Conversations with Animal Farmers
By Asa - 11 Nov 2012
I stumbled across your website because I was looking for livestock pictures. I was doing so because I'm making a brochure for our farm, where we will raise cows for beef, pigs for pork, chickens for meat, chickens for eggs, 10 acres of grain (this year), and 6 acres of veggies.
Ours is a small family farm, where the animals will live their entire lives on pasture, and be slaughtered and butchered by us, on the farm. We are starting it in an economically depressed area with very few local jobs, and even fewer options for local food. The local jobs that exist are mostly in the incarceration industry (prisons). We would love to see locals making a living farming, rather than imprisoning other people. I was raised vegetarian, and in recent years started working on a local farm which raised animals for meat. It made sense to me for several reasons, after being exposed to it, and I began to eat meat. Not much, but some.
There I met my wife, and more recently we decided to start our own farm.
We live in a cold, rocky area of the northeast, so the tillable soils are limited. That being said, there are some good, tillable soils, and local farmers grow as much food on them as they can. However, vegetable and grain production rely on heavy tillage, which is well known to deplete soil health, biodiversity, and nutrition. To counteract that, every few years or less, it is good to return those fields to pasture, and let natural grass species flourish, and let animals graze them, and let their manure rebuild the soil. The alternative to this is chemical fertilizers, the ill effects of which are well documented. So for this reason alone, I feel that the keeping of livestock is well justified. This of course, does not necessitate their slaughter. However, like I said, we live in the Northeast, and cannot feed ourselves well all year round without some source of protein. We have many storage vegetables, of course, and survive mainly off those.
However, when it comes to choosing between protein from an animal that I've known for years, and has lived its life on my farm, and protein in the form of soy products from California, which come here via the use of much fossil fuel, I choose the local option. Another idea I'm interested in goes back to the pasture vs. tillage concern...mostly livestock needs grassy pasture, but some livestock can even be raised in the woods, in which case far less damage to the existing ecosystem is caused than in the case of vegetable and grain production. To produce a field of veggies, you need to tear up the trees, till the soil, suppress any weeds that try to grow, apply some sort of fertilizer....in other words work very hard to make sure that only one species lives on any particular piece of ground.
And don't get me wrong, I love veggies, and I love growing them, but it is something I'm concerned about, and that I haven't found the answer to.
So To me it seems like there's no clear cut answer, and all paths can go good or bad, but its our style and our intention that matter.
I would love to hear your perspective on these ideas...I don't have a clear position established, but you seem to, so I would welcome your input.
thanks for your time,