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  • Writer's pictureCliff McConville

Grass gone crazy, Lola the farm dog, summer camps, and chicken time...


Just a few weeks ago we were complaining about the slow grass growth this year and the delayed start to the grazing season. Since then we've had lots of rain, a brief summer heat wave, then lots more rain, and now the grass and pastures are growing like crazy! We finally had a break in the rain cycle today and were able to cut about 85 acres for hay, hopefully ready to bale those fields on Monday before the next rain storms roll in. Unfortunately we don't get to celebrate many holidays on the farm.


A few weeks ago we picked up an English Shepherd puppy from our friends Kevin and Katie Kelley at Terra Vitae Farms in Woodstock. We have alwasy admired their English Shepherd herding dogs, and when they were expecting a litter they offered us one of the puppies. We decided to name her Lola.

English Shepherd dogs were developed by early settlers to the eastern United States, descending from various collies brought over from Britain, including the Border Collie, Scotch Collie, and Australian Shepherd. They have been principally used as herding dogs for cattle and sheep, and we are hoping someday Lola will be trained well enough to head out to the fields at our command and bring the cows back to the barn at milking time. For now she is just learning to herd the chickens...and looking very cute and fluffy while doing it. The cows are still pretty intimidating to her but she will get used to them.


On the topic of chickens, our first batch of pasture-raised broiler (meat) chickens will be ready for processing next Wednesday, June 1st. We should have them back to the store and ready for customer pickup by noon on Thursday, June 2nd. As always, we will keep 150-200 of each batch fresh on ice for four days after processing for those customers looking to either cook the chicken right away or cutup and freeze for later use. The rest will be frozen or put into parts.

We will be processing chickens almost every week throughout the summer, so we anticipate having plenty of available for store pickup as well as online orders, and are producing enough to freeze a substantial volume for sale through next winter. The first batch of soy-free chickens will be processed on Monday, June 20th and back in the store on Tuesday 21st. Once we have the new chickens back in the store we will open up online orders as well.


We still have a few slots open for the summer farm camps, although the session for 10-12 years olds is full. Each week-long camp caters to a different age group. The campers will learn about raising chickens, cows, and pigs, regenerative agriculture, and also some useful hands-on survival skills as well. We only have room for 20 kids per camp this year, For more information on the camps or to register visit our camps page.


With the late spring and cold temps the early vegetables are coming in slowly. This week we do have local purple asparagus and organic spring radishes in the store and looking forward to more fresh goodies next week.

However, we do have some new products in the store that are worth checking out:

  • LAMB - we finally caught some of Anna's semi-wild lambs a few weeks ago and got them into the processor. They were relatively small but very tasty. We have ground lamb, lamb chops, roasts, and everything in between. But limited supplies of most cuts.

  • From Manna Organics, located in the Chicago suburbs, we now carry their organic Kale chips, Sprouted banana-coconute butter, coconut-cashew butter, and dark chocolate pecan butter.

  • Karolina is growing organic vegetable seedlings in the hoophouse and bringing us a fresh selection of plants to the store every few days.

  • Egg bundles are back! The hens are enjoying all this lush pasture and really cranking out the eggs. Buy 6 dozen or 10 dozen bundles and save up to $2 per dozen.

  • And don't forget about stocking up on some grass-fed/pasture-raised beef and pork for the Memorial Day BBQ - we have a big selections of steaks, briskets, chops, pork shoulder roasts, and burgers to make it a memorable meal.


I received quite a few positive comments from my last post regarding the nutritional benefits of eggs. So this month I am reposting an article from Jo Robinson, the nutritional guru that wrote "Pasture Perfect" and "Eating on the Wild Side". This information is also on our website but I'm not sure how many actuually visit that page. I read her first book, "Pasture Perfect" before I ever started farming and it was a huge motivator for me to get started raising grass-fed meats and eggs to feed my family.

Back to Pasture. Since the late 1990s, a growing number of ranchers have stopped sending their animals to the feedlots to be fattened on grain, soy and other supplements. Instead, they are keeping their animals home on the range where they forage on pasture, their native diet. These new-age ranchers do not treat their livestock with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. As a result, the animals grow at a natural pace. For these reasons and more, grass-fed animals live low-stress lives and are so healthy there is no reason to treat them with antibiotics or other drugs.

More Nutritious. A major benefit of raising animals on pasture is that their products are healthier for you. For example, compared with feedlot meat, meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb and goats has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. It also has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and a number of health-promoting fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and “conjugated linoleic acid,” or CLA.

