'Know Your Farmer Know Your Food'

'Farm to Table'

Really great slogans.  But, what’s really  happening on the farm that’s producing food for your table?

Close your eyes. Imaging a farm. Do you see lush pastures. Animals grazing. Pigs sleeping in the warm sunshine surrounded by shade trees and green grass.

I drove past a farm yesterday with a new van parked out front. The signs on the side read, 'Farm to Table’ and ‘Know Your Farmer Know Your Food’. This particular farmer has several confinement hog houses.

Do they qualify for the ‘Farm to Table’ campaign? Of course. They’re farmers. They sell direct from their farm to customer’s tables.

Do they fit the model for the ‘Know Your Farmer Know Your Food’ campaign? Yep, they do.They sell at farmers markets. Customers get to know them.

But, DO YOU, as a customer picture something different when you support a farm?

Are you thinking of pigs in a pasture or hogs crowded inside of a building.

Are you thinking of cattle grazing under a blue sky and sunshine or steers stuffed under a shed roof with just a few square feet to move around.

Across the mid-west farmers markets are re-opening for the season. I suggest that you really get to know your farmer. Ask questions. Things aren’t always as they seem

How familiar are you with these terms:
Free Range vs Cage Free

Pasture raised vs Confinement

Organic vs 'Beyond Organic'

The California Supreme Court ruled that producers who mislabeled products as organic are open to lawsuits as protection from fraud in the organic industry.
I’m not sure whether the farms that label themselves as ‘Beyond Organic’ will have to change their advertising but it 's food for thought.

And remember; If we are what we eat most of us are fast, cheap and easy. Lets change that!

Know Your Farmer Know Your Food

 

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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.

 

Oxymoron: Fat Cattle and Lean Hogs

Sometimes, I forget....

...I forget what store-bought eggs taste like, how pale the yolk is.

...I forget that store-bought chicken doesn't have flavor, that the flesh is pale, the texture rubbery. Pastured poultry is superior to conventionally raised in every way.

pastured poultry
pastured poultry

...I forget that pasture raised pigs don't smell bad, the meat is tender, juicy, and the fat is beneficial.

...I forget that most families don't cook with lard. They've never tasted homemade pie crust or biscuits.

...I forget that walking out your front door to pick cherries, raspberries, gooseberries and apples, from the trees you've planted, is a luxury. It's a special benefit of arranging your life differently than most people choose to do.

raspberries
raspberries

...I forget that fresh garden produce is a choice. It's trading your time, planning, and labor in exchange for a plentiful harvest.

I forget that there's nothing sweeter than homegrown peaches or the sight of baby ducklings chasing after a bug.

I forget that most livestock producers don't believe in the restorative powers of MIG grazing. Instead of planning a grazing program they allow their animals to forage randomly. This creates a barren pasture, soil depleted of nutrients, and not enough organic matter or cover crop to control evaporation. These poor decisions, made by many farmers, are a choice. A choice that negatively impacts water quality, wildlife, and climate.

There have been several visitors to the farm recently who've enjoyed the beautiful views and learning about grass based farming. Many of them recall memories of their grandparents farms which were like ours in many ways.

Their grandparents had pigs in the pasture and chickens pecking in the yard. Small orchards provided fruit and cider. Large gardens fed the family and everyone worked together. Picnic tables were sheltered under shade trees where cool breezes relieved the heat of the day.

Sometimes I take for granted that each day is my own. I'm greeted by beautiful surroundings with the people I love and the life we've chosen. Our farming practices are intentionally organic.

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DSCN2304

Good morning, piglets! The first of our sows farrowed Sunday morning. 10 healthy piglets were enjoying breakfast when I went to the barn. They'll stay inside for 8 - 10 days until they're big and mobile enough that eagles won't prey on them.

Our goal is to raise healthy hogs. We've been concerned about PEDV virus. The confinement hog operations in the area spread manure on the fields and there's always manure on the roads. We've been careful about washing the truck's tires and not allowing visitors for a few weeks to make sure there isn't any contamination brought to the farm. The experts say that PEDV  is deadlier in the cold months, but we're not taking any chances. Also, we don't use a feed mix with blood plasma products, just grain and fresh pasture for our pigs. There's a possible link between feeding blood plasma and PEDV. Wasn't anything learned from Mad Cow Disease? Cows are herbivores, but someone had the bright idea to feed young calves bovine meat and bone meal. The hog industry feeds porcine plasma to young pigs that aren't old enough to start eating a grain based diet. I'm proud to go against the grain of conventional farming.

The pigs were pretty happy when we brought them pumpkins this morning, pigs love pumpkins. The turkey's love pumpkins, too. Our Gloucestershire Old Spots and Berkshire's are rotated through an area planted with buckwheat and turnips for fall grazing. Pastured pigs make the best pork.

pigs love pumpkins...turkeys do, too

Have you heard of Ractopamine? Chances are you haven't. It's the drug that makes pork 'The other white meat'. Pork isn't white meat by nature it's made lean by feeding ractopamine - trade name PayLean (made by Eli Lilly) to hogs. It's also fed to beef cattle and turkeys.

Taiwan has banned the importation of pork from the United States because of this drug.  The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) isn't happy. The NPPC would like Secretary of State Clinton, USDA Secretary  Tom Vilsack, and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to make it clear to the Taiwanese Government that unless the ban on ractopamine fed pork is lifted there won't be U.S. support for negotiations on Trans-Pacific Partnership. China and the EU have also rejected pork from hogs fed ractopamine.

Here's an idea... what if pigs weren't fed ractopamine? What if the customer, in this case Taiwan, China, and Europe were allowed to buy meat produced in a manner that they determined safe for consumers?  What if countries weren't strong armed into buying drug fed pork? What if free choice were allowed and meat labels disclosed all the chemical inputs that produced it? Would it make a difference when choosing what your family eats? Just some food for thought. Here's more on ractopamine.

