Can Grazing Save Us?

According to Allan Savory, it can. And Savory has dedicated his life to promoting and educating people about the importance of the restoration of our grasslands through holistic management.

The Savory Institute teaches that sustainable land management involves a series of interconnected system; that a symbiosis exists between the soil, the plants, the grazers, the predators, and us. Seems commonsensical. doesn’t it?  There is a natural balance to our earth’s systems that, sometimes, in our zeal to make things stronger/better/faster, we tip. A balanced approach to healthy land management addresses the systems as a whole, enhancing ecosystem resilience, sequestering carbon, and building biodiversity.

By our nature, we seem more tuned to attacking individual symptoms without addressing the entirety of the system. Treating the land and our food systems holistically creates a sustainable process.

The Savory Institute puts it this way…

Nature functions in wholes

You can’t control or change one thing in one area without having an impact on something else in another area.

All environments are different

It is crucial to acknowledge nature’s complexity and that an action can produce completely different results in different environments.

Properly managed livestock can improve land health

When domestic livestock is properly managed to mimic the behavior of wild herbivores interacting with grasslands, they can reverse desertification.

Time is more important than numbers

Overgrazing of plants is directly related to the amount of time the plants are exposed to the grazing animals and the amount of time that lapses between consecutive grazing events.

We believe that the Savory Institute has something to teach us all. The cliff notes version of this complex, consuming subject is that all of life, a healthy sustainable world, is a balance… from the water systems under our feet to our food systems, from the plant and animals around us (domestic and wild) to our own physical health. Resolving our water troubles, our land use issues, our air and food quality troubles, should be from the whole systems, big picture approach.

We farm our land in a holistic manner, understanding that the soil beneath our feet is the foundation for the health of everything that lives on the farm. We are mindful that the Shippetaukin Creek runs through the property, and that how we treat the land affects the creek and folks downstream. Our animals are raised on pasture to allow them to do what comes naturally – forage, root, graze, and interact with one another – which helps keep them safe, healthy, and happy. For us, farming is a big picture, whole system process with many moving parts. And we are committed to managing all of those parts.

Small farms that manage their land in this way are helping to restore some of the balance we have lost to each region where they farm. In supporting these farms, we help heal the land, and since we are a part of the big picture, ourselves.

For more information about the Savory Institute, visit their website.

When the Cows Come Home: The A2 versus A1 debate

friesian head

For the past year or so, we have been in a transitioning from a pasture-based model, where the cows got some grain during winter, to a 99% grass fed dairy. That is a slow transition. Going purely grass fed is both an adjustment for the cows, and for the farmer, who must monitor his cows to see how they are adjusting, and plan appropriately to grow and harvest enough hay for the winter months.

Cows adjusted to grain give more milk, so our grass fed model requires more cows to maintain the volume of milk needed to make our cheeses. In the name of balance, we decided to introduce a few new cows to the herd; ten hearty Friesians with A2A2 genetics.

What are A2A2 genetics, you ask?

It seems that hundreds of years ago there was a mutation in a gene that changed the nature of the proteins in cows’ milk. Now, this was a long time ago, but over generations this A1 mutation predominated in Europe and the US, while the original A2 cows continued to thrive in Africa and Asia.

Fast forward to today. There are many claims about the digestibility and health detriments/benefits of A2 milk versus A1 milk. Although there are no concrete studies to prove it one way or the other, there is a book, “The Devil is in the Milk” by Dr. Keith Woodford, that has become a bible for believers.

There is, however, anecdotal evidence that cows with the original A2 gene are more hardy, more likely to thrive, in a 100% grass fed environment. These are the original cows, with the more feral genetics, and as a grass fed creamery that has meaning for us. Introducing some A2 genetics into our herd seemed right.

After much googling and visiting, we found a farm in New York State with a herd of healthy, thriving grass fed A2 cows that we felt would be a match for our herd. Our ten debutantes arrived the last Friday of February, pushing into the pole barn to get acquainted with the CGF herd. Our girls lined the paddock fence, craning their necks to see the new arrivals, amidst much mooing, snorting, and sniffing.

