June 20, 2016 / by Caleb Sturtevant
How do you know you are getting a good product from your local farmer? Are you looking for natural food in your area, but are unsure about what to ask? These questions will help guide you in your search for pasture-based meat and eggs:
1. Can I visit the farm for a tour or just to pick up products?
What's on the label may not match the farm’s actual practice. The best way to learn how they operate is by visiting in person. Respect peoples’ privacy of course, but be wary of farms that discourage visitors. Many farms have a once-a-year tour for customers. Getting connected with your local food system is fun for the whole family. Make it a weekend outing.
How I Answer: Yes, you can visit—we enjoy making it possible for you to do so. This year we have two, Field Day tours scheduled on June 25th & September 17th, 2016. During this time we walk you around Botany Bay Farm to answer your questions, and explain how we tend our land and animals. Another option is during our Scheduled Sale Days: when you purchase products off the farm, you can see the place yourself. If you would like to get a group together, we offer personal tours. Contact us.
For animals to be considered “pastured” it means they are outside on fresh grass.
2. How often do you move your animals/field shelters?
The more frequently animals are moved, the better. For animals to be considered “pastured” it means they are outside on fresh grass. (Winter is the exception; this is when pastures stop growing). If animals are moved to fresh pasture regularly it provides them with fresh forage, while getting away from yesterday's manure. Moving a flock/herd at least once a week is a fairly-well pastured practice. *Note: “free-range” does not mean pastured. Free-range only means the animals have access to the outdoors.
How I Answer: During the growing season, March-November, we are constantly moving our animals to fresh pasture. Pigs move the slowest with a new paddock each week. Cows and layer hens move every 2-3 days, and broiler hens move every day. The broilers (meat chickens) go out on pasture from the brooder once they are 3-5 weeks old, depending on the weather.
3. Do you feed your animals GMOs? And do you supplement your grass-fed beef/herbivores with grain?
The use of genetically-modified organisms is risky to both an animal's health & yours. We’re committed to being gmo-free! (Learn more about the harm of GMOs here). When it comes to beef, grass-fed normally means that the animal is raised on grass alone. However, more conventional farmers are eyeing this growing market. An example of how they take advantage of the “grass-fed” beef title is: they raise their cattle on grass first, but the finish them with grain. These farmers think a cow eating grass when it was younger makes it “grass-fed,” even if it eats grain for the last three months of its life. Grain diets completely change the taste and nutritional make-up of an herbivore's meat. Some farms use a little grain as a way of teaching and controlling animals. Still, be on the lookout for farmers that are dishonest with "grass-fed" in their advertising.
How I Answer: No, we do not supplement our pastured beef with grain. When raising pastured lamb we occasionally would give them a very small amount of grain to move them long distances. This kept the flock together and gave them motivation to move. Our cows are raised only on grass and hay. Chickens & pigs receive our custom gmo-free & soy-free feed.
4. How often do you medicate your animals, and what do you use?
Relying heavily on pharmaceuticals to keep animals alive is an unethical practice. Antibiotic fed animals’ result in a two-fold problem: meat tainted with medication, and a sickly animal that is nutritionally deficient. Some farmers will use medication on the rare occasion one, “off” animal fell sick. This is a more tolerable case. It's up to your discernment on how important this is to you. You do have the right to know how the animals are treated. Antibiotics are another tricky matter; oftentimes poultry producers will say, "We don't feed our chickens antibiotics.” What they won't tell you is they put it in their water; the easiest way to medicate.
How I Answer: We rarely need to medicate animals. When we do, we use natural remedies. For pigs we use wood charcoal and diatomaceous earth as a dewormer. For other animals we use herbal or essential oil remedies. For example, with our beef cattle we use a natural dewormer and have supplemental kelp to provide iodine and natural minerals. We do not use industry pharmaceuticals. To combat sickness, we ensure our animals have a vibrant immune system, and a healthy natural environment.
Find a farmer that's open, honest and trustworthy.
5. Ask yourself: "Can I trust this person/farm with growing my food?"
Everything ultimately comes back to trust. One glance at meat in the supermarket does not inform you what happens behind the scenes, and who is growing your food. Find a farmer that's open, honest and trustworthy. Good farmers love having customers care about what they are doing.
How I Answer: You'll have to visit Botany Bay to answer that question yourself! Come to our first Field Day of 2016: Saturday June 25th, 10-3. Tours begin at 10:30 am & 1:30 pm, and last about an hour. We look forward to meeting you ~