Valleyview

Why We Raise Our Animals on Grass

Thanks for dropping by for another visit.  Grab a cup of tea and come on in.  I will give you another glimpse into our life on the farm.  I will try to explain why we raise our animals on grass.  Let me start with a bit of our health journey.

In the late 1980's we started to experience varying degrees of health issues.  We sought medical help to no avail.  The doctors could not pinpoint the causes of persistent rashes, digestive problems and persistent weight gain to name a few of the difficulties we were experiencing.  It was during these challenging times that we were introduced to the concept of organic food.  Being totally human we were skeptical that making a changeover would help these issues.  A part of our skepticism was because it would require us to spend additional money on groceries.  Another issue was that we were in a community of conventional farmers who thought there was no basis to organic claims.

So, feeling like we had no alternatives left to explore, we started to make the shift to organic foods.  To help alleviate some of the out of pocket expense we started to grow a bigger garden and preserve its bounty to supply our produce.  A small improvement in our health was noticed, but the issues were not alleviated.  We then started to take some courses on raising animals organically.  We discovered the harmful affects that our conventional agricultural practices had on the animals and the people who consumed them.  In the mid 1990's we completely turned our backs on conventional agricultural practices that were dependent on the pharmaceutical companies.  (I want to add a disclaimer here:  we are not totally against the use of medications if an animal and human gets sick and would die without intervention.  We will however try every available natural alternative before resorting to pharmaceuticals)  We started to harvest meat from our own animals instead of selling them and then going to the store to purchase our meat, milk and eggs.  At this time we added pigs to our repertoire of animals that we were raising.  So now we had beef, milk, lamb, pigs, chicken and eggs that we were raising for ourselves.  Still more improvements were noticed, but there were still quite a few lingering issues.  We believe that our health has significantly improved because we changed our diet to consume "clean" meats, raw dairy, eggs from our healthy laying hens and veggies from our own gardens.

Through our connections with other organic producers we were introduced to a wonderful naturopathic doctor who did some very detailed allergy testing.  These tests finally gave us a very clear picture of what we were dealing with.  So after eliminating the myriad of foods that triggered the allergic reactions daily life became much better.  By eating home-raised, organically grown foods that didn't produce the allergic reactions the health issues just seemed to fall away.  Every once in a while when we cheat and eat away from home the symptoms manifest themselves again.  We then quickly correct the behavior and our bodies go back to what is now normal.  I am not saying that this is a cure-all to whatever ails you.  There are still days that we struggle with an issue that seems to come out of nowhere, but we just back track to see if it is something that we can correct.  It usually is.

So you may be asking yourself; what in the world does grass-fed actually mean.  In the culture we live in today there are a few definitions of what "grass-fed" means.  It can become a very confusing maze to terms to maneuver through.  To us it means that the animals have not had a diet that consists of grain.  They are strictly raised on grass for their entire life.  When we talk about grass we are referring to green growing forbs and hay that has been harvested from the excess summer growth for use during the winter months.  

Stockpiled hay for winter feeding

Stockpiled hay for winter feeding

Cows and calves on pasture

Cows and calves on pasture

Now, it is quite natural for cattle, sheep and goats to sustain themselves on grass alone.  It is the way that they were designed.   When we first started farming many years ago we did feed grain to ruminant animals because that is how we had been taught.  We slowly realized the folly of going against how God had designed animals to live.  When we removed the grain from the diets of these animals we no longer had to medicate them to keep them functioning to their optimal ability. 

Goats on lush pasture

Goats on lush pasture

We farm north of the 55th parallel.  This means that we have a short growing season of five months (three frost free months).  Our dormant season is considerably longer at seven months.  For at least five to six months we have a snow cover that varies in depth.  Throughout our winter we also experience extreme temperature fluctuations.  When a chinook comes through we can change from -30 Celius to 10 Celcius overnight.  This makes grazing all winter a rather unpredictable option.  When it warms up and starts to thaw like this in the middle of winter we know that it will no doubt go back below freezing within a few days.  When it does this the snow that remains gets a thick ice crust on it that the animals can't move with their muzzles to get at the grasses under the snow.  It is at this time that we have to start feeding hay bales.  We do stockpile some of our summer grass to use either into late fall/early winter or in very early spring.  This all depends on how cold it is and how much snow we have.  We aim to do what will keep the animals as healthy as possible.  

Pigs and chickens are another story though.   Because of the breeding practices of the past hundred years they have lost their ability to forage as efficiently as they did in the past.  There are a few heritage breeds that the large-scale commercial operations have overlooked though.  They have retained the ability to utilize pastures.  Our pigs and chickens are supplemented with grain.  In the warmer months of the year they are allowed to forage for the foods they love.  You will find the pigs happily digging up roots and grubs with their extremely powerful snouts.  They love the tender roots of wild rose bushes!  The chickens follow the cattle, sheep and goats around the farm.  They are our natural pasture sanitizers.  They love to chase bugs and grasshoppers around the pastures and clean up after the cattle all the while producing the most golden-yolked healthy eggs you can imagine.  In the winter you will find the chickens in an insulated building where they can scratch around in the bedding for bits of grain that we sprinkle around.  Their favorite this is to tear apart home raised sunflower seed heads searching to the oil rich seeds inside.  The pigs are still outside, but do have access to a straw filled hutch for cold winter nights.  During the day they can run around and feed on the bales that we set out for them.

In 1998 we became "certified organic".  This was the first step we took toward selling our "clean" meats and eggs to other people who valued them. 

We having been selling directly to people like yourselves for twenty years now.  It is our passion to raise exceptionally healthy food for our family and your families.

Join us next week to hear our farmers market story.