Recently we visited Randy and Lynn Anderson (photos after the jump) who run a 100% grass fed beef, pork, and poultry farm in Arkansaw, Wisconsin. While picking up some cuts, Randy gave us a tour of his pasture and animals. While surveying the grounds I noticed no feedlots or antibiotics, only green pasture and healthy clover.
This diet helps to grow, not only a healthier, happier animal, but a superior food for humans. Animals that are fed corn have meat that is higher in Omega-6 fatty acids (the bad kind), while pasture raised animals are leaner and are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids (the good kind). Not to mention, the corn these animals eat is rarely grown on the farm where they raised. Therefore inedible corn has to be grown at some far-away place and shipped to the animals as feed. Since cattle are ruminants, they have stomachs that are designed to eat grass. A diet of corn creates a sick animal that needs to be pumped with hormones to avoid illness. Much more information on grass-fed animals here.
Randy’s animals spend the vast majority of the year out in the pasture, only sauntering into the barn to eat hay during ice storms. Randy says the cold weather doesn’t seem to bother them much. By growing grass on his land, Randy is also doing his part to prevent stormwater runoff by creating a functional and productive ecosystem. Conventionally, cattle are raised on large, dirt feedlots which pollute waterways and adjacent farms, which likely caused the latest E.Coli breakouts in spinach and beef.
Walking deeper into the pasture we found the pigs and cattle whom rotate between paddocks every few days or so. When the pigs weren’t rooting through the pasture they hopped and played, even letting me pet and feed them by hand. Opposite the beaten down grass walking path, the cattle lurched through their pasture with considerably less buoyancy than the pigs, but were still social, both with me and between themselves.
It wasn’t all talk about clovers and flowers, though. Randy bemoaned the fact that he is regulated heavily at both the Federal and State level which makes it difficult for him to compete with his neighbors who raise sub par, unhappy animals. Most of the current regulations were put in place in response to the squalor conditions at factory farms. Since outbreaks in E.Coli and other CAFO-born diseases were becoming common, the USDA required harsh and expensive codes for all farms, regardless of their size or animal raising policies. While this might have marginally increased the health of factory farm meat, it hurt the small farm that had no instances of disease by making them invest in costly infrastructure. This extends from exclusions of shipments across state lines, the use of refrigerated trucks, and prohibition of on-site butchering. Thereby a reactionary set of laws only helped to solve the effects of a much larger and systemic problem in our food chain.
Heading back the farmhouse we talked about his son, who he hopes will take over the farm someday. Much like his father, who used to farm, it seems to be in the blood. The only difference is that in Randy’s father’s days the life and growing methodology were simpler and much more pure. With some goodbyes we packed our pork and beef cuts in the cooler and headed down the gravel road leaving only a temporary cloud of dust in our wake.
Meat eating humans are victimized by some for creating a detrimental impact on the environment. However, when the animals can graze on pasture these farms are a productive and integrated component of a sustainable habitat.