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Farm Stewardship at Red Hill Harvest

written by

Nathan Masser

posted on

April 17, 2024


Last Easter, I shared the fact that we always try our best to nurture our community and environment through decisions based on our faith, ancestorial knowledge, and new information gained from experience and education.

I want to share with you, exactly how we do this day in and day out on our farm.

Before we get started I do have a brief disclaimer.

How our farm operates is not the only way or the perfect way to farm. However, we strive to do what is best for our farm, with the resources we have available, and to be good stewards of our land and animals.

We understand every farm and situation is different. We want to share the steps that we take to make sure we are putting the safest and most delicious food on your table for generations to come.

Now that that is out of the way, let's begin with how we care for our animals.

Animals

Daily Pasture Moves

I'm sure while taking a drive through the countryside, you've seen a pasture grazed down to nothing. It may be eaten to a length shorter then your lawn, leaving nothing but dust and dirt to try to regrow.

We avoid leaving our soils in this state of despair by moving the animals daily. Whether it be our chickens or cows, we arrange fencing in a way that keeps them from grazing an area of land too much.

We allow them to eat no more then 50% of the grass which helps the pastures to regrow quicker, allowing us to utilize our farm more efficiently as well as keep their stomachs full of high protein, nutrient dense plants.

We also allow the pasture to fully recover before we return to graze again (usually around 60 days, but it could be longer depending on the weather and time of year). This way we improve our pasture resource instead of degrading it.

Space per animal

Space for animals can be a big issue on the farm. To keep the business profitable, it is important to maximize the amount of animals per acre.

The number of cattle we run becomes incredibly hard to manage because, during the spring/fall, when the grass is growing at a rapid pace, we could feed up to 200 head of cattle, whereas in the summer/winter, when the grass is growing very slowly or not at all, 50 head would be a much more suitable number. We typically end up running around 110 head in the spring and decrease the amount throughout the summer and into winter to match our land's carrying capacity.

We like to feed as little amount of hay as possible by keeping the animals grazing out on the pasture, where they were designed to be. When the cattle are out grazing, they have the freedom to roam over the acre or two we have them temporarily fenced into, giving them plenty of space while still improving our land and giving it the rest it needs before regrazing.

Low-Stress Handling

We have about 250 acres of land, spread across 3 separate farms, fenced in for our cattle. Thankfully, 2 of them are adjacent to each other, so we can walk the cows across the road. However, to get to the other farm, we have to load them on a truck.

Every time you have to load an animal, it exerts some form of stress on them. We limit the amount of stress on moving days by starting early in the morning on the hot summer days, only using rattle paddles for encouragement (not electric prods), and keeping our voices calm to help them stay calm.

Protection from the elements

As you may know, we do not have a barn for our cattle. This is mainly because cattle are naturally protected from the harsh winter elements. Their thick fur coats help to keep them warm and they also have the ability and instinctive knowledge to huddle together in a herd. When the weather calls for a heavy wind storm, we set up a windbreak to make sure they can get protection from the elements.

The same goes for the warm summer months when they shed their thick winter coats and know where to look for the coolest spots on the farm. We always try to find a shady spot for them to graze during the dog days of summer.

Land

Limited-tillage

We limit the amount of tillage we use between crops to allow the microbiology to survive in our soil. These tiny organisms cling to the roots of our plants and help them to bring in nutrients needed for life. By keeping the roots in the soil intact, we can also reduce the amount of erosion that happens during major weather events.

These microbes also need water and air to thrive. Soil with lots of pore space allows for both water and air to move into the root zone (like water flowing through a sponge). Tillage breaks up these pore spaces and collapses the soil structure, leading to less water and air and ultimately less microbiology.

Why not no-till?

We do as much no till as possible, however in some instances tillage is a necessary tool. We use tillage in ground we will plant potatoes in and also to establish new seedlings in organic fields.



Cover crops

Cover cropping is a farming practice that is used to keep living roots in the soil in between "cash crops". This cover crop helps to reduce erosion and compaction, as well as, builds soil fertility.

We typically plant multi-species cover crop which pulls nitrogen, carbon, and other important elements from the atmosphere into our soils. This biodiversity of species allows each plant to feed off one another and be utilized to the fullest extent.

