We've given you a lot of reasons to purchase our meat (we think) and we hope that many of you are trusting us to be your farmers. We thought we would take a moment on this glorious weather day (before heading out to lay some new fence) to talk about what we see as our responsibility.
Being an ethical meat farmer is not just about the feed, the water, the space... though obviously those are all important. It's also about studying animal behavior, and looking at stress levels. We spend copious amount of time just staring at the livestock. It must look nuts when folks ride by on bikes. Two people, dusty, staring, fairly stationary- watching a group of chickens, or lambs or pigs... just be those animals. But that's how we get the best information. And we're not just watching for signs of disease, injury or weight gain. We're watching for behavior patterns, personality, preferences for grasses. It's about trying to pick out what makes the livestock the most comfortable, and then emphasize that in every way we possibly can.
We try not to just carry this through the living days of our animals. We truly believe that stress is something to be avoided as those animals become food on our plates. This isn't just some farmer's tale (though it'd be no less valid if it was)- there is real, scientific research into how stress hormones levels affect meat- in flavor AND in health benefits. There are numerous articles on this, but here is a starting point for you.
This is why we operate on a CSA or pre-order only model. We actively choose to limit the way we sell to customers, because it allows us to hire a custom butcher, who drives out to our farm on dispatch day to end the life of all of our large livestock on the farm premises. We handle all of our poultry ourselves. With our own two hands. No trailers, no shipping, no waiting in slaughterhouse pens. No herding through hallways with unfamiliar humans. But, due to federal regulations that means we need customers to partner with us (poultry is slightly different regulations, allowing for farmer's market sales). Lamb and pigs must be sold live, our customers are co-owners. It's a strange regulation, even stranger if you have ever worked with our butcher. No one is cleaner, more thorough, more careful than Greg Stratton. His shop, Stratton Custom Meats, LLC, where he takes the meat back to be cleaned, cut and packed- is as clean as any doctor's office.
We are crazy about our work. It's not just waking up everyday to clean water dishes, fill up feed, moving pastures. It's not just about calling every feed producer within the northeast, and then carefully choosing one that will mill our feed to our specifications, fresh, with NYS grown corn. It's about shepherding the journey between life and death. It's about realizing that raising the animal is the first battle, the second is bringing that animal to a stress-free, dignified end. It's about respecting the meat that will be on our plates, and on our customer's plates. And we take it seriously, because really, do our animals deserve any less? Do we deserve to eat anything less?