The new cows will be kept apart for a while to give them time to acclimate, and when the grass springs again, they will be introduced to our pastures and begin their life at the farm. We expect about 45 calves this spring. We hope you will drop by to visit and say hello to the newcomers.

Note: A1A1 and A2A2 genetics are not, as sometimes reported, breed specific. The A1A1 gene may predominate in certain breeds, but you can find A2A2 Holsteins and A1A1 Jerseys. The only way to know for sure is to test the milk.

The Heritage Hoo-hah

“We raise heritage pigs.”

Or heritage sheep… or chickens. You hear that all the time, but what does it mean?

Heritage animals are traditional livestock breeds that were raised in the past, by our great grandparents and their parents. Every country, every region of a country had animal and plant species that were bred over time to develop traits that made them particularly well-adapted to the local environmental conditions.

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The rise of industrial agriculture changed the dynamic of what the “farmer/business” required from their animals. Breeds used in industrial agriculture are bred for characteristics like faster maturation and higher volumes. In other words, grow fast, put on weight fast, produce lots of milk or eggs, or better yields within confined facilities. The variations found in heritage breed animals are not convenient to the volume producer. (Note: The life span of an “industrial animal” is about 35% shorter because of the intense “work” combined with less natural living conditions. As of 2000, four companies produced 81 percent of cows, 73 percent of sheep, 60 percent of pigs, and 50 percent of chickens.)

  • There are 5 breeds that make up almost all of the dairy herds in the US.
  • 83 percent of US dairy cows are Holsteins.
  • 60 percent of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds.
  • 75 percent of pigs in the US come from only 3 main breeds.
  • Over 60 percent of sheep come from only four breeds, and 40 percent are Suffolk-breed sheep.
  • 99% of all turkeys raised in the U.S. are Broad-Breasted Whites, a single turkey breed specially developed to have a meaty breast.

Since the 1960s we have seen a drastic reduction of breed variety. Within the past 15 years 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide, and there are currently 1,500 others at risk of becoming extinct. Sixty breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct in the past five years alone.

Why does that matter? If we are getting more for our money, why does that extinction of these more regional breeds really matter? Simple answer… long term breed health and bio diversity. It matters for our long term health.

We don’t know what the future holds. Mother Earth is always changing and we are always adapting These heritage livestock breeds serve as our genetic resource, our ability to breed new traits into existing stock. When heritage breeds become extinct, these unique genes are lost forever and limit our ability to adapt.

By limiting the breeds we raise commercially, we have narrowed our options, and continue to do so at a quickening pace. Poetically, our genetic heritage was once rich in texture and color, a tapestry full of shading and nuance. Now it looks pretty plain.

Heritage breeds evolved as hardy pasture animals and so are well suited to the burgeoning grass-fed farming model. These animals can thrive without temperature-controlled buildings and the antibiotics administered to factory farmed breeds. In raising diverse heritage livestock breeds, farmers not only maintain variety within our stock populations, they also help to preserve this valuable genetic legacy, keeping our palette open to future adaptation.

1902 - Family purchased farm

1910 - Leased land to dairy farmer

1987 - Hamill Brothers inherit farm

2002 - Started as a family business

2003 - Started a beef herd, laying hens, and pigs

2004 - Added sheep and attained organic certification of pasture land

2005 - Added dairy herd and began making fresh cheeses like mozzarella

2006 - Built aging caves and began making aged cheeses

2012 - Grid Magazine’s Cheese of the Month (Nov – Full Nettle Jack); Finalist at the Good Food Awards (Toma)

2013 - Won 2 blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society(for Buttercup Brie and Lawrenceville Jack Reserve); Added second cheesemaker

2014 - Broke ground on additional aging space and began process of getting AWA certification for our chickens