More Good News
The Kroger Company has been working with animal welfare experts and has science based standards for animal welfare to ensure that their suppliers treat animals humanely. After reviewing the opinions of these experts Kroger Company believes that a gestation crate-free environment is more humane and that the pork industry should work toward gestation crate free housing for pregnant sows.

Piglets in their creep

We've heard from many people concerned over the drought in Iowa. The Drought Monitor determined that 59% of the state is in severe drought.  We are concerned and are trying to prepare for the worst.  We're implementing a drought plan we've had in place for a few years, just in case.  Because we rotationally graze, the ground has additional recovery time between foraging. During drought conditions overgrazing certain areas by increasing the stocker rate (number of cattle in a paddock) and allowing them more time in each paddock, gives larger areas of pasture more time to recover.  This allows deep rooted legumes, weeds, and less palatable plants to hold the ground, keeping the soil in place when rain returns. If the weeds or cover crop were killed off, soil erosion would be accelerated. Soil erosion would leave very poor conditions for plant recovery.

As unpleasant as the subject is, culling older herd animals is necessary. A few favorite cows are going to be sold, two horses were sold, and a third is being advertised for sale. There isn't enough hay for the profitable animals so the older animals and recreational pets have to go. It's tough. These are difficult decisions but necessary to sustain the herd and the land.

The sheep who are prone to overgraze deep rooted forages while ignoring grasses have been brought closer to the barn for management. If confined to smaller areas, the sheep will eat weeds and clean up grasses and dry pasture matter. The saying, "Beggars can't be choosers", applies. Another drought management option is early weaning. The calves and lambs are offered better grazing areas and the cows and ewes reduce their required feed intake by up to 40% when not lactating.

The dairy cows and calves haven't been separated, yet.  Their yield is high and milk for the pigs keeps grain costs to a minimum. Sows, boars, and feeder pigs are grazing in smaller pasture areas, keeping rooting behavior to a minimum.

Hay prices and the rising cost of grain has us looking at changing our production model. This year we'll be selling off most of the feeder pigs. Carrying them through the winter months when grain prices will be at their highest would drive prices too high. We'll hold onto our sows and boars and breed for late spring rather than late winter farrowing.

With all of these practices in place we're optimistic about the coming year. As our friend says, "Every dry day that passes gets us one day closer to rain". He's right. Eventually it will rain. That's inevitable. The question is... when. Until that day our drought plan is in full force.

This would be the time to buy larger quantities of meat. The price is only going higher, at least until the next harvest season. Planning ahead can make a big difference in your budget.

Warmest wishes and food for thought,
Glenda

Canada has scrapped it's "Enviropig" program, the first genetically modified pigs.  Genes from mice and e-coli, among others, were introduced into their DNA.  Theses pigs were designed to process food differently, creating  more environmentally friendly hog manure. The University of Guelph, which developed the GM pig announced the programs cancellation. A lack of funding and interest is blamed.  Peter Phillips, a professor of public policy at University of Saskatchewan said, "Enviropig has not managed to attract funding from a food company that would ultimately seek to commercialize the pigs, possibly because environmental benefit doesn't necessarily translate into more profit". Unless additional funding into this project is secured the pigs will be destroyed, their genetic material will be preserved in cold storage for possible future research.

One of the problems with pigs is that they're extremely adaptable. Not far back in farm history hogs were raised on pasture. Sows spent their gestation outdoors and were brought in for farrowing. Sometimes crates were used, minimally. Occasionally  sows will lay on a piglet. This happens with gilts, first time moms, more often than with sows. A solution is to have a creep for the piglets. A creep, built into the corner of your farrowing area, has a lamp for warmth and is open in the front. Sows can interact with piglets but can't fit inside the creep. Piglets come and go as they please, interacting with mom at any time. On cool nights our sows will pack straw in front of the creep, leaving a small opening, to keep her piglets warm.

Again, because pigs are adaptable they were easily turned into factory production animals. In confinement sows move from gestation crates, where their spend 3 months, 3-weeks, and 3 days, into farrowing crates. Unable to interact with her piglets, and incapable of instinctive behavior, she becomes a milking machine. Sows are driven insane. This isn't animal husbandry or farming. It's  inhumane and it needs to stop! Here are some images of different methods of animal production found on Google images  Below are images of our farms farrowing system.

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Forest Hill Farm Piglets

Heritage Hogs At Risk

A new Michigan law is targeting heritage breed hogs. In an effort to control the feral hog population the State's Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is removing heritage breed hogs from privately owned farms.  Forest Hill Farm raises Gloucestershire Old Spot and Berkshire hogs. If Iowa passed a similar law our hogs could be destroyed. Our hogs graze and live outdoors. They are social, productive, and domesticated. Their outdoor areas are rotated to keep them clean, healthy, offer a variety of forages, and prevent overgrazing. A confinement hog, who escapes into the countryside, has the same opportunity to become feral as a heritage breed. Actually, because our hogs are always outdoors, and very friendly, if they did get out of their fence line they could easily be coaxed back with the bribe of raw milk and a back scratch. One of the problems with the Michigan law, and there are many issues with it, is that the Invasive Species Order (ISO) outlaws the possession of wild swine, hogs, boars, and pigs, aside from domestic hog production. They haven't defined an exception so farmers won't know if their livestock is prohibited until the ISO goes into effect and the DNRE begins their inspections. Is anyone surprised that the Michigan Pork Producer Association supports the measure?  Aren't both heritage breed farmers and confinement owners pork producers? Four lawsuits have been filed against the ISO, heritage hog farmers are asking if the DNRE has jurisdiction.

Just more food for thought!