Soil always wants to be covered by some type of living plant. If you take a drive throughout the countryside in the spring you can see a green hue over the brown corn and soybean stubble. These are weeds popping up trying to cover the soil. We plant cover crops in the fall, to keep the soil active and also eliminate the need for a spring herbicide spray.

See if you can pick out which fields are ours in the picture below!



Natural Amendments

Another trick we use to boost our soil health naturally is by using natural soil amendments. In unison with our other practices, we are able to increase fertility without harming our soil biology with synthetic nitrogen and fertilizers.

Some forms of natural amendments we use on our farm -
Liquid Humus
Compost
Animal Manure
Seaweed
Fish Oils
Molasses

These amendments are much easier for our plants to access compared to their synthetic counterparts, making it a much more effective solution for us.

Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of fertility found in nature to grow profitable crops, we just need to equip our plants with the ability to bring it out of the atmosphere and into the soil.



Animal Impact

Putting animals back on our farm is arguably the best decision we have ever made.

Animals provide so many benefits to our farm it would be impossible to fit them all in this newsletter! Not counting their manure, they kickstart life in the soil, combat unwanted weeds without tillage or chemicals, and even their saliva has microbiology that goes into the soil and helps plants to grow. Crazy right?

By bringing animals back onto our farm, we have begun to close the nutrient gap of making our farm self sufficient. So many farmers rely on costly synthetic inputs to boost their soil health. If one of these inputs would become unavailable, our ability to produce food would be gone.

One ongoing example of this is the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge which shut down the Baltimore port. Most if not all of the synthetic fertilizer used in the eastern United States comes through this port. Now that the port is shut, fertilizer is much harder to find, making the price skyrocket.

By closing the nutrient gap, we are able to make our farm more resilient. This keeps us safe from relying solely on outside and often unreliable supply chains.

We take pride in being your farmer and we always want to strive to create healthier food for you and your family to enjoy.

I mean, that's why you're reading this blog right?

You are invested in becoming more informed and confident about the way your food is being produced. You understand that it's not just a label that says 100% grass-fed beef, or pasture-raised eggs, or organic, it's a product cared for by 3 generations working together with a common goal in mind.

To provide HEALTHY, SAFE, and BETTER food, from our family to yours.

Invest in your health today!

More from the blog

3 reasons why you should (NOT!) go vegan.

