Our Farming Practices

Here at Nelson Grass Farm, transparency and integrity are essential to how we run our farm. That’s why you’ll always get updates when we make changes based on our ever expanding knowledge of best practices for sustainable and humanely-raised chicken and pork. We’re never done learning when it comes to providing for our animals and the land they forage so that you get the most nutrient-dense food on your family’s table.

We love having visitors at the farm. Reach out and we’ll schedule a time for you to come and see the animals for yourself!

Pasture-raised Chicken & Eggs

We have laying hens that are raised for eggs and broiler chickens that are raised for meat. Both require more than just pasture to have a healthy diet, so we provide them with a variety of resources in addition to the lush grass on pasture:

  • A full grain ration (no soy and organically grown)
  • Free choice grit
  • Oyster shells

We believe chickens know what nutrition they need best. Sometimes they eat more or less of what we provide them. But with a combination of foraging and additional resources, they consume food high in vitamins and protein that make for nutrient-dense meat and eggs.

At the front of their shelter, we have four poultry waterers connected to a 275 gallon tote that provides water for the flock. We fill the tote from our waterlines that are in the pasture.

Keep reading to learn more about our hens and broilers.

Egg Laying Hens

Our farm raises laying hens year-round, even in winter! They’re given everything they need to have healthy, safe lives outside so that they can provide nutrient-dense eggs for your family, all while limiting impact on the soil and grass.

It is best to know your farmer and know how they raise their flock of hens. Although sometimes pasture-raised egg yolks are bright orange due to the benefits of being on pasture, oftentimes a feed additive is used to change a yolk’s color so that it’s more appetizing to the human eye, making it easier to market them for a higher price.

A paler pasture-raised egg yolk can be caused by a number of things – drought, increased insect intake, lower vitamin A content in different forages, and much more. If you notice that our pasture-raised egg yolks are paler, they’re still full of nutrients from the foraging, sunshine, fresh air, and clean water that feed additives can’t provide.

Pasture Rotation

Depending on the size of the flock, our hens are moved every 4-6 days to a new quarter of an acre of pasture. We are only able to go over that piece of pasture once or twice in the growing season. This way, the plants, insects, animals, and birds who naturally live on our pasture have time to recuperate, which helps to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Nutrition

Pastures provide extra nutrition that hens cannot get from grains alone. They’re easily deficient in some nutrients because of the perishable nature of certain vitamins in prepared grains. Which is why pasture raised is more nutrient-dense.

Forages consumed by hens are high in fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K, with vitamin D being the only exception. However, vitamin D is easily made by the hens when out on pasture with sun exposure.  

Forages also contain ample amounts of water-soluble B vitamins – riboflavin, folic acid, and B6. Niacin, thiamine, and B12 are found in invertebrates and vertebrates that naturally live in pastures that hens eagerly hunt.  

Protein is also very important for the hen’s health. Twenty amino acids make up the building blocks of protein and different species all have varying needs of each of the amino acids. One of the amino acids poultry need extra of is methionine.

Although methionine is found in low levels in most sources, animal proteins are the exception. So, chickens were never designed to be vegetarians. It would be nutritionally detrimental to their health if they were! Fish meal is often used in poultry feeds to fill this nutritional need. But on pasture, invertebrates (insects) are a great source of protein, and thus methionine, for the hens. Insects are numerous in our pastures, including spiders, crickets, and grasshoppers. According to the FDA nutritional facts:

  • A very large spider is 63% protein and 10% fat
  • Crickets are made up of 6.7% protein and 5.5% fat
  • Grasshoppers are 14.3% protein and 3.3% fat

Our hens enjoy many other insects in our pastures, however the FDA has yet to define their nutritional content.

What do these added nutrients for the hen mean for us eating her eggs?

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene

Sources: ATTRA publication “Pastured Poultry Nutrition and Forages”, APPPA.org, Foodanimalconcernstrust.org

Safety

Hens are vulnerable to predators, but with the right protection they’re kept safe. In every chicken house we have hoop shelters for sleeping and room underneath for shade or hiding from aerial predators. The electrified poultry netted fence that encloses the hens in their quarter pasture keeps predators at bay during the short time they’re in that spot in the pasture, but we also have two livestock guardian dogs who patrol our farm and help keep all of our animals safe.

