a farmer or not? How could she not know where the animals are??
The answer isn’t that I don’t get out of the house much (even though it is partly true, haha!).
It’s really that it’s because no animal on our farm is in a fixed location. The fences, houses, water troughs, mineral bars, hay rings… everything is mobile.
We are a Mobile-Pastured ranch.
Sure, we have a couple of permanent structures, like our perimeter fencing and some of our cross-fencing, and our chick brooder house remains where it is, but the chicks are typically out of there at around 2-3 weeks of age so they can grow up in their mobile pastured pen.
The point is that we are most interested in getting animals away from their manure and keeping them moving to fresh, new, living pasture so that the old pasture can keep living and the animals can stay healthy and clean. (Boy that’s a mouthful–try to simmer that down to a one-word label!)
There’s no fixed formula for how often the critters get moved–their needs change with the season, their ages, and their group size. And so it’s a “Where’s Waldo?” kind of situation, and only the Master Farmer (Matt) knows where everybody is at any given time.
We like to say that Matt manages the critters while they’re on pasture, and I manage them once they’re in the freezer. So since I am not out there, morning and night, checking, feeding, egg-collecting, and moving, I don’t always know where the beef herd or the pig herd or the chicken flock are located. Sometimes I can see them from the house, but many times I can’t.
This makes us quite the anomaly. Most farms have the chicken yard, the pig pen, the cow pasture, etc. Why don’t they stick with a truly rotational mode? Because it’s tough! It’s tiring! It’s complicated! Imagine getting access to electric fence and water across 185 acres of rough terrain, woods, hills, ravines, rocks, and ponds.
Developing infrastructure that can be moved easily and efficiently from place to place, but still hold up to weather, wind, and pigs scratching their rears (no kidding!) is no simple task. And that’s why we’re “lunatic farmers” amongst our peers. It’s hard. It’s weird. It’s flat-out-crazy.
This is why it’s so important to go SEE the farm you buy from. Because a lot of farms are throwing around that “Pasture-Raised” term, and what they really mean is that the chickens are outside in a permanent yard. Sure, that’s a far cry from a true CAFO operation, but come back in a couple months or even a couple of weeks, and that yard will be stinky, dirty, and totally devoid of live vegetation.
Is that really what you want in a Pasture-Raised Egg?
All I’m saying is get educated in the matter. All it takes is one visit to make sure. We want you to get to know us as Ranchers so that you can be sure that your food meets your standards. It’s not about bashing what Farmer Jones does. It’s about supporting farms that raise food according to your values and needs.
Come join us at our next free farm tour, Saturday, March 25 at 10. We’ll visit the chickens, pigs, baby chicks, goats, and cattle, and we even hope to have some samples and a few farm demos set up for you. It’s super fun, we’re having beautiful weather, and we’d love to have you out. RSVP here!
Before I tell you what really happened to the turkeys that fell victim to a predator attack a few weeks ago, I wanted to share a bit of farm turkey history for your entertainment and education. Our very first batch of turkeys was actually a bit accidental. Sure, we planned to get into turkeys eventually, but that first year we landed in Jefferson, we were focused on getting the cattle operation… ... Continue reading