A recent study by Vegetarian Times shows that 7.3 million people follow vegetarian diets in the U.S.A. alone, and the number is rising daily!  It’s almost understandable why this trend is rising in a world full of fake news and food mislabeling. Recently, I did some research concerning these common misconceptions. Without further adieu, here are the top three reasons people go vegan (and the truth about these polarizing issues). #1 Environmental Impact Over 90% of all meat produced in America is raised in CAFOs. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) What is a CAFO, you ask? CAFO stands for Confined Animal Feed Operation and includes all farms that raise more than a set number of animals. For example, a CAFO of cattle is 1,000 animals, whereas a CAFO of chickens starts at 30,000. To learn more about CAFOs, click here. Large amounts of carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere in a CAFO. Feed needs to be grown, processed, and trucked in. Then, after feeding, the manure must be trucked out and spread onto farmland. This large amount of trucking and processing makes many of these CAFOs detrimental to our environment.  Arguably, the most significant environmental concern in our region (Mid-Atlantic) is the over-application of manure. If you drive through PA, NJ, MD, NY, or VA, you will see countless large poultry CAFOs. These farms generated millions of tons of manure, which was more than they could ever use to add fertility to the soils of their farms. This led to manure being over-applied, causing runoff and the pollution of streams and rivers. To help solve this problem in our community, the government (taxpayers) have financed a facility to dehydrate poultry manure to divert it away from the area. What should you do? Becoming vegan simply does not mean eliminating environmental issues. Each system of raising food has its own set of problems. Fruit and vegetable farming, processing, and trucking can be as bad as animal production. For example, most of the produce we eat on the East Coast must be shipped from California or other countries before it reaches our plate.  Click here to watch John Dutton from the show Yellowstone simple explanation on the issues of veganism.  Knowing where your food comes from is essential to combat these environmental issues. You can make a difference by sourcing your food from farmers who use green practices such as cover cropping and rotational grazing.  Cover crops pull carbon from the atmosphere into our soils, helping to counteract animal carbon emissions.  Rotational grazing leads to a healthy level of manure distribution throughout every acre without additional hauling. Invest in a farm whose practices work with nature rather than against it and whose goal is to regenerate the environment rather than sustain it.  #2 Animal Welfare In large confinement operations, animals are contained by the thousands. Although farmers must follow USDA’s requirements for sq. ft./ animal, disease can spread quickly when many animals are confined to a small area. Recently, the avian flu has been all over the news. This disease travels through wildlife and transmits to poultry through their saliva. It is a significant threat to poultry production in America.  Poultry is often raised in a confined house in a controlled environment. This environment is created to help keep the birds from getting ill from rain or cold weather. While it does a very good job of keeping them safe from the elements, it also weakens their immune systems because they are never exposed to harsh climates. When events such as the avian flu happen, problems arise because the flocks are not suited to protect themselves from this illness. We witnessed how this disease affected our local farms. A recent outbreak led to over 40,000 birds being killed due to their weak immune systems, which is a big problem for American farmers. The final and most concerning animal welfare issue in the vegan community is the treatment of animals.  Farmers often hire laborers to help with the day-to-day chores of farm life. These workers see so many animals daily that they can lose respect for the animals they care for. While every farm is not this way, we can not turn a blind eye to the fact that this mistreatment of animals does happen, and it is an issue that needs to be fixed. What should you do? This one is very straightforward. VISIT YOUR FARMER!!  Find a farmer who is willing to show you around their farm. Don’t trust a label in the supermarket; find a farmer you can trust, and be sure to ask him/her about their practices.  By visiting your farmer, you can know the food you put on your table was raised with respect and care. #3 Health  There’s no denying it: the cheapest meat you find on the supermarket shelf was likely raised using GMO feeds, antibiotics, and artificial growth hormones. These factors are beginning to appear as significant factors in the chronic disease epidemic our country is facing. Eating fruits and vegetables has undeniable health benefits for our bodies and well-being. However, vegetable and fruit farmers often use chemicals to control their fields' pests, which leads to the same problems production animal farming brings.   Another reason people are turning away from meat is for heart health, which is a legitimate concern with very fatty animals such as grain-fed beef. This fat contains cholesterol that is very high in saturated fat, causing many people with high cholesterol and heart issues to go vegan. What should you do? There’s no denying that a diverse diet is key to health. However, meat provides essential, natural nutrients not found in fruits, veggies, and nuts.  So, where do you turn for healthier meat? Stop going to the supermarket and head straight to your farmer. Buy grass-fed or pasture-raised meats, which are leaner and have less saturated fat than their grain-fed counterparts.  Grass-fed beef is becoming increasingly popular because of its higher concentration of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid). This acid helps to aid in weight loss and lower cholesterol. You can learn more about the fantastic benefits of CLA by clicking here. Why grass-fed or pasture-raised?  The microbes in a ruminant animal's (AKA Cow’s) gut make CLA. There is a higher microbe count in grass-fed beef because the plants they eat are alive and full of bugs! Recent studies have shown a 300%—500% increase in CLAs in grass-fed beef, making it a much better alternative to manufactured supplements, often made from seed oils like safflower and corn. Knowing all of the facts is essential before you go vegan. Don’t let yourself be misled by flashy marketing campaigns or cool packaging in the supermarket trying to persuade you to buy their food. Purchase your food from farms that you can visit. Talk to your farmer and ask him/her questions about how your food is raised, and make sure they know WHY they follow the practices they follow.  It is now more important than ever to have food you can trust. Click the link below and contact us to schedule a farm visit today! Talk to a farmer you can trust today! Red Hill Harvest Phone:(570) 900-1566 Email: info@redhillharvest.com

VIDEO: What do grass-fed cattle eat over the winter?

What do Grass-fed Cattle eat over the winter? We often get asked this question once the weather turns cold and the grass stops growing. In the video below, I talk about how we make sure our cows' stomachs are full over the winter. I hope you enjoyed watching the video. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to info@redhillharvest.com or simply call us at (570) 900-1566. 

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