When the Temperature Drops

Winters in Minnesota mean it’s time to move the hen flock inside. From about November into April, our flock is inside our winter housing with access to the outside. And our hens DO go outside, even with snow on the ground. Fresh air and sunshine benefit hens on our farm year-round.  

We supplement the hens with hay during the winter in addition to their usual foraging time. Our winter housing offers shelter with non-frozen water and a deep-bedding system that starts composting and provides some heat. We add wood chips and peat moss to our bedding and rotate it daily to keep the bedding aerated and actively composting.

Pastured chicken

Broilers

We raise broiler chickens only during the growing season in Minnesota and they’re moved every day on pasture.

How They’re Raised

We buy day-old chicks from local hatcheries and we raise them in our brooder for the first 3 weeks of their life. A brooder is like a nursery for chicks. It has controlled heat, ample amounts of water and feed available, and well managed bedding while the chicks grow enough to be able to live in our outside temperatures. Chicks hatch with no feathers, just down. It takes about 2.5-3 weeks to grow their first set of feathers that help regulate their temperatures.

By 3 weeks of age, the broilers are moved to mobile chicken shelters on our pasture. We use large mobile range coops to hold 250-500 chickens, depending on the size, that we move everyday to new and fresh forage.

Nutrition

Don’t be fooled by big companies selling pasture-raised chicken for less. Depending on how they raised their broilers on pasture, you may not be getting the ideal nutrition. Greenwashing is common for big ag companies, so it’s best to know your farmer and how they raise their chickens on pasture.

Our broilers benefit from the same pasture-based nutrition as our laying hens: 

  • Fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K
  • Vitamin D from sunlight
  • Water-soluble B vitamins
  • Niacin, thiamine, and B12 found in invertebrates and vertebrates
  • Protein sources high in methionine

What do these added nutrients for the chicken mean for us eating their meat?

  • 2.3 times more omega-3 fats
  • 90% lower omega-6: omega-3 ratio
  • 1.9 times higher polyunsaturated: saturated fats
  • 6% higher protein
  • 15% more collagen

Sources: ATTRA publication “Pastured Poultry Nutrition and Forages”, APPPA.org, Foodanimalconcernstrust.org

Pastured pork

Pigs

At Nelson Grass Farm, we try to mimic herds of animals moving across the land. Because our pigs are pasture-raised, they’re able to express all of their natural behaviors. Watching pigs on pasture may be one of the most satisfying things for us!

How They’re Raised

Every spring we work with local pig farmers to buy quality feeder pigs. Feeder pigs are usually 8 weeks old and weaned from their mothers.

The young pigs first move into our pig pen that is up in the farmyard and fenced in securely with hog panels. Here we train the pigs to polywire electric fence. The quality of our training here will reflect on the pig’s behaviors on pasture and how often they escape. Once the pigs have had sufficient training to electric fence, we move them to our first pig pasture. 

Where They Forage

Our pigs get to enjoy our wooded lowlands and smaller grassy areas, where they get a lot of forage variety and tons of shade from trees on pasture.

Pigs are very hard on the pasture because they till the soil and demolish the vegetation. We move our pigs to new pasture every 7 days to give the land time to rest untouched. And as with our laying hens, we have enough land to move our pigs over the same piece of land once or twice in each growing season. This way, the natural ecosystem can recuperate and thrive.

Food, Water, & Shelter

We use pig self-feeders to provide them with soy-free and organically raised grain in addition to the variety of plants they consume on pasture. They dig in the ground for invertebrates and occasional vertebrates too. They also get ample fresh air and sunshine on pasture. And sunshine=vitamin D!

What do these added nutrients for the pig mean for us eating their meat?

  • 2.4 times more omega-3 fats
  • 60% lower omega-6: omega-3 ratio
  • 1.3 times higher polyunsaturated: saturated fats
  • 2.8 times more vitamin D
  • 2 times more vitamin E

The combination of grain and foraged food means healthier pigs and more nutrient-dense pork for our plates!

All of our pigs get fresh, clean water through a nipple waterer that’s hooked up to our pasture waterlines.

To provide protection from the rain, we have moveable shade shelters for our pigs that they love taking advantage of!

Like what you see? Order our delicious chicken, eggs, and pork today!

with customization by Grapevine Local Food Marketing