A Local Sustainable Beef and Poultry Operation

I’m way behind on keeping up with this blog on all the new things I’ve been seeing, learning and doing. I’ve been traveling so much – hardly two days in a row at home during the entire month of August – and September seems just as busy.

So, I’m just going to throw random thoughts and observations in here, and they might not be in chronological order.

To start, here’s photo of me taken Sunday speaking at the Farm Field Day that NCAT sponsored in Clay County, where I was speaking about the importance of sustainability in local food.

NCAT Outreach Coordinator Jim Ewing explains the importance of growing food sustainably and locally during a farm field day in Clay County, MS., Sept. 15, 2013.

NCAT Outreach Coordinator Jim Ewing explains the importance of growing food sustainably and locally during a farm field day in Clay County, MS., Sept. 15, 2013.

To cut to the chase, our Gulf States office of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (which operates the Sustainable Agriculture Information Service) and Gaining Ground – Sustainability Institute of Mississippi sponsored the field day to draw attention to a combined cattle/poultry/swine operation for its sustainable practices.

About 70 people attended — lots of them young moms and dads with small children who are interested in buying locally grown food. It was my honor to be asked to explain to them how and why sustainably grown food is as important as it being locally grown food – to the environment, to the consumer, to the farmer.

In this particular operation, the Clay County, Miss., farm of Johnny Wray, cattle, poultry and swine are used to improve the habitat and their own health by allowing each animal to do what it does best.

Patterned on the model made popular by Virginia farmer/author Joel Salatin, their hogs are cleaning out overgrown areas of the farm by rooting through underbrush and uprooting saplings. The chickens are housed in chicken tractors which are flat cages that allow the chickens to range through grass after the steers have moved through.

The cattle are “mob grazed” – kept in a bunch in approximately one acre paddocks, where they eat most of the grass offered. The chickens follow, eating the vegetation  that the cattle don’t like and eating the bugs that are there, along with those drawn to the cow patties.

What results is a flat, extremely fertile field that appears mowed like a golf course.

From that, by naturally eradicating weeds, indigenous prairie grasses are exposed to sunlight and allowed to come forward in the pasture. So that, next time, after the field has been rested, the cows and chickens will have even denser forage that is even more nutritious.

Instead of depleting natural resources, as “conventional” farming and grazing does, the rotational grazing of combined cattle and poultry improves the soil and forage as well as the health of the animals. That’s what is meant by a “sustainable” system.

As owner Wray notes, he no longer has to apply fertilizer to his fields or cut hay from them to artificially supplement his cattle. He grows them grassfed and finishes them himself without having to send them to a feeder lot. Though he keeps the cattle longer, they sell for much higher than otherwise. Plus, since they are grassfed and not fed corn or treated with chemicals, he fetches a higher price from consumers who are don’t trust chemically or artificially raised animals. He says he has more orders for his grassfed beef than he has cattle.

Wray is partnering in the cattle business with Elton Dean, a neighbor who is also a member of GGSIM’s Food Systems Committee. The operation is managed by Dustin Pinion and Ali Fratesi, who live in Starkville.  Dustin apprenticed under Salatin in 2011 and is showcasing his talents in partnership with Wray and Dean.

More on this later….

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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