The safety of Red meat is in the news, again. Health concerns about red meat, along with processed or grilled meats is brought up periodically. Now the World Health Organization (WHO) is weighing in -

As an organic meat producer I believe our farm is distinctly different; Organic, grass- fed beef is healthy.  The practice of MIG grazing improves meat quality, restores the environment, and is beneficial to the life-cycle of livestock, crops, and soil. Quality is more important than yield.

A  customer shared this podcast from WGN Radio in Chicago. The guest, Dr. Michael Fenster is a cardiologist and chef. This doctor highlighted interesting issues and omissions in the latest study. Some of these include:

Antibiotic use in animal feed
Dying gut bacteria
Grass-fed, grass-finished beef
Heritage breeds of pastured hogs
Artificial additives in food
Genetically engineered crops and Glyphosate
Hormones in meat
Safe Food Labeling; House Resolution 1599
and much more...

The connection between healthy food and overall health continues to grow. Our herd continues to grow, too. The steers are sold out for this year. In January we'll start taking orders again. The details will be posted in the January newsletter.

Listen to the podcast here



How to kill tens of thousands of chickens with the flip of a switch...

DSCN3197Clean living conditions prevent disease; Sunlight kills viruses, fresh greens boost immunity and exercise improves health. These are the benefits for poultry raised on pasture.

Inside poultry confinement buildings ventilation fans run 24 hours a day. Without these fans the birds die relatively quickly from ammonia fumes and the heat that’s generated from the high density of bodies within the building.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced that the federal government is preparing for a bird flu outbreak this fall that could be twice as bad as the one this spring.

The USDA is calling for shutting down the ventilation system if there's another outbreak of Avian Flu.  The policy is designed to help farms more quickly keep the virus from spreading.

USDA officials said that teams hired to euthanize birds in Iowa and Minnesota fell behind on destroying infected birds this spring due to the size of the flocks. The new euthanasia policy initiates a 24 – hour “stamping-out.” If no other method of killing would meet the 24 hour deadline federal and state officials, along with the producer, agree to shut down the ventilation system.

For chickens in pasture it's a different story. There is no switch to flip. No ventilation fans to shut down. Just sunshine, fresh air and green grass. Pasture pens are open to allow chickens access to all three. The tops are partly covered to give shade along with protection from the rain. The bottoms are open to the grass.  The birds aren’t crowded and they live outdoors during the optimum growing season; May – October.

Before dropping that carton of eggs or package of conventionally raised chicken into your grocery cart the next time you're at the store remember these words from Jo Robinson, author of Pasture Perfect;

“... a chicken that looks stressed and abused on the day of slaughter looks just fine when cut into uniform pieces and wrapped with plastic. The words on the label are targeted to calm any concerns one might have about the meat. This chicken is “Fresh, All-Natural, and Locally Grown!”

Instead of buying confinement chicken make a healthier decision. Find a farmer who raises pastured poultry. The health and taste benefits far surpasses the cost.



Organic Re-certification...Done

Forest Hill Farm's organic certificate
Forest Hill Farm's organic certificate

There are 19,474 organic farmers in the United States. We're proud to be one of them. If you think about it there aren't even enough of us to fill a football stadium on any given Sunday. We're a small group who share our customer's appreciation in healthy living. We value the environment more than the bottom line and believe the health of water, soil, and wildlife are our shared responsibility.

Every year I look forward to our annual organic re-certification visit. Our inspector is great, his name is Gary.  He's a wealth of information and very pleasant to visit with.

 Gary  shared a link to a video featuring Roy Thatcher. Gary inspects Roy's organic farm, too.

I appreciate Roy's hard work and ethics - especially regarding quality. While most farmer's biggest concerned is yield, organic farmers greatest concern is quality. We do our absolute best to provide products that are good for our customers and of the highest quality. I couldn't have said it better myself,  thanks, Roy!

Enjoy the video.


bee typesDeath to the Drones!

My style of hive management is relaxed. I start fall feeding when I see the workers killing the drones.

Drones are male bees created from unfertilized eggs. There are between 500 and 1,000 drones in a typical hive of 50,000 – 60,000 bees. A drone's only job is to fly out and search for virgin queens. The luckiest, or unluckiest depending on your perspective, die immediately after mating. It's a good news, bad news, scenario.

