In order to have healthy animals we need healthy grass, in order to have healthy grass we need healthy soil, to have healthy soil we need to have animals on the landscape.
Beef Herd Management-
We use our beef calving herd to bio-mimic the role that herbivores have historically played in all ecosystems across the globe (think of wildebeests on the Serengeti, bison on the American Great Plains). Herbivores, in our case cattle, naturally migrate across the landscape in highly concentrated herds, eating down forage and vegetation, causing disturbance on the landscape, all the while depositing nutrient rich manure and urine. In the wild, herbivores would be grazing in very dense herds because of the threat of predators(lions, cheetahs, wolves, etc.) This keeps the herd tight and concentrated, but allows the even distribution of their waste. The herd then continues moving onward, away from yesterday's waste, and on to a fresh salad bar. This natural occurrence prunes away grass, which promotes new growth and allows different forage species to proliferate, and for atmospheric carbon to be redeposited into new growth and back into the soil.
We don't have too many lions or cheetahs here in Northeastern Nebraska, but we do have easily movable electric fence. The fencing allows us to control our grazing density and control the grazing patterns of the cattle. Our Cattle are generally moved to fresh grass on a daily basis (we still have a few pastures that we are in the process of converting to this style of management, it takes time). The benefit has been great, our grazing season keeps getting longer as the pasture continues to heal, and we have an increase in the diversity of plant species.
All of our poultry have access to fresh grass, and are not prohibited from behaving naturally.
Our laying Hens are housed in a mobile chicken coop that is rotated throughout our pastures and hay fields during the grazing season. They have total free rang during this time of the year to scratch, hunt for bugs, and to express their innate "essence of chicken." In the winter they are moved into a lean-to on the side of our granary where they spend the cold blistery days scratching through and aerating compost.
Our Meat Chickens are raised in a nursery until 3-4 weeks of age, at which point they are moved out to pasture. They are housed in portable, open air, floor-less shelters that are moved to fresh grass on a daily basis. They are supplied with fresh water, and a local feed ration. The amount of grass in these chickens' diets is what makes of the difference in their quality, not to mention that they are able to exercise. What also makes these chickens such high quality is that they are moved on a daily basis, away from yesterday's waste. This provides a constantly new, fresh, and clean salad bar for them to enjoy, and they are not forced to sit and breath in toxic fecal particulate (something that Tyson pays no attention to). Their manure also goes directly onto the soil where it is metabolized by microorganisms and utilized by the forages, as opposed to the industrial practice of just putting all that manure into a slurry pit. No issue of water contamination, or run off with our management system.
Pasture Raised Pork-
We buy young pigs each spring from local breeders. We aren't too particular on a specific breed, but generally try to go for older style genetics. For the first few weeks that the pigs are on the farm they are trained to electric fence. Once they learn to respect electric fencing, we move them out to our cow yard (where our cattle herd feeds on hay during the winter.) Generally, a lot of weeds start to spread like wild fire in the cow yard during the grazing season, and the pigs go hog wild! It's pretty much like a pig jungle. They forage, root, and take down weeds and grasses. They are also fed a simple mixture of grain, and excess milk from our dairy cows. Later on in the season, they are turned out into our potato plot after harvest, where they eat and clean up any potatoes that we missed. Following the potatoes, they move on to forage through the standing corn stalks leftover from our sweet corn. In late summer and early fall they finish out in a stretch of trees that is seeded with foraging crops (corn, oats, sunflowers). Hogs on this farm live the dream, and help us to turn liabilities into assets (weeds for feed, instead of spraying).
We currently Milk one Brown Swiss (Bernie) and one Jersey (Jessi). They are very sweet cows, each with very different personalities. During the grazing season they are rotated on a small pasture, and are milked twice a day in our barn. They produce very beautiful, creamy, rich milk that we provide to a few households in our area through our Raw Milk Herdshare.
They are mostly grass-fed, however depending on our pasture quality (especially if it is particularly dry) they are given supplemental grain at each milking, along with Hay. They also receive supplemental grain when they are no longer grazing to make sure that they are receiving enough energy during winter. This is not ideal, but unfortunately we currently do not have access to silage, haylage, or baleage. We Milk our Cows seasonally~ this gives them, as well as the farmer, a much needed break in winter. We are looking for ways to expand with dairy on this farm, as it has become a true love and passion of Andrew.
Raw Milk is delicious, and nutritious, but it does come with a higher risk of food borne illness since it is not pasteurized. If you are considering to incorporate Raw Milk into your diet be sure to research it carefully so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it can fit your lifestyle. (check out www.realmilk.com)