When we were looking to buy our farm, Peter was less then two. We came out to look at the meadows, and they were in bloom. The smells of blooming clover and all the other wild flowers was completely overpowering.
Peter was riding on Dad’s shoulders, and when we let him down, he ran around and then just laid down in the tall grass with arms outspread and refused to leave this paradise.
Right there and then we decided that we are buying the farm. This is the salad bar that our animals get to graze. Here they are one species at a time.
We have been raising different kinds of goats – cashmere, Nubian and Boer, as well as all the possible crosses. Nibians are mainly dairy goats, and we have been lucky to have our own milk, cheese and yogurt. They are lovely animals – tremendously friendly, but not very good mothers, with the consequence that our kids had to hand-raise and bottle feed many of them. We had many a house goat at our place in February.
The babies become complete pets, play with the kids and follow them around everywhere. Cashmere goats are used for both meat and fibre. They are much more independent, and need to know you well in order to come and be petted.
They are beautiful animals, the bucks with their flowing horns are a delight to look at. They are dual purpose – meat and fibre. If you would like to know more about the fibre part, you can read about it in the Studio section.
Contrary to the popular belief, the goat meat (chevon or cabrito) is absolutely lovely. There is no goaty odour that needs to be masked by spices, but I must say I’ve never tried cooking a buck. Apparently their meat is cat’s meow in some communities, but we stick with weathers, and they don’t smell. It can be used in stews, ground, and are completely interchangeable with lamb in such dishes as leg of lamb.
We are also raising Border Leicester and Icelandic sheep. Border Leicesters are white and allow the kids to ride them. Icelandics are very clever. You think of goats as being the escape artists, but there is nothing an Icelandic mother won’t do to get her lambs some fresh grass.
They even wade in the creek and swim to get to their dream pasture. A traditional middle-eastern and mountain staple, cooking options go from rack of lamb, to kabobs to pilaf to harcho, which is a tremendous fiery Caucasian soup. If you are stuck for the recipes, check out our Kitchen section.
We also raise our meat chickens on pasture. They follow the herbivores in movable pens, and get to eat all kinds of critters and vitamins instead of the regular chicken feed.
Our laying hens enjoy their summer vacation home in the egg-mobile. They follow the passage of the herbivores on pasture, and eat fresh salad, bugs and parasites.
We bring them grubs from the orchard as a special treat – you should see them fighting over these fat delicious morsels! We have whites, reds, and plymoth bar laying hens that give us a mix of white and brown eggs. This year we are planning to add Americaunas that lay green eggs (no ham…).
Chickens lay eggs for about 2 years, and when they are done, they graduate to stew. If you’ve never had a stewing hen, you should give it a try. Their meat needs to be coaxed for many hours in the slow cooker to become soft and juicy, but it is well worth the trouble – the flavour is immensely superior to that of a typical meat broiler – it is much richer.
The broth is also completely different – it is a deep saturated amber colour, is much more flavourful, and the fat doesn’t set is a white lard layer on top of it. Pastured animals have a completely different fat profile, compared to their grain-fed counterparts. Their fats look bright yellow, are unsaturated, behave more like oils, and don’t solidify when cooled.
These are wonderful clever powerful animals that pull their labour weight at the farm. They manure and rototill the soil that is being prepped for other things. They develop scrubby areas and turn them into future pastures and gardens. They aerate compost and bedding. They do all this while looking good and providing hours of entertainment to the kids, and when they are done they taste good. We had one pig that decided she was a goat. She would go out and follow the herd of our goats and sheep out to pasture. We’ve never supplemented her diet with anything, she took her own personal responsibility for her food and grew huge, slick and healthy. Pastured pigs seem to really enjoy life. They root, eat and rest with gusto, and you can see that being a pig is not as bad as it sounds.
Salad bar beef
This year is a monumental year in our farm’s life – we finally feel strong enough to run our own mob grazing operation of 20 cows. I’ve always said that the animal needs to be small enough for me to be able to wrestle it down. And yet here we are, hoping to influence their behaviour without having to wrestle.
Mob grazing is a concept of intensive pasture management. The proponents of this movement call themselves the grass farmers, because essentially what you are trying to do is to grow the best quality grass that would feed the animals who would feed you. The movement of the animals is tightly controlled with fencing.
The animals are moved every day so that they have daily access to a fresh salad bar and fresh bedding. They graze down all kinds of grass, and this actually selects for tastier species by preventing them from being overgrazed and weakened into oblivion. The 50 lbs of manure that a cow drops every day gets incorporated into the ground, providing it with the best nitrogen supplementation for further grass growth. It is never allowed to accumulate in any one spot to a degree that it needs to evaporate or run off. The broilers and layers that run in the wake of the cows make sure to debug the patties and scratch them into the ground. In addition to the happy cows and chickens, the pasture productivity improves to support 3 times as many animals compared to traditional grazing.