Drones are useless to the hive. They don't clean cells, care for the young, gather pollen and nectar, sting, or fan the hive in hot weather. The don't do anything. Drones are larger than workers and steal large quantities of stored food.

So, in the fall, the workers kick them out. They tear the drones wings by pushing and pulling them out of the hive. It's a vicious attack and a violent end to self-serving freeloaders. The workers line up at the entrance to form a barricade against the drone's re-entry. Without the hive's protection the drones die.

For these reasons I don't feed the hive too early in the season. I let the workers do their job first. Otherwise the drones will eat the stored honey, pollen patties, and sugar-water. By waiting I have a reasonable assurance that there will be enough food for the hive to survive through the winter.


Hope floats in her Heifer Hot tub

floating a calf
calf is floated to relieve a back injury

One of our late season calves got stepped on. She has a large area on her spine that's swollen and very sore. Keith took her to the vet and they started her on a protocol of anti-inflammatory medication. She can stand with help but isn't steady on her feet yet. One of the problems with cattle is the blood pressure in their legs builds up the longer they're down. In order to keep her circulation strong , without added pressure, we've made a floating tank for her.

The University Of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine uses tanks to float cattle after surgery.

We're using a stock tank with an old beach towel as a sling to cradle her and keep her upright. The tank gets filled half way with hot water and topped off with cool water until it's the perfect temperature. Cold water would shock her, the water has to be warm. She floats for about 45 minutes a couple of times each day. Everyday she's getting stronger. Time will tell if she'll fully recover but for now Hope Floats.


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Oxymoron: Fat Cattle and Lean Hogs

Livestock producers continue to defy nature. Cattle are naturally lean. They're grazers. They eat grass. They move through fields and glean forages while trampling the ground leaving behind a covering of vegetation and manure. This ground cover retains soil moisture which prevents evaporation and drought conditions. It's natural for cattle to graze and fertilize as they move forward through a pasture.

Unfortunately the new model for raising cattle is a mono-slope building where steers get stuffed into confinement and fed a high grain diet. Typically these buildings are designed to a maximum capacity where each animal is allotted 22-24 square feet, which is roughly the size of a dining room table. I can't imaging a steer standing in the space of the table and being comfortable, let alone healthy. Another issue, many of these mono-slope buildings are built above a manure pit; in other words, the cattle are eating while standing above a pit filled with their own waste. Imagine if you ate all your meals on the toilet. Gross. Leave it to science to try to change the natural inclination of a species.

"In America today, you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops." - Paul Brooks

Another example of poor animal husbandry is lean hogs. Hogs, by nature, are fat creatures. They're fatter than cattle. Think lard and bacon. Hogs are great at converting legumes and grains into meat. We raise Gloucestershire Old Spots, which were bred to clean orchards of fallen fruit, and Berkshires. Today's confinement hog facilities get paid a premium for raising lean hogs. The producers achieve this by feeding Ractopamine  (brand name PayLean) which is a drug designed to cut the fat in hogs. Leave it to science to lean out hogs by chemical intervention.

I have an idea. Let's feed cattle on grass, in pastures, grazing and moving. Let’s raise hogs in fields where they feed on green legumes; alfalfa, forage peas, rape seed, fallen fruits (like apples) and vegetables along with a grain ration. Lets allow hogs to be fat and cattle lean. That's how each one of these animals is designed. So, rather than going against nature or fighting the natural inclination of a species, let's work with the natural capacities of each.
Food for thought.


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Growing Oyster Mushrooms  (click on the main title above to see the beauty of these mushrooms)

Keith and I decided that we were under utilizing the timber ground of this farm. We planned a few projects to re-connect us with the beauty of the forest. The first two projects were; tapping Walnut trees and inoculating logs for mushroom production.  At the time of year when we would normally be inside the house these projects brought us outdoors to enjoy the timber. This past winter we cut aspen trees for growing mushrooms.   In February we set up a production line to inoculate the logs.

Last March the inoculated logs were stacked on pallets in the timber.

