Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Summer Pasture Update

One of our pigs immersing itself
in a patch of chamomile!
By Richard de Wilde

While vegetables consume most of our energy, our farm would not be complete without our domesticated critters which enhance our lives in many ways.  Animals have always been part of our farm going all the way back to my early days here at Harmony Valley Farm when I farmed with horses, raised sheep and milked dairy cows.  Times have certainly changed and while I enjoyed working with horses, I’m also very thankful for tractors which offer a more predictable means of horsepower!  Animals are an integral part of our farm and offer many benefits to us and our land.  This week I thought I’d offer you a little insight into what’s been happening in our pastures.  So put your barn boots on and lets take a walk!

Our black Angus cattle grazing in their lush
summer pastures, July 2022

As CSA members, you may be most familiar with the fact that we raise grass-fed Angus beef and pastured pork which we offer for purchase through our CSA meat shares.  We recognize that some individuals choose to eat meat and others prefer to take a pass.  If you do choose to include meat in your diet, we encourage you to be informed about where your meat is coming from, how the animals were raised, etc.  On our farm, respect is a big deal.  We respect our animals and they in turn respect us.  Our cows and pigs are big, strong animals, but they are very gentle creatures as a result of receiving gentle, respectful treatment their entire lives.  As a result, we can safely work amongst  them without fear.  They don’t fear us and we don’t fear them.  Makes sense!

Young calves in January eating their
winter forage near the barn for shelter.

For the past few years we’ve been sourcing calves that come to us from John and Denise Hilgart’s farm.  We are very grateful to have the opportunity to partner with John and Denise as it is clear that they share the same value of respecting their animals.  They are very gentle animal handlers which is evident by the demeanor of the calves when they arrive on our farm.  They have what I call “angel eyes.”  When I look them in the eyes all you see is their sense of wonder, no fear.  In fact, they appreciate human touch and will easily eat an apple out of my hand.  Why is this?  They are used to interacting with humans because Denise spoils them by brushing them in her free time when they are babies!  While we do receive them as calves, they are gradually weaned from their mothers before they come to us.  Once they arrive they are eager to explore their new surroundings and acclimate very quickly.  It is not uncommon to see them playfully kicking up their heels in the pasture, which is super-fun to watch.  Most recently, they have been enjoying their new back rub apparatus that we put in their pasture this summer to help keep flies away.  We put organic sunflower oil and citronella on the rubber and the cattle can rub their backs on it which then helps deter the flies.  We also have a feeder that we put mineral in that works in a similar way to apply the sunflower oil-citronella blend to their faces to keep flies out of their eyes.  The end result is a herd of calm, peaceful animals enjoying quiet days grazing their hillside pastures.

The pigs know they can always get a 
little head scratch from me (Richard)!

Our pigs are also quite friendly and very happy animals.  I think that is the innate quality of pigs, especially when they are in an environment where they are allowed to exhibit their natural tendencies.  Pigs love to use their snouts to root around, searching for roots and tubers underground.  Our pigs have been spending their days exploring their wild, hillside pasture where they check out the apple trees, look for hickory nuts and acorns in addition to the other roots and tubers they find.  While they stay busy during the day, they can also sometimes be found napping in the afternoon sun or wading in the creek.  They are very curious animals and are quick to come when they see people approaching their area. You may not know this, but pigs enjoy ear and back scratches and are not too shy to let you know!  It is fun to watch their antics and right now we are getting a kick out of watching them munch on melons, tomatoes, corn cobs and all the other summer vegetable waste we take them from the packing shed!

We do raise our cattle and pigs for meat, and that issue of respect carries through to the end of their lives.  For many years we’ve worked with Lawrence who transports our animals to the processor.  I think “animal whisperer” is the best way to describe Lawrence.  He is always calm, always patient and very gentle with our animals.  We also have a specially designed corral that provides a very low stress way for us to sort and load the animals.  After working with Ledebuhr Meats for many years, we had a challenge finding a new meat processor that fit our criteria.  Thankfully we’ve had the opportunity to work with Crescent Meats for the past few years.  Crescent Meats is a family-owned operation and every year we continue to be impressed by their professionalism and integrity.  Their facility is designed to be very low stress for the animals.  Andrea had the opportunity to visit several years ago and they very willingly allowed her to walk through their facility including the area where the animals are unloaded and held when they arrive.  She was impressed with how quiet and content all the animals were as well as the calm demeanor of the workers.  The two definitely go hand in hand.  

Goats hard at working grazing in the
woods behind the packing shed.

In addition to our beef cattle and pigs, we also have a small herd of meat goats.  While they provide comic relief at times, they also have a job to do!  They have been doing a great job this summer of clearing some of our wooded areas of invasive honeysuckle and other brush.  They love working an area and find the leaves of the plants to be quite delectable.  It’s really fun to watch the larger goats rear up on their hind legs so they can reach higher branches, pulling them down to allow the smaller goats to nibble on the leaves.  Just like human kids, they do have spats from time to time, but overall they work together well and it’s fun to see them moving together as a group through the pasture and woods.  

Ducks heading down to the water
for a dip in the creek!

We also have some Muscovy and Mallard ducks which are quite entertaining. In the morning when we let them out of their house they have this little duck dance they do where they flap their wings, shake their hind end and make a bunch of noise!  They are part of our pest control program as they eat bugs and insects including wood ticks and fly larvae.  They share pasture space with our goats, chickens and sometimes the pigs and cows.  Some of them like to spend time hanging out in the creek and they too are very happy creatures.

We can't forget about our small flock of chickens.  We rely on them for personal egg production.  If you’ve never experienced a true “farm-fresh” egg laid by a hen that is roaming out on pasture and has little stress, then I’m telling you that you are missing out!  We don’t plan to start raising chickens to produce and distribute eggs, but we encourage you to be informed about where your eggs are coming from as well.  Not all eggs are produced equally and it’s very evident in the eating quality! 

Believe it or not, I do still do 
animal chores!  Someone has to feed the 
animals after everyone goes to Mexico for the 
winter.  As you can see, I like hanging out with
the animals.

It truly is a joy to have animals on our farm, to work with them and provide space for them to live peacefully.  They are an integral part of our ability to manage the hillside areas that are not appropriate for vegetable production, so in the end it’s a win-win relationship.  Our fall meat deliveries will be coming before you know it.  At present we still have both beef and pork available for November and December delivery dates.  We fill orders on a first-come, first-served basis as meat is available, so if you’d like to place an order we encourage you to do so as soon as possible!  Of course, if you ever have questions about our animals, how we are raising them or any questions about our meat, please don’t hesitate to ask!  Having the opportunity to talk to your farmer is just one of the benefits of knowing where your meat is coming from!

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