Frequently asked questions
What do your sheep and cattle eat?
Our sheep and cattle are 100% grass-fed which means that for their entire lives, they either eat fresh grass on pasture or hay during the winter months. This is opposed to "grass-finished" which allows the rancher to feed their animals grain until a certain point and then the animals will transition to a grass diet. The bottom line is that our ruminants eat grass their entire lives and will not have had a smidgen of grain.
What do your pigs and poultry eat?
Not being ruminants, our pigs and chickens eat grain for a portion of their diet. We say a portion, because being pastured allows the animals to forage. During the summer months, just over half of the pigs' diet will consist of grass, forbs, grubs, roots, and other tasty morsels. The broiler chickens' diet will be just under half forage including bugs and grass. The remainder of their diets are rounded out with a grain-based feed that we purchase from the mill. The ingredients consist of oats, wheat, and barley as an energy source, canola or soy meal as a protein source, and a standard mineral ration. The feed we use does not include animal by-products, hormones, or antibiotics. We currently feed both our pigs and poultry non-GMO feed. In both cases, the pigs and poultry clearly prefer the food they find themselves and will often not touch their feed until the end of the day when their foraging is complete.
Is there anything else you are trying to feed your animals?
Thanks for asking! We have a lot of really neat ideas that we will be implementing in the near future. Besides being very expensive, purchased feeds are not the best solution in terms of resilience and sustainability. We hate being one shipment away from not being able to feed our pigs and chickens. To address these issues, we will be looking at implementing some innovative feed solutions that are working great for other people in different contexts.
The easiest of which is planting a mixed crop of annuals including various melons, squashes, and legumes such as field peas. This crop would be planted in an otherwise unusable piece of ground; probably our corrals. When the pigs are finding it a little harder to find forage for themselves in the woods and fields during the tail end of summer, we would rotate them into the corral, giving them a strip of fresh veggies each day.
Although pigs are not ruminants, they don't do half bad eating hay, especially alfalfa or green feed. Green feed is any cereal crop - in our case barley - that is harvested as hay when the seed head (the soon to be grain) is still "doughy". If ground with a hammer mill, this green barley hay would be an excellent energy source coupled with a good protein source like the a certified organic, cold pressed canola oil meal we are working at purchasing this fall. For winter feeding, we will do some experimenting with hydroponic fodder systems. Fodder is basically sprouted grain, very similar to the sprouts or micro greens you would eat yourselves. Within a span of four days the barley grain sprouts into a beautiful solid green mat of grass and roots that can be rolled and fed to both ruminants and non-ruminants. Lastly, in the very distant future, we would love to breathe some life into some old - very old - combines from the days when combines were the size of small cars, not aircraft carriers, and produce grain as part of a pasture cropping program. What's pasture cropping? Well, that question will have to wait for another day. As you can tell we are really excited about finding ways to close the energy loop on the ranch and produce all feed on site.
Why, what, or where is Little Fork?
Little Fork is a place, albeit a geographical name you won't find on any map except ours. Named after the two creeks on a our property, Little Fork is the confluence of tiny Eholt Creek and the less tiny Boundary Creek. Little Fork is only surpassed by its big brother to the east, Grand Forks, where the Granby River meets the Kettle River.
What is permaculture, holistic management, regenerative management and all the rest?
Sorry, not biting on that one quite yet. Stand by for some Instagram posts that will try to sort these concepts out. Needless to say in simple terms, we try to ranch in way that works with nature as opposed to fighting it, in a way where profit is just one of many goals, not THE goal, and finally in a way where agriculture is a tool used to heal the land, not strip mine the land. Stay tuned for more!
What pig breeds do you use and how do you raise them?
We raise Berkshire, Tamworth, and Landrace crosses. Known for their ability to forage and thrive on pasture, these heritage breeds grow much slower than modern breeds bred for confinement operations. As a result, the meat is much more flavorful and nutrient dense.
Our pigs start life on the ranch by being farrowed in either the barn or on pasture, whatever their mom chooses. In either case, the sow is allowed to build a nest on her own. We in no way constrain the sow with the use of farrowing crates or tight pens. After farrowing, the piglets nurse from their mom for 5 weeks. Boar piglets are castrated at four days old to minimize pain and a quick recovery. We do not administer antibiotics, growth hormones or vaccinate. If an animal is sick or injured and requires treatment it will be segregated from the herd, slaughtered, and not marketed as all-natural pork.
The herd is then weaned off the sow and moved to the first of many electric fence enclosures. These paddocks are approximately 1/2 acre in size and include a mixture of forest and pasture habitat with plenty of grass, forbs, and dirt to root around in. The herd is moved to the next paddock once a week. In addition to the food they forage, our pigs are fed a grain based ration mixed from several feed mills in the Okanogan. We feed a non-GMO feed. Once we determine what a given herd will eat, the pigs will eat that type of ration for the duration of their lives (i.e. non-GMO herds will not eat conventional feed and vice a versa). We clearly label, price, and advertise our pork as either non-GMO fed or conventional fed.
Once the pigs reach approximately 220 lbs, they graduate to freezer camp. A few days before slaughter, we will leave the livestock trailer in the paddock so they are accustomed to it, and early in the morning we will gently close the door. Voila! Pigs are loaded and ready for the 30 min drive to Magnum Meats. They are unloaded into their own pen, given water, fresh bedding, and a small good pat from their proud owners.
Can you tell me little more on how you raise your chickens?
We raise Cornish Giant chickens purchased as day old chicks from Okanagan Hatchery in Armstrong. We order our chicks unsexed and not vaccinated.
