Local livestock farmers seek respect for animals

by Tina Craven and Amanda Hutchinson

This article is also published on Just Ithaca.

While it’s common for livestock to be raised in a factory farm setting, where large numbers of animals are crowded into a small space, some farmers around Ithaca are raising their livestock differently.

Local farmers work to raise their livestock in a manner that the farmers say they believe allows the animals to live a happier lives. Heather Sandford, owner of The Piggery, a farm and butcher shop, said she really cares about raising her animals naturally and with dignity. The Piggery, which is one of only seven Food Justice Certified entities in the country, works to give their animals the opportunity to live a traditional life — to live instinctually in the woods and in the pasture.

“We’re very much into letting pigs be pigs,” she said. “It’s very important to us that our animals be raised with kind of respect and honor before they are harvested.”

Some farms allow their animals to graze because it is more natural for the animals to graze on grass than it is for them to be fed grain on a timed schedule, Maryrose Livingston, co-owner of the Northland Sheep Dairy, said.

“Well I think a lot of what we’re trying do is mimic, to the greatest extent we can, a natural system that the animals would live in if they weren’t in this contrived system of the farm,” she said.

The manner in which an animal lives its life will determine the quality of the meat it produces, Tim Haws, owner of Autumn’s Harvest Farm and farm partner of The Piggery, said.

“The happier the animal, the better the product is going to be,” Haws said. “The whole composite of the meat changes when the animal is in a stressful situation.”

Haws’ farm is Animal Welfare Approved. Farms can gain approval from an independent auditor that determines whether or not the livestock has enough space, that they have indoor and outdoor access and that they a fed a healthy diet without animal byproduct in their food, Haws said.

Walter Adam, owner of Shannon Brook Farm, said in addition to plenty of pasture time, his animals are fed an organic grain diet provided by a company that provides him with locally sourced grain.

“We don’t use preservatives, herbicides, pesticides or anything like that,” he said.

Utilizing readily available resources, such as pasture for feeding, allows these farms to be more sustainable than factory farming. According to the Sustainable Table, allowing animals to go out to pasture provides the livestock to graze on the grass and naturally fertilize the land. Adam said all of his livestock are let out to pasture, even the chickens and ducks that live in coops in the evening.

Some farms allow the public to visit the farm to see how the livestock is raised. Haws said he encourages the public to see how their food is cared for.

“We have an open door policy on the farm,” he said. “So that was another way for us to reassure people that we’re doing everything we can here to make sure these animals are living happy and healthy.”

Restaurants are also connecting with local farms because they are interested in knowing where their meat comes from. Instead of going for the cheapest meat, eateries such as Northstar, Wildflower Cafe in Watkins Glen, and Harlem Shambles in New York City have reached out to Autumn’s Harvest for quality