Tag Archives: animals health

Veal: Can it be humane?

Not that long ago, a war was waged between veal growers, HSUS and consumers. Traditionally, veal was raised in confinement housing, locked into tiny little areas where the calves couldn’t move around and fed milk and more milk. This was done to keep the meat white and tasteless.

Over the years, the standards have changed to group housing where the animals are allowed to move around and compete for food.

A couple of years ago, we set out on a path to find out what to do about the stigma surrounding veal. Most people will visibly cringe when I tell them I raise veal. What we do here is MUCH different than normally seen here in the United States.

Since we live in a dairy “district” so to speak, we have an outlet to many bull calves. Nearly all of the bull calves from the dairy industry land in the local auction barns and are sold as bob veal or raised as beef in other states. Having a couple of dairy cows ourselves and no way to sell or dispose of the milk, we started researching options on different avenues to add value instead of just dumping the milk.

My original inquiries lead me to @HeavesFarmVeal who raises rose veal in the Lake District in the UK. I watched their videos, talked with them via twitter and email. Learning all I could about what they do, why and how. I also stumbled upon @StraussMeats, which is a supplier of humanely raised beef and pastured veal. I started discussing veal with potential consumers, discovering the concerns over welfare and health of the animals.

Combining everything I had researched and learned, we raised our first rose veal animal in 2011. He was born to our rescued Jersey cow, Belle. We left him on his momma, drinking all the milk he wanted and tagging along with her as she would eat hay and pasture grasses. He was never given any kind of grain and was watched closely for health. We butchered him at 6 months old (don’t get mad yet, I’ll explain some more in a minute) and he dressed out at 200 lbs. We still hadn’t eaten any yet, but he was a good solid weight and his meat was a beautiful pink color with slight marbling.

All the cattle here enjoy pasture playtime!
All the cattle here enjoy pasture playtime!

Now let’s discuss this age thing. Trust me when I say that I know most people get upset when I tell them the age of the animal. I want you to remember a couple of things…. 1) Most of you have no issues with eating chickens. Well, most commercially raised chickens are actually butchered between 6 and 12 weeks (YES, WEEKS!) old. Under that same mentality, why would a 20-24 week old calf be different? 2) Hormones start kicking in on cattle around 6 months of age. Let me just say that once hormones kick in, they aren’t adorable long eyelashes, baby deer looking animals anymore. They can get aggressive and try mounting anything/everything with a pulse, humans included. Six months of age is the cut off age because puberty will alter the flavor of the meat too.

How are we different? We are different because we use the natural systems and the best pastures possible! Each and every calf is raised with lots of love and a great deal of hands on attention. This is done to ensure the highest quality of meats at the time of butcher because they are used to being around people. These animals are never stressed. They aren’t castrated, banded, dehorned or altered in anyway shape or form. They are fed whole milk from our farm, from cows that are also pastured on the highest quality grasses and hay possible. No veal calf is ever treated with any type of antibiotic, growth hormone or boxed at any time during their lives here.

After tasting the meat, I’m sold on this system. The meat, again light pink in color with a little marbling, has a delicate and light flavor profile. It’s soft texture melts in your mouth and it “takes” spices very well.

We do not raise thousands of these animals a year, instead keeping our numbers small enough to give each animal the time devotion we feel is needed. We have strict methods of rearing these animals too, based off all the information gathering we did from consumers to farmers alike. We work hard to develop a product that we are comfortable with producing and selling. One thing we don’t like around here is confinement. We love being able to sit in the pasture, watching everyone graze or lounge in the sunshine in a lush bed of green grass. We do our best to give every animal here the absolute best life possible… from chickens to calves to full grown cows.

All livestock are put on pastures as quickly as possible. Many have started nibbling grasses as early as two days of age.
All livestock are put on pastures as quickly as possible. Many have started nibbling grasses as early as two days of age.

If you are looking for veal raised with compassion, consideration and humane, look no further! We will have some available for 2015. We are also taking orders now for the season. Contact us for more details.

IF YOU ARE A CHEF, BUTCHER OR BLOGGER, WE WOULD LOVE TO SHARE YOUR TIPS, RECIPES AND LINKS! All links can be forwarded to @CNYFarmGirl on twitter.

Chicken Experiments – Fermented Grains

I have been planning on putting this post up for a while now. It’s a little late for the winter effects but the value of this process can pay big dividends throughout the year for smaller producers.

I’ve been asked for years what I feed to my chickens. After a few years of evolution, I’ve finally got myself on the right tracks for better year round egg production and have seen a reduction in feed costs with the added benefit of strong, healthy chickens.

Before I get into detail, I want to give you a bit of back story into our road to discover. In 2013, we had a field that was newly seeded down for pastures. The crop specialist, Rich, was determined to plant a cover crop that would sprout fast and provide soil cover to prevent weed growth. The choice was made to plant forage oats.

