Working with animals on the farm

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to visit and do a soil test at Oxford Farm, a relatively new project (started in 2018!) begun by Theresa Cohen, someone who has for many years been studying and supporting cutting edge enterprises seeking to increase nutrition in foods and to help humans relate beneficially with the land and soil and inhabitants.
This week, Theresa offered our members the opportunity to buy some of their specialty roasts for the holidays, and so it seemed a good time to write down my thoughts on how animals play a part in some of the farms that partner with Shared Harvest
Theresa’s own words, about Oxford Farm:
Oxford Farms is a 130 acre farm in Oxford, MA.   We raise 100% grass fed beef and lamb.   (We won’t have lamb until next fall.)  We have about 30 head of Red Angus, Red Poll and South Poll cattle and 30 head of Khatadin hair sheep.   Our plan is to incorporate some annual crops and fruit into the farm next year.    We are not certified organic but we are treating the farm as an ecosystem and that excludes chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides in an effort to grow clean, healthy soil, animals and food.    All of our animals are given fresh grass every day during the growing season and organic hay in the winter.  We also give them kelp, salt, minerals, Apple Cider Vinegar and clay.
Theresa Cohen.

In these short, dark days, most farm organisms are fairly dormant or resting.  Even in heated greenhouses or unheated, covered rows, the plants themselves have almost stopped.  With the exception of micro-greens, most food crops we are eating now have been stored in a barn cooler, preserved in some way, or are “stored” as standing vegetation, roots still in the ground but waiting till longer days to resume any growth.

However, farms raising cows and laying hens  are where fresh food is still being actively produced.  Even at this darkest time, hens are laying (though less frequently) and cows are still grazing or eating hay, growing, producing milk, and/or nursing or gestating their young.

So, again, it seems like a fitting time to highlight some of our growers who work with animals on their farms and are therefore still out every day at the crack of dawn!  (Well, actually, all farms with living soils work with animals, including the wild and the microscopic. So, to be a little more to the point, we are talking in this post about macroscopic, domesticated animals!)

Wingate Farm raises hens entirely on pasture, feeding them certified organic grain and all the bugs, grasses, weeds they could want! Their winter quarters are hoophouses with open doors to a moveable fenced area.  The rest of the year, they are rotated around the land in a way that benefits the pasture growth and diversity and protects from over-impact.  They have shelter that closes at night to protect them from predators , continuous access to clean drinking water, certified organic feed to augment the bugs, etc., and are also protected from ground predators by movable perimeter electric fences…which they can actually hop right over, but they prefer to stay close to their home flock and their moveable nighttime shelters.

Chase Hill Farm makes artisanal cheeses, sells their cheese, eggs, chicken, pork, and beef, and also raw milk at their farmstand along with select products from other nearby growers.  The farm is composed of pastures and forestland on a hilltop in Warwick MA.  (Warwick became the first town in Mass. to ban the use of glyphosate, btw!).  The pastures are certified organic.  The centerpiece of their farm are their 100% grass fed “dual-purpose” (dairy and meat) breed cows which are holistically managed so that their impact on the land enhances the growth and diversity of the soil and plants. The young calves stay with their “dams” (= group of nursing moms) and are never isolated.  Chase Hill also raises pigs and laying hens, also entirely on pasture with certified organic grain supplement.

Alprilla Farm integrates beef cattle and working oxen (!) into their holistically managed pastures and vegetable and grain growing fields.  They not only grow spectacular veggies, they also add to the beauty and diversity of their magnificent home landscape in Essex MA.

For those who would like to know more about animal husbandry generally I suggest Food Animal Concerns Trust: What is a Humane Farm?, and related to climate, nutrition, and ethics,  Sacred Cow/Resources.