On a typical summer morning at Sweetland the mist hangs low over our pastures and our legs drip with dew as we swish through the tall grass and clover on our way to morning chores. The quiet of the early part of the day is broken only by the soft grunts of the pigs as they turn over another clump of sod, the rip and crunch of the sheep munching timothy, and the wild scurry of a chicken chasing after an elusive grasshopper. There are many reasons why we choose to raise our farm animals on pasture, but this contented scene is my daily reminder.
The practice of pasturing animals is beneficial to the land, the animal, and the consumer. Using rotational grazing practices, our animals live outdoors and move across the farm landscape regularly. This gives them constant access to fresh food and clean ground. This frequent moving, combined with a lifestyle of fresh air, sunshine and exercise, produces healthy animals that do not require the prophylactic over-use of antibiotics so common in today’s commercial meat production system. In turn, the meat we harvest from these healthy animals is leaner, more flavorful, and healthier for the consumer.
When I first started farming I had been a vegetarian for 3 years. Schooled in the horrors of the conventional feedlot style of meat production and faced with a college dining hall full of anonymous meat, I reached for the tofu. But once working the land, seeing the interconnectedness of animals and plants on a diversified farm, I began to shift my views. Pastured animals play an extremely important role in nutrient cycling and soil building practices on a small-scale sustainable farm. By incorporating animals into the New England landscape we can increase available nitrogen levels for our vegetable crops, decrease insect pest populations, maintain perennial grass cover on erodible slopes, and add protein to our diets without trucking mono-cropped soy products across the country.
Not to mention that meat raised in this way is delicious! In the words of Deborah Krasner, author of the cookbook and sourcing guide Good Meat, “…the lively, honest flavors of pastured meat create instant converts.” At Sweetland we have heard rave reviews from our customers about the flavor and texture of the meat we raise. “This is just a note to tell you that your pork chops are seriously the best pieces of meat I have ever eaten in my life” wrote one customer. Between the health of the animal, the benefits to the land, the flavor and quality of the product, and the misty early morning moments, we think that raising animals on pasture is the way to go!