What are forage oats? Well, it’s the rudimentary form of oats. It’s got wide broad leaves that sprout from the ground after just a few days of germination. It grows much more like a grass but if left long enough will produce the seed heads just like an oat plant.

As summer went by and we tried to get into the field to take the first cutting of hay, we experienced rain delays and scheduling issues. By the time we managed to get the field cut, the forage oats and developed their seeds and they had started to dry. Here on our farm, we like to feed the cattle baleage.

What’s baleage? Baleage is created when hay isn’t left to dry down all the way in the field before it’s baled. It’s not fresh cut but it isn’t dry either. Once the low moisture hay is baled into round bales, it’s then wrapped in a form of shrink wrap plastic. They look like those long tubes you see along the highway or the one’s you joke with little kids about being giant marshmallow poop. ūüėČ

Once the bales of hay are wrapped, they go through a fermentation process that “cooks” the grasses inside, leaving more available nutrients than standard hay and also leaves the grass soft for the cows to eat. Since some of the forage inside these bales were the oats, they were “cooked” too.

That winter when we started feeding these bales, we noticed that one set of our chickens had stopped eating their layer mash (a special mixture of powder feeds that is formulated just for laying hens). Upon monitoring this group, we noticed that they spent all day around the hay feeders in the cattle barns. “Why?” we started asking ourselves.

Low and behold, we had stumbled upon something that had us researching what was going on. Why would the chickens prefer the oats overtop of their own feed?

What was soon discovered is an article about fermenting grains. What was the big deal? Why would chickens like the fermented grains better? Apparently, a little known fact about grains and fermentation processes is that when the grains start breaking down, the release a lactic acid. The lactic acid breaks the bonds within the grains compounds and makes the sugars and proteins more readily digestible. “Huh, who knew?” is what we were thinking.

Off we set to do some experimentation! What did we need to do? According to a couple of reference (listed below), all we needed to do was add water, stir occasionally and sit back to wait.

How to ferment chicken feed by the Art of Doing Stuff

Fermented Feed by Natural Chicken Keeping

Why and How to Ferment Chicken Feed by Garden Betty

We started by using the layer mash we had. While it worked okay, the process took a lot of water and you had to keep stirring and stirring. The chickens did eat it, if there was no other food choice. Maybe my chickens are just picky, but they didn’t care for it one bit. The method was also long, sometimes taking two or three days to even start the “bubbling” needed.

Last winter, I was extremely discouraged and went back normal feeding of just mash. The results were astounding and I didn’t realize the impacts it would have. Our chickens didn’t lay eggs. Their feathers seems more ruffled and they just seemed more down than normal.

This last summer, I decided to give it another go for the winter season. I turned to a local farmer who plants a variety of crops and started talking to him about what my options were based off from what he plants. Matt set me up with a mix of crushed grains. The mix includes corn, wheat, rye and oats. It was mixed at 25% of each grain after it was augered through a pro-box and put through a roller mill. He then bagged it up in 50 lb bags for me to transport it home (and because I can lift that size bag, 100 lb requires assistance).

Upon getting it home, I took an old folgers coffee can and filled it up roughly 3/4 full (to the top of the handle mold). I added hot tap water (roughly 140 degrees) until it was just covering the grain by about a 1/2″. I put on the top and set it aside. Later that afternoon, I checked it again, stirred it up and added a little more water to one of the two I had set up. Much to my surprise, the next morning I had bubbles forming on the top of both containers. I left the one I had added water to and just fed the other. At first, the chickens and turkeys weren’t too sure but by sprinkling some of the dry grains on top, they devoured what was left. I repeated the process for the container I had fed.

On day two, the container I had left had fermented so much that there was literally mold growing on the top of the grain! Nope, that wasn’t going to work. Matt did such a great job with raising the grains and the processing that I only need to wait 24 hours!

The routine now goes like this: Morning feeding, I take out two coffee cans of fermented grains to feed to roughly 50 birds. As soon as the mixture is plopped out of the can, it’s standing room only around the dish. The grains are devoured in less than 1/2 hour with not even a kernel or glob left! I refill the containers and bring them inside to repeat the process again.

What’s the benefit? Prior to beginning the fermented grain feeding, I was getting roughly 2 eggs a day. The chickens were always huddled together and rarely ran around the barns. After just three days of feeding fermented grains, the egg production shot up to 6-7 eggs a day. After a week, the chickens were running around on days when it was -30 below outside and still laying an astounding NINE eggs a day from three year old chickens!

This week, we topped our highest egg days that we’ve seen in months at 12 eggs. I can see a vast improvement in their energy, their overall condition and their eggs. I see the same thing in the turkeys too. I’ve also seen their water consumption drop. Probably because they are getting the moisture and flavored water from the grains.