The Art and Science of Grassfarming. Raising animals on pasture requires more knowledge and skill than sending them to a feedlot. For example, in order for grass-fed beef to be succulent and tender, the cattle need to forage on high-quality grasses and legumes, especially in the months prior to slaughter. Providing this nutritious and natural diet requires healthy soil and careful pasture management so that the plants are maintained at an optimal stage of growth. Because high-quality pasture is the key to high-quality animal products, many pasture-based ranchers refer to themselves as "grassfarmers" rather than “ranchers.” They raise great grass; the animals do all the rest.

Factory Farming. Raising animals on pasture is dramatically different from the status quo. Virtually all the meat, eggs, and dairy products that you find in the supermarket come from animals raised in confinement in large facilities called CAFOs or “Confined Animal Feeding Operations.” These highly mechanized operations provide a year-round supply of food at a reasonable price. Although the food is cheap and convenient, there is growing recognition that factory farming creates a host of problems, including: • Animal stress and abuse • Air, land, and water pollution • The unnecessary use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs • Low-paid, stressful farm work • The loss of small family farms • Food with less nutritional value.

Unnatural Diets. Animals raised in factory farms are given diets designed to boost their productivity and lower costs. The main ingredients are genetically modified grain and soy that are kept at artificially low prices by government subsidies. To further cut costs, the feed may also contain “by-product feedstuff” such as municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy. Until 1997, U.S. cattle were also being fed meat that had been trimmed from other cattle, in effect turning herbivores into carnivores. This unnatural practice is believed to be the underlying cause of BSE or “mad cow disease.”

Animal Stress. A high-grain diet can cause physical problems for ruminants—cud-chewing animals such as cattle, dairy cows, goats, bison, and sheep. Ruminants are designed to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs—not starchy, low-fiber grain. When they are switched from pasture to grain, they can become afflicted with a number of disorders, including a common but painful condition called “subacute acidosis.” Cattle with subacute acidosis kick at their bellies, go off their feed, and eat dirt. To prevent more serious and sometimes fatal reactions, the animals are given chemical additives along with a constant, low-level dose of antibiotics. Some of these antibiotics are the same ones used in human medicine. When medications are overused in the feedlots, bacteria become resistant to them. When people become infected with these new, disease-resistant bacteria, there are fewer medications available to treat them.

Caged Pigs, Chickens, Ducks and Geese. Most of the nation’s chickens, turkeys, and pigs are also being raised in confinement. Typically, they suffer an even worse fate than the grazing animals. Tightly packed into cages, sheds, or pens, they cannot practice their normal behaviors, such as rooting, grazing, and roosting. Laying hens are crowded into cages that are so small that there is not enough room for all of the birds to sit down at one time. An added insult is that they cannot escape the stench of their own manure. Meat and eggs from these animals are lower in a number of key vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

Environmental Degradation. When animals are raised in feedlots or cages, they deposit large amounts of manure in a small amount of space. The manure must be collected and transported away from the area, an expensive proposition. To cut costs, it is dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with nutrients, which can cause ground and water pollution. When animals are raised outdoors on pasture, their manure is spread over a wide area of land, making it a welcome source of organic fertilizer, not a “waste management problem.” Read more about the environmental differences between factory farming and grass-based production.

The Healthiest Choice. When you choose to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals raised on pasture, you are improving the welfare of the animals, helping to put an end to environmental degradation, helping small-scale ranchers and farmers make a living from the land, helping to sustain rural communities, and giving your family the healthiest possible food. It’s a win-win-win-win situation.


Regular readers of my farm newsletters may remember that I posted this recipe last June when we were getting our first batch of chickens in for the season. However looking back that was not a particularly popular post so I am going to put it out here again. I can't wait to get two fresh chickens on the grill at the farm next Thursday for the team lunch using this very same technique (plus it's getting late and I have a long, busy day tomorrow!)

This is not so much a recipe as a cooking technique but certainly our favorite way to cook chickens on the grill. The upright position of the chicken "sitting" on the beer can allows the skin to get nice and crispy, and the beer steam moisturizes and flavors the inside of the chicken. I usually rub a dry spice mix of garlic salt and pepper on the outside of the chicken before putting them on the grill.

We usually set the grill for indirect heat, and cook the chicken for 45-50 minutes until the legs are at 165 degrees. Our pasture-raised chickens do cook faster than a store bought chicken so keep that in mind. But this will be the tastiest chicken you will ever have!

Thats it for now. Enjoy the long holiday weekend as we welcome summer.

Cliff, Anna, and the Farm Team

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