We trust nature. She teaches us how to farm in a way that is healing and restorative instead of extractive. Looking to nature for guidance results in a cascade of benefits. For example, our cows thrive because of the uncomplicated act of feeding them only what they were born to eat; grass. They don’t make as much milk as grain-fed cows, but the milk they do make is richer, tastes better and is vastly healthier; both because it is loaded with good stuff and lacking in bad stuff.
Sadly, feeding cows solely on pasture has become a radical notion. Virtually every dairy cow in the US, whether she is “conventional,” “certified organic,” or even “pastured” still eats large amounts of grain in addition to any forage she may get. Why? Because on grain, cows produce larger amounts of milk, which is profitable, but they suffer for it. There are numerous painful and debilitating conditions associated with heavy grain feeding. The quality of the milk suffers too. There are increased food safety risks and horrible environmental degradation associated with grain production and feeding and confinement farming. The average lifespan of a confined, grain-fed cow is around 5 years. The natural lifespan of a healthy cow is around 15 and up to 20 years.
Our cows live outside. They are clean, fit, friendly, gorgeous and dare I say, happy. They smell good! They live in the fresh air, feeling the sunshine, gentle rain and breezes. They walk up and down, grazing the hillsides, harvesting their own food and fertilizing their own meadows, returning critical nutrition, improving and building the soil as they go. They sleep, socialize and have their calves out there too. In winter and during bad weather, they can choose to take shelter, but they are never confined except for an hour or so at milking time. Managing cows on pasture is not just great for the animals, it is also critical for protecting pollinators,biodiversity and clean water. It vastly reduces the need for fossil fuels and totally eliminates the need for herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. It builds productive topsoil and sequesters carbon. It is healthier on the farmers and their neighbors too.
We farm this way because for us, it is the only way. The alternative isn’t pretty, despite the dairy industry’s slick markteing. We want you to see beyond that and truly understand the origins of your food. We want you know exactly what you are getting when you make a choice to spend your money. By choosing our food, you become connected to us, our land and our animals. We are humbled and honored by that responsibly. We thank you.
In the introduction to his momentous book, The Farm as Ecosystem, the late, great, Jerry Brunetti breaks it down:
When I was an animal science major, I was advised that putting animals into farms akin to concentration camps and force feeding them only several species of grains fortified with vitamins, minerals, antibiotics, parasitides, larvacides, coccidiostats, hormones, ionophores, arsenic, recycled manure, and recycled tankage, ad nauseum, would lead to the agricultural equivalent of winning an Olympic gold medal. All of this hoopla was based on the fact that we could now extract more gallons of milk, bushels per acre, and meat per animal with the least amount of people doing the work – thanks to oil and machines. ‘Get big and get efficient (or get out)’ were the mantras that operators heard from the U.S. agriculture secretaries, the university extension agents, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), fertilizer salesmen, and conventional veterinarians whose practices depended on ‘fire engine’ medicine (treating acute symptoms created by stress from confinement and crowding). The lending institutions bought into it, thereby only encouraging farmers wanting an industrial economy-of-scale operation, and the inevitable debt and depreciation that followed.
This industrial model of agriculture on steroids has not only created an economic evisceration of rural communities, it has generated untold amounts of environmental damage, such as a dead zone the size of Massachusetts in the Gulf of Mexico; a ‘fast food nation,’ as investigative journalist and author Eric Schlosser calls it, contributing to runaway diabetes and obesity; a cancer rate now at 41 percent in the United States alone; and the annihilation of innumerable species due to the elimination of our precious grasslands and hedgerows.
At Mountain Home Farm, we feel a deep desire and responsibility to find another way.