As soon as they arrive on the ranch they are moved into the brooder which was set up several hours before. The brooder is a very controlled and comfortable environment that essentially mimics the brooding nature of the chicks' moms. Heats lamps keep the temperature just perfect and fresh bedding is added after every day, slowing building a deep manure pack. We use a homemade chicken waterer out of PVC and 80 chicken nipples as well as a homemade feeders out of 10 gallon buckets. Like our pigs, we prefer to feed a non-GMO grain feed but sometimes this is not possible due to availability and delivery issues. Either way, once a feed has been secured, we do not switch feeds for a given batch of birds. That is to say, if we sell you a non-GMO fed chicken it will definitely not have been fed a conventional ration and vice a versa. Also, regardless of the feed, it is not medicated meaning it does not contain antibiotics and growth hormones.
After about three weeks, the birds have developed feathers and are now ready for pasture. We have developed several low stress techniques in handling chickens. Our preferred way is to do it in the dark when they are in a bit of a zombie state. On pasture, they live in one of several chicken tractor styles we have developed. In all cases, the chickens are regularly moved to fresh grass and are free to roam and peck as they desire. Although it is hard to quantify because they are growing so quickly, the chickens' feed intake is noticeably reduced, in part because they eat an increased amount of bugs and grass.
After eight weeks the chickens have reached a target dressed weight of 4 lbs and are ready for transport to the abattoir. The day prior to slaughter, we bring home several dozen chicken crates from the abattoir and load the chickens during the evening. Food is withheld the day prior to slaughter to ensure clean processing. Once at the abattoir, the chickens are killed using the traditional killing cone method, scalded, plucked, gutted, and packaged. Although their lives are quite short, we can honestly say that our chickens only have one bad day in their lives. The rest are filled with clean air, dirt, and grass.
How do you raise your sheep?
We raise hair sheep which, unlike their wool wearing cousins, shed their coats and do not have to be sheared. Hair sheep breeds are also generally unseasonal breeders which means they can be bred throughout the year, they are parasite resistant, and the taste is much more mild than from a wool sheep. These characteristics are largely a result of originating from warmer countries close to the equator as opposed to northern Europe (think Scotland). Specifically, we favour the Dorper and Katahdin breeds.
We manage our sheep very similar to our cows, often combining the flock and the herd into one "flerd". They are 100% grass fed throughout their entire lives, eating fresh pasture during the summer and a hay during the winter. We use portable electric netting to contain the sheep on pasture and more importantly, to discourage predators. The electric netting is taken down and moved down the field, offering the sheep a new piece of pasture every day. During the winter, the flock is kept close to the barn in wooden corrals due to predator pressure.
The ewes and rams receive a dewormer insecticide before coming into the barn every winter but the lambs we sell for market do not receive a treatment. The entire flock is free from antibiotics, vaccinations, and growth hormones.
Although in the past we have lambed in synch with nature throughout the spring on pasture, we are gradually lambing more frequently in the late winter. This is a rare case of us breaking our own rule about working with nature, not fighting against it. Because our flock is small, we have more than enough space to lamb inside the barn and corrals. This allows us to spread the workload of lambing and calving across the year instead of having it all occur in a few months. Also, during the spring our land is quite prone to flooding, so we would rather have juvenile lambs in this environment opposed to newborns.
We raise our lambs to a target live weight of 100 lbs which takes approximately seven months. Once they have reached market weight, they are loaded onto our livestock trailer using low stress handling techniques and transported to the local abattoir 30 minutes down the road.
What kind of cattle do you run and how are they managed?
We are not chasing a certain breed or look other than small cows. Although we still have some "normal" cows, we are moving towards a Lowline dominated herd. Our bull is a purebred Lowline (which are smaller cattle) and our cows are Angus crossed with who knows what. Smaller cattle perform better on an all grass diet, are more efficient at converting feed, preferred by the customer because of smaller portion sizes, and are ultimately more profitable. They might result in fewer dollars per head, but because you can have more of them, under the right management style they result in more dollars per acre. This is the metric of success preferred by Jim Gerrish, Greg Judy, Joel Salatin, Allan Savory and other proponents of the management intensive grazing (MiG) and holistic management styles. So what is our ideal cow? Short legs (if you can place a newspaper underneath the belly with room to spare, that is too big), fat butt, big barrel of a body, and easy calver with no assistance required.
As already alluded too, when it comes to management styles we try to follow Jim Gerrish's MiG system where the grazing is intensive (i.e. a lot of animal units) but only because the management is intensive (i.e. moving the herd once or even twice a day to new pasture). In a nutshell MiG involves controlling a large amount of animal pressure using electric fence to graze a very small amount of pasture. After a very short amount of time - or more accurately, after the animals have taken no more than the "first bite" of grass - the electric fence is moved and the grazed pasture is rested from animal pressure for weeks or months. This is opposed to the conventional system of giving herds access to large pastures for a long period time. Without going into too much detail (look for a future blog post on the subject), MiG and other regenerative styles of rotational grazing result in increased efficiency, better water management, carbon sequestering, and soil building.
All this said, our cattle are raised on pasture doing everything a cow should do on pasture. This includes eating grass, calving, and living a stress free life where the only concern is not getting too close to the electric fence. Although we did calve during late winter our first year because we bought our cows already bred, we are very strong proponents of early summer calving for various reasons (again, a future blog post), but namely it is in synch with the natural rhythms of our environment in the northern hemisphere.
To date, our calves have been born with no assistance and none of our herd receives antibiotics, vaccinations, or hormones. Since receiving our herd in 2018 we have not administered any dewormer insecticides to the cattle instead focussing on preventative measures such as daily rotational moves and good diet.
Once reaching the target weight of 900 lbs, our steers are loaded onto the trailer using low stress handling techniques and driven to the local abattoir 30 minutes away. Our butcher hangs our beef for a minimum of 21 days which results in very tender meat combined with the deep flavour only a grass fed diet can bring.