This week we harvested the first mushrooms. We're growing both Grey Dove and PoHu Oyster mushrooms. Now that the mushrooms are growing the next step is to stand the logs up on end in a tepee fashion. These logs will actively produce mushrooms for the next few years.

We bought our supplies at Field and Forest Products   An added benefit of buying from them is that they sell certified organic mushroom spores.






Resident Evil vs Visiting evil

For the past eight years there's been a family of coyote living in an old stump pile in the timber. When we first moved here there were a few encounters with them. Like the morning Keith and Garrett saw a large female trotting through the pasture with one of our turkeys in her mouth. Soon after that we got Miley and Maisey. They patrol at night and keep the livestock safe. Eva works the day shift. Spike's twelve, he does what he can.

DSCN0009(27)The dogs and coyotes had a respectful agreement. The resident evil, i.e. coyotes, stayed away from the livestock and out of the barnyard area. In return the dogs kept their distance from the coyote’s den. For years the agreement held, until recently.  This year we haven't seen them or heard their cries at night.

A few weeks ago Maisey and Miley were barking in the distance pasture. They were getting louder as they brought the sheep in closer to the barn. While they were some distance away Keith looked out and saw a young, lone coyote standing in the yard. He turned Eva out and she chased it off.

Last week, in the middle of the night, we heard the dogs start their chase. Their barking grew fainter as they ran farther into the field. With the barnyard area unprotected another predator, probably the young juvenile coyote who visited earlier in the week, killed six ducks. One duck was dragged behind the barn but managed to escape. She's injured but should recover.

Kit Pharo, of Pharo cattle Company has written about this issue and I agree with him. A pair of coyotes and their pack will dominate a territory. They'll keep intruders out of their hunting ground. The resident coyote knows the parameters of where it's safe to hunt and which animals to hunt within their territory.

This summer our peaceful nights are filled with barking dogs and animal's cries. Something must have happened to the dominant pair. I am assuming that coyote hunters in the area took down the dominant female or her mate.  In their absence the farm is open to visiting marauders. The cries from these other packs fill the twilight hours. The rules are no longer defined.

The threat from a resident coyote is less frightening than the visiting evil of outside packs. For the coyotes the hunt is on. Our livestock need protection, so, for Maisey and Miley the hunt is on, as well. I'm hopeful a new pack will move in and learn the boundaries set up by our dogs. Resident evil is always safer than visiting evil.



Murphy's Law of Farming

Murphy's law of farming
Murphy's law of farming

1.  The week your new chicks or bees arrive so will a cold snap.

2.  You'll ONLY have problems with the planter on the rows most visible from the road

3.  Animals ONLY escape when you're running late and DON”T have time to round them up.

4.  As soon as the hay is raked a pop-up rain shower will bless your farm

5.  The hay baler ONLY breaks when you're trying to beat the rain

6.  If you borrow something it will break

7.  The day that guests, or the vet, come to the farm everything goes wrong and the chores don't get done

8.  The newer your clothes the more animal slime they'll collect

9.  While lecturing your children on the importance of closing gates the one you've just latched will swing open behind you.

10.  You'll discover you're wearing your barn shoes when everyone in the grocery line starts sniffing the air and looking around.

11.  When you are trying to finish your own project (gardening, canning, cleaning) your husband will interrupt you at least 300 times. When you need his help he'll have vanished.

Feel free to add your own in the comment section...


Cussing is Livestock Abuse... what?

Ewes 9-15-13

"Hey, ewe are they swearing at us?"

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a formal complaint to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in Australia that sheep are offended when sworn at.

One of PETA's volunteers recorded this abuse while working undercover at a sheep station in New South Wales.

The rancher, Ken Turner said, “To my knowledge there was no actual cruelty on the job. The allegation was that bad language was used by an employee on the property in front of the sheep and that they could have been offended by the use of bad language.”

RSPCA in New South Wales chief executive Steve Coleman says the complaint was rejected, but not because it was bloody stupid in the first place. He said the video footage was ruled  “not legally usable.”

Having worked with both sheep and goats for over twenty years I confess to cussing, in their presence, on multiple occasions. Especially when I find them eating the apple trees and running through the garden.