How we ranch
Little Fork is a grass-based, multi-species livestock operation currently producing eggs, broilers, pork, lamb, and beef in Boundary Country near Greenwood, BC.
We get excited about looking at problems in fresh ways and applying resilient and sustainable solutions. We believe the best solution to any problem is context-based and almost always a blend of old-school know-how, appropriate technology, and replicating natural patterns. Often, we discover the problem isn't really a problem at all but rather a new opportunity. It could have been any other activity, but ranching is simply our chosen venue to act out this mission.
Although we are attracted to labels and categories such as: holistic management, permaculture, beyond-organic, local, sustainable, ethically raised, all-natural etc, we prefer to sum it all up by calling ourselves common sense ranchers. If ranching in a way that is good for the animal, the soil, the water, our customers, and ourselves, is not common sense than we do not know what is.
Grow nutrient-dense, clean meat at a fair price. We grow our livestock slowly, focusing on a quality life which results in quality meat. Stand-by for a full blog post on the health benefits of eating grass-fed and pastured meats, but suffice it to say it boils down (hopefully not literally) to quality not quantity. We feel so strongly about this that we insist that ourselves and our customers eat less meat! Fewer and smaller servings of nutrient-dense meat is preferred to the "more-is-better" mindset.
Build community. We are more than meat producers. We aim to make Little Fork Ranch a hub where the public can visit, fellow ranchers can meet and learn from each other, and the local community has a connection to. Stay tuned for upcoming farm-to-fork dining events, farm-stay opportunities and details on our work-for-meat exchange program.
Allowing the animals to be themselves. One of our guiding principle is to never restrict or modify an animal's innate nature. In other words, our pigs are always allowed to root, our chickens always allowed to peck and scratch, and our cows and sheep always allowed to roam together as a herd or flock. Not only is this the humane thing to do, we really do believe it results in tastier, healthier, and more ethically produced meat.
Integrate our animals. As a cornerstone practice in line with our chosen management paradigm of permaculture, we view animals as more than just products. Instead we integrate our poultry, pigs, cattle, and sheep with each other and the landscape. In other words, we partner with our animals to further our other goals on the ranch, beyond just producing quality meat. Pigs till raw land we would like to make into pasture as well as turn our compost and manure pack in the spring, chickens follow the cows in their pasture rotations to sanitize the pasture from fly larvae, sheep eat invasive plants, and the cows build soil through their manure and grazing habits. Instead of specializing in the production of one animal, we have chosen to pursue the specialization of integrating our livestock into a holistic system.
Use technology appropriately and judiciously. We recognize that when it comes to the ability to learn, invent, make, and work, we have never had it easier than we do now as a society. Instead of shunning all technology - even mechanized technology - or on the opposite side of the spectrum, embracing and using all technology uncritically, we should strive to match the correct tool to the job. At Little Fork Ranch, we design our landscape and systems using geometrics, try to mimic natural patterns in part by using technological advances like new-gen electric fencing, and embrace "old" technology like hydraulic ram pumps for moving water instead of fossil fuel, electric, or even alternative options. No technology is inherently evil or inherently good. It is all how you use the tool and ultimately why you are using it.
Avoid inputs and practice minimum intervention. Following our "ranch smart, not hard" and "work with nature, not against nature" philosophies, we avoid any unnecessary inputs in both labour and costs. An example would be recognizing that haying and storing winter forage is a necessary evil and should be reduced as much as possible within the given context, instead choosing to pursue other unconventional winter feeding practices. Time not spent on a tractor and a fatter wallet due to not being input dependant is always a good thing. Another example is lambing and calving on pasture in early summer as opposed to during the late winter. Nature intended ruminants to be born at a certain time, so why fight it at the detriment to ourselves and animals? Not using farrowing crates and avoiding non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, vaccinations, and dewormers are other examples.
Encourage biodiversity. We recognize that the local ecosystem does not stop at the property boundary. We do not discourage elk, deer, and other wildlife from grazing our pastures. They have been feeding on these lowlands longer than our animals have, and more practically, one more fawn is one less lamb being eaten by predators. Similarly, as long as they keep the pocket gopher population under control, owls are encouraged even if they eat a chicken every once in a while. Increased biodiversity, even it hurts the bottom line in the short term will always pay dividends in the long run.
Improve water management. Little Fork Ranch has two creeks running through it, in fact, the very two creeks that form Little Fork itself: Eholt Creek and Boundary Creek. We have many opportunities to improve our water management, whether it be because of too much or too little water. We protect the riparian zone adjacent to the creeks from grazing, do not allow the animals to drink directly from the creeks, and will shortly begin to plant trees and shrubs as part of a bank stabilization project. We use hydraulic ram pumps to move water across the landscape energy-free, use gravity fed freeze proof livestock waterers, and are familiar with keyline design, swales, pocket ponds and other methods of capturing excess water runoff.
Grow healthy soil. Most people think about growing things in soil, but soil itself can grow in quality and quantity by using managed intensive grazing practices, increasing organic matter, and actively feeding the microbes. We really like the quote of unknown origin that says, "A rancher raises livestock, a good rancher grows good grass, and an exceptional rancher raises the trillions of microbes in the soil that allow the grass and livestock to grow". We continue to learn and practice the benefits of building soil by grazing ruminates with the goal of sequestering carbon. Stand-by for a blog post on the work of Allan Savory and how grazing ruminants can actually reduce our carbon footprints as opposed to increase them as commonly believed.