News From the Farm | March 7, 2016

Last week we announced in this newsletter that limited quantities of Full Belly organically raised, pasture fed meat are available to our CSA members.  In response, several members wrote to us questioning the sustainability of raising animals – doesn’t’ it use a lot of land and a lot of water? Is it really ethical?  Here are some of our thoughts…

Thank you to our members for their thoughts about the Full Belly animal program.  I am one of the owners of the farm and also one of the animal managers, so I have lots of insight into your question! Also as a vegetarian for 30 plus years (now eating only Full Belly meat for the past few years) I have an interesting perspective from that viewpoint as well. I think we should maybe take each species separately.

Chickens: We started raising chickens as an FFA project for one of our children about 10 years ago. They are all egg-layers and we now have about 1,000 hens. They are pasture raised, moving all around the farm in mobile coops, eating insects, grass and weeds. They are very productive and downright spoiled. We raise most of our protein feed for them here – all organic cracked corn and wheat. The stew chickens that we offer are all from the older hens that are no longer laying eggs. For egg eaters this seems to be the best and most humane solution to older birds. The eggs have made a huge impact on the economics of our farmers markets. Our eggs are hugely popular and can account for up to a quarter of our income at the farmers market which has made the long trip to the markets much more worthwhile.

Sheep: These are my “babies” and I have built the sheep program here for the last 25 years. We started with just a handful and now have a flock of about 80 breeding ewes that give birth to 120 or so lambs each year. They are a wool breed primarily (Rambouillet, Lincoln and Merino) which we have now also mixed in with California reds which are more of a meat breed. Like the chickens, the sheep also graze around the farm, eating down all of our crop residue, weeds, pasture and cover crops. They make SO much sense in our diversified farming system. They are the “mowers,” replacing tractors and fertilizing the fields as they move around. We have a complex system of tracking their movements so that we know when and where they have been. When the flock was first starting we did mostly use them for wool, but realized that selling the lambs for meat was also a niche that could be filled. Our sheep are certified organic and there is a big need for certified organic lamb. We sell most of them to our CSA members but also to Chez Panisse where they are appreciated because they are raised so carefully and humanely. One of my biggest efforts is to make sure that no part of the animal is wasted, so we tan the hides, sell the sheepskins, and continue to sell all of the wool as certified organic yarn for knitters and weavers. We are one of a handful of certified organic yarn producers in the whole country!

Pigs: We have one sow who gives birth to about 20 piglets a year (2 litters). This is a very small and rather intimate pig “operation”. The sow’s name is Blueberry and the boar’s name is Gerard. This also started from a school FFA project of one of my kids. We love our pigs. They use up TONS of waste product from the farm – old squash, cracked grain, extra milk. They graze off grass and weeds and are also very spoiled! Their meat is all sold through our farmers markets and CSA.

Cows: Our cow “program” is similar to the pigs. Originally we started with one milk cow to provide milk for the people living here at the farm. In order to get milk we need to breed the cow each year. She has given birth to many males over the years and thus we occasionally offer beef, as it is too much meat for just the farmers here to consume. Our cows are also outside for the entire year, on pasture or grazing down crop residues in our fields. We LOVE our “girls” and they in turn love us. The beef that we offer is very limited. In fact we may only be offering it this year and then not have any again for several years.

I firmly believe that our animal program increases the sustainability of the farm. We grow amazing cover crops that serve as carbon banks to mitigate global warming and we have the animals digest those crops instead of using fossil fuels to mow them down. Like some of our CSA members, I am also a little “surprised” at our animal production after all these years of living here and even being a vegetarian. However I LOVE our animal program and am very proud of what we are doing. It makes a lot of sense to me as a sustainable way to use products like grass, crop residues and vegetable wastes that humans can’t digest.  In each field that the animals graze, we see multiple “yields” – increased soil fertility, animal protein, and finally the vegetable crop that we grow.

–Dru Rivers