I might not have fancy photos like the other folks do above…but I do know this is the better way to go. We are feeding roughly half the amounts we were before and the layer mash that been given as free choice over two months ago, is still sitting there in the feeder. The wild birds and chickadees are loving it though.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about the grains themselves, Matt is the guy to talk to! He’s available on Twitter and is full of great information about a variety of other stuff too (Just ask him about pressing ragweed for oil for confirmation). He can be found at @mdedrick1.

If anyone wants to see photos of the entire process, the way I do it… Just give a shout and I will edit accordingly!

Meet the Farmers

You know it is really frustrating to me when on a night that I have to get up every two hours to take care of an animal who needs some extra attention right now I happen to get online and through a Meet the Farmers promotion that is going on now with McDonald’s I start reading all of these offensive clips about farmers and agriculture.

To top it off, one of the video responses is an “extended version” of the original piece put together by McDonald’s about the beef rancher/supplier that contains some graphic images of a calf slaughter, the most disgusting feedlot I have ever seen and then a drop-kill when the animal just has it’s throat slit and drops thrashing to the floor.

Maybe I just don’t have the extra tolerance at FOUR AM ¬†to keep my mouth shut (meaning my fingers since I have to type this out) anymore.

Yes, there are some farms and slaughter-houses that do use those practices out there in the real world…But, contrary to the believes of the folks who sit in their homes watching the horrific images on the nightly news with the special graphics at the beginning that says “these images are too violent” to be viewed on open air ways that isn’t what happens in the majority of circumstances.

Animals are raised, depending upon what type of animal, in control environments for the animals health or they are released into a pasture. The animals are feed a diet that is designed for the health and nutritional requirements by an animal nutritionist. They get regular check ups from farm hands and yes, sometimes a vet when they are sick or injured.  Once the animal is grown it goes to a butcher or slaughter-house. Many of the large slaughter houses in the US, have changed drastically over the images that we think are involved.

This woman by the name of Temple Grandin has been changing animal handling procedures for many years now. She has designed chutes for animals to move through that the animal is comfortable with. She has designed slaughter-house floors that keep the animals calm and relaxed. She has generated practices all across this country and maybe even world-wide that are renowned for the benefit to the animal. Oh and if you didn’t know…they actually made a movie about her life and you should really watch it. And imagine, all of this coming from a woman with Autism.

Seems to me that if someone like her can take a look at what is a best practice for the health and well-being of an animal, then why shouldn’t the rest of us within the ag industry? And beyond that, why shouldn’t consumers know and ASK how their food is raised and processed?

Everyone out there needs to stop assuming that what you see on the nightly news is real world agriculture! It isn’t. Coming from my perspective, farming is a way of life. My animals, whether it is a 4 pound chicken or a 1200 pound cow, is part of my family. I raise them much like I do the dogs that sleep at the end of my bed. And believe me, if I could figure out how to make room for a calf or two to do the same, I WOULD!

Again, I would like to remind you all that not all farmers are like that. I agree that some of them out there shouldn’t be allowed to raise animals and should be locked down and treated the same way. It’s actually very similar to what goes on in the Pet World. How would you like it if someone came to you and said that all dog or cat owners treated their animals inhumanly? No cat or dog….how about those of you who have mice, rats, lizards or birds? You would get upset and start dancing around, wagging your finger at the person giving them every justification on why you have whatever animal it is that you have. That’s a natural reaction.

When farmers are confronted with this backlash that society seems to give them for being a rancher, dairyman/woman, poultry or swine grower they don’t point fingers and wag. They just buckle down and try to overcome all the barriers. Society says, treat your animals better and what happens? A whole team of researchers, scientists, nutrients, veterinarians, and farmers collaborate together to improve housing, feeding, etc to improve the environment of the animal. Which, in my opinion, is an ever evolving sector as new materials or processes come into the market (for example new fans for air flow, new ways of utilizing manures to generate electricity and reduce that “farm smell”).

Farmers and Ranchers across this country are working hard to please our animals and society.


*Please note the animal sounds in the holding pens. Stressed cattle will vocalize and in this video, there is maybe one vocalization.


It just seems that our voices are never heard through the drowning whine of society. If you have a problem with a commercial system of the meat or dairy market, then buy from a local farmer and talk to them about their practices. Ask them questions. Ask them if you can visit their farm to see how they treat their animals. Ask them where they send the animals for butcher. Basically, what I am asking you to do is: get to know your food. I don’t care if it’s fruits or vegetables, beef or chicken, syrups or jams, milk or cheese.

If you don’t know where your products in your fridge come from…then it really is time that you start asking some questions on where it does come from. Maybe even watch this show called “The Big Waste”:

To those of you who read this that are NOT farmers who have questions about our practices or what products are supplied here on our farm…give us a shout. We will be more than happy to take the time to answer any questions you may have.