Pastured Pork and Beef
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We began raising a few hogs in 2014, for their contribution to the farm’s fertility cycle and to provide meat as a benefit for our employees. In 2015, we increased the number of animals and began offering pork to our CSA members and customers. (Sign up for our mailing list to receive notice of the 2017 Pork availability)
Pigs are the most efficient converter of forage to weight of any farm animal. Our pigs’ diet is about 80% recycled food product. They receive food waste such as surplus goat’s milk from a neighboring farm and overripe organic fruit from a local market, plus all the scraps and discards from our vegetable washing shed that would otherwise go into our static composting system, which takes 1 year to transform into a usable fertility supplement for our farm fields.
Meanwhile, the pigs also help speed up the process of turning cow manure into rich black humus. Their strong snouts act like plows and shovels, aerating the manure, stimulating the decomposition process, and stabilizing the nutrients. With the pigs’ help, manure is ready for use much more quickly than the method we used previously, which involved forming windrows of manure that needed to be turned several times before being applied to the fields.
In 2016, we began trialing a rotational pasture system, employing the hogs to clean up invasive weeds that often encroach in long-established perennial systems such as strawberries, and in our “winter” pasture, which has a bad thistle problem. We will replant these areas with new plantings that are clean and ready to thrive.
We procure our pigs from local farmers. These are small scale conventional animal operations. We get them when they are in the 30 to 50 pound range after weaning. We are giving strong consideration to keeping a sow or two so that we can have an organic hog from birth. We use local butchers that are either state or federally inspected slaughter operations. At this time there is no USDA "organic" slaughter facility nearby our farm to make it feasible for customers.
The cattle are entirely grass-fed and turned on pasture that is managed through an intensive rotational grazing system. The grazing system we’ve adopted is called “mob” grazing, which requires small paddocks to hold the herd for about 24 hours before they are moved to the next pad-dock. The idea is that they eat 1/3, trample 1/3, and leave 1/3 for regeneration.
In a mob system, the goal is to build topsoil faster by not grazing or mowing the pastures too close to the ground. The grasses and forbs are left to produce healthy root systems (roots are the primary contributors to building soil), leave more residues, and in return the soils are regenerating faster and more naturally.
The manures left by the cattle quickly decompose and add another element of humus and fertility to the soil. Grasses and forbs also have the ability to mature and re-seed the pastures just like nature intended. This allows for less investment in costly seed used to over-seed pastures in the early spring.
In the winter, the cattle are brought closer to the barn and the manures are collected for composting and later applied to the vegetables. We also have enough land to make hay and feed the cattle over the winter.