All Pork will be back in stock in the Fall.

What Does Pasture Raised Mean On Our Farm?

written by

Desiree Nelson

posted on

April 20, 2020

Pasture Raised, that is what all marketers are putting on their labels. But what does it mean? Does it really mean anything? Well I’m going to tell you what it means on our farm, and then you will have to decipher what other farms mean when they use the term pasture raised.

If you have looked through our website at all, you’ll see we are farmers with integrity. We farm from the soil up, and with nature. The pictures are so picturesque! (And they are not STOCK PHOTOS, they are all ours!) Well it sounds all nice. And then you will see in the store that pasture raised eggs and meat get a premium price. So it must be good, right? If you have done research on your nutritional needs, and you see that pasture raised meat and eggs have more of the “good stuff” in them.  But do you really know what all that means, there is no universal definition. And trust me, the big companies know all this and use Green-washing all the time to get your money. They may or may not be doing what we are on our farm and still using the same label.

On our small family farm of 76 acres, we primarily use 25 of those acres to intensively rotate and manage our pastures. The remaining acres are yet to be improved to be used in our farming management or are lowlands that are too wet to use most of the year. We have 3 main pasture areas, the North field, the South field and the pig pasture. Our fields are open and can be cut for hay. Our pig pasture is a mix of open pasture and small Aspen trees.

Now we are going to get down to what it really means on our farm.

Laying Hens

  • rotate through our south field, about 15 acres through the growing season
  • they are moved 2 times a week, and have a 1/4 acre fenced in pasture
  • they have mobile shelter that can move anywhere relatively flat on our farm
  • they lay their eggs on pasture in a mobile nest coop
  • their water is on a trailer that can move anywhere relatively flat on our farm
  • the hens will only forage over the SAME ground twice during a growing season with about 3 months rest in between
  • the only thing that is not mobile is our winter laying hen house, because we live in MN

Broiler Chickens

  • spend 2.5-3 weeks inside in a brooder with peat moss bedding
  • at 2.5-3 weeks of age they move out onto pasture in our mobile range coops
  • then we move them every day to fresh pasture until the day they are butchered

Pigs

  • once the pigs are trained to electric fence, we move them 1 time a week
  • as they get older and bigger, we make their pasture area bigger to last 1 week
  • their shelter is mobile and can move anywhere on the farm that is open
  • their waterer is mobile and moves to each pasture set up
  • their feeders are mobile and move to each pasture set up

Really it is up to you, the customer, to know what you are buying and from who. Talk to your farmer and ask questions. If you are buying from a large company, find out more about their policies. And buy from someone you trust.

More from the blog

Why Support a Pasture Raised Egg Farm in the Winter

I have a few reasons for you to support your local pasture raised egg farm in the winter. We farm in Minnesota, we obviously have winter with cold and snow. This isn’t suitable for chickens to be on pasture during our winter months. On our farm, they go inside a building to protect them from the wind and snow. It also allows us to have thawed water for the hens with below freezing temperatures outside.  It’s still local to you. Imagine how much energy and fuel it takes to get a pasture raised egg to MN from the Southern United States, compared to your local farm.  You want your farmer to still be in business come spring and summer. Careful planning by the farmer enables them to have year-round eggs to sell, and year-round cash flow. Also, if a farmer has too many eggs in the winter, they will downsize their flock size and not have the extra eggs during the summer months.  The hens typically still get stored/dried forages. Chickens being omnivores, don’t get all their nutrition from forages. The pasture, and the insects, are a supplement to their formulated balanced production grain feed. It’s relatively easy to continue feeding forages to the chickens through the winter, in their winter housing. This is something we do on our farm.  You can’t depend on yolk color to determine how the bird was raised. The egg industry as a standard knows the consumer wants nicely colored egg yolks, so there are yolk color enhancers added to feed. Even your big box store brands of “pasture raised eggs” feed yolk color enhancers in their feed to have a consistent product between all the farms they buy eggs from for their brand. (Yolk color enhancing feed additives needs its’ own post.) Here is a reason knowing your farmer is an advantage, because you can ask them. Can you ask the grocery/co-op store? Will you get an answer with integrity from the big brand aggregator?  It still is a high quality, highly nutritious egg product. We feed the same high quality grain feed in the winter that we feed in the summer. We may be changing the protein or energy levels slightly to help the hens adjust to the temperatures. But it’s still the same whole grains as the majority used in our ration, custom milled at a local feed mill, and not all grain byproducts = less complete nutrition = less expensive grain. We don’t cut costs at the expense to nutrition. The small family farm is a very small percentage of the “farms” producing food in our country. Small family farms, defined by grossing under $350,000 annually by the USDA, produced about 18% of the production in 2021. That’s only 18% of the food distribution system that is decentralized, localized and not susceptible to collapsing if a couple of those farms go out of business. Or their business is shut down. Are you ready to grow everything you want to eat if we aren’t here? Number one reason to support small family local farms. Here are how our hens spend their winter in Minnesota: We have two groups of laying hens, one stays in our mobile range coop all winter, and the other flock is inside a pole shed building with access to outside with our cows.

Are You Getting Duped by Egg Yolk Color?

When you know your farmer, you can ask them if they use egg yolk color enhancers in their feed for laying hens. Otherwise, maybe you should just assume those orange yolks aren't just happy laying hens chasing bugs and eating grasses full of carotenoids.

with customization by Grapevine Local Food Marketing