Friday, August 05, 2011

Why We Feed our Animals Grain

Photo Credit: Love Happiness Photography
Since venturing into the public sale of our meats, we've encountered a lot of question about how our animals are raised. I think that is wonderful. It means people are educated and care about where their food comes from.

Probably the most frequent question we get is whether the animals are fed grain or not. I understand the concerns. Some are concerned about animal welfare. If you've seen video of chickens or beef in a feed lot type setting, there is good reason to be concerned.

Others are concerned about nutrition, and the fact that most animal feeds contain GMO grain. Honestly, I am just beginning to understand these issues, but I do understand the concern that is there.

We raise beef, chicken, pork, and eggs for sale to the public. All of our animals are pastured. They have access to large open spaces. They forage, and eat all the good things the pasture has to offer. They all also are fed a ration of grain daily.

One reason we choose to feed grain is nutrition. The pork and chicken grow very quickly. They need the extra protein in grain to sustain that growth. The cows do not grow as quickly, but they still need a good diet. Our pastures are in good shape. They probably could maintain our small herd of cows in the summer without grain. The trouble comes in the winter.

Good hay is hard to find in these parts. We do bale some of our own, but it isn't enough for all the animals through the winter. Our hay is normally pretty good, but then hay is subject to timing and weather. This year our hay is not as good as normal. Our first cutting was delayed because of the rain. Hay loses nutrition if it gets too tall and stem-y. When we could finally cut and bale the hay, we only got one field cut before Tim started his treatments. The other two didn't get cut for another month. That hay was way overgrown, and unfortunately, got baled damp. Hopefully, our second cutting will be better. We won't get a third cutting this year. Giving grain helps to cover any deficiencies in the hay.

Photo Credit: Love Happiness Photography
Another, and perhaps less important reason, we feed the animals grain is to keep them a little tame. Feeding them everyday helps them get to know us. We talk to them. We give them a little love. We watch for any signs of illness or other things that require our attention.

The animals know us. They are comfortable around us. They know our voice, and they certainly know what a bucket of feed is. It may not seem like much, but it goes along way when you're trying to work with them.

I'm very thankful the animals know what a bucket of feed is when we're moving an 800 pound sow from pasture to pasture, or loading a 1400 pound cow into the animal trailer.  With a bucket of feed and the call of the person who feeds them, they will follow you just about anywhere you want them to go.

Our animals are humanely raised, and get lots of fresh air and exercise. Our animals are fed grain. While I understand the interest in grass fed meat, exclusively grass feeding any of our animals is not an option that works for this farm. Hopefully, now you understand a little better why.


  1. Great information. Can I assume that this means that the grain that you feed your animals isn't non-GMO?

  2. Good question. And you're assumption is right. All the feed includes corn, and some contains soy, which in all probability means it is GMO. Getting certified non GMO would require us to order and have it shipped, (I'm sure you can imagine the cost there.) or to grow our own. Growing our own really isn't an option either. We have the acreage, but our acreage is almost entirely hillside and forest.

    I am really just learning about GMOs, and would prefer not to use them, but not exactly sure how to avoid it either.

    We're still learning. :)

  3. Thank you for this very informative post--makes perfect sense to me. And the meat we've bought from your farm has been the best we've ever eaten; keep up the great work!

  4. Thanks. Makes sense to me too. ;) In a perfect world, we could do everything natural, organic, GMO free, but we are doing what we can in this imperfect world with the land we've been blessed with. So, glad that others enjoy the harvest as much as we do!

    BTW watch the FB page Monday. We have lamb, and whole hog sausage available again! :)

  5. GREAT article! I would like to add something I have learned. You know I want humanely and non GMO or 100% grass fed . BUT...I have learned there is NO ONE that feeds NO grain. They would be lying if they said they did. They all need to use grain to get the animals o move. And personally I would not want to buy meat from someone who did not have a connection with their animals. That to me is vital. Your meat is DEVINE! And I feel blessed that we are able to get our food from you and your farm! :0)

  6. What you are doing is head and shoulders above commercial farms, and thank you for that!

    The issue with grain is that animals cannot digest large amounts of grain healthfully. Ideally, livestock would eat only the foods they evolved to eat, but that is not practical in most farming situations.

    I know of a farmer in Vermont whose pigs eat only grass (hay in the winter) and locally produced whey for protein, thus avoiding all grain. It works great for him but clearly it would be hard to duplicate that. There are many pig farmers whose pigs are out on pasture and woods, but they also get a small grain ration. You only need small amounts to train the animals to come to the bucket.

    Chickens are probably the animals that need the most grain. They could fend for themselves given a large enough range, but again, that is usually not practical. Rotating them on pasture is vital and reduces feed costs significantly.

    Cows truly do best on just grass - it takes them longer to get to market weight that way, but the health benefits to the animal and resulting meat are well worth it, in my opinion. It seems to me that it would be cheaper to buy good quality hay rather than grain, but perhaps the grain is cheaper because it is GMO?

    Genetically modified grain is super bad news, also in my opinion. Producing and feeding it is so harmful to the environment (heavy use of pesticides, emergence of super weeds, monoculture), farmers (who are forced to buy seed grain every year or how about the farmers who are sued because pollen drift contaminates their crops and Monsanto sues them for not having bought their seed), the health of the animals and the humans who eat them. We always know when we've accidentally eaten GMO corn because we get sick. Unfortunately, it is in so many processed foods - it is hard to avoid unless you only eat foods you make yourself from scratch. It is important to get informed about the myriad problems with GMO crops.

  7. Thanks for your perspective. To me, there is a world of difference between a feedlot cow and a pasture cow. Everything after that pales in comparison.

    On GMOs: The other night I was just rewatching "Food Inc" on PBS. It's also out on DVD and it explains about GMO. Netflix also has a film called "The Future of Food" and it actually shows how they genetically modify it. Very interesting...and alarming.

  8. Anonymous,
    I have read about farmers using milk or dairy products for hogs. I love the idea. The hogs do great without grain in our woods in the fall. They love the nuts!

    Our cows do not get a large grain ration, but some. Hay is cheaper than grain, but good hay is hard to find around here. We are not in a huge agricultural area, and finding good hay can involve transporting it a couple hours.

    There is a world of difference just in taste, not to even mention health. I remember when we had our first hog processed. I think we ate pork for a week solid because it was just so delicious! :)

    Food Inc is a real eye opener. Some of it I was expecting, other parts were shocking! I'll have to check Future of Food. I have a few food documentaries in my cue, probably watch them this winter. :)

  9. Great post! You also raise a good point that even on a farm that does not feed much grain it is much less stressful on the animals to follow a feed bucket rather than to be herded or chased where you need them to go. It also makes them easier to catch if they ever do get out of the fence. Good points. Pastured animals that are fed a small grain ration each day are a far cry from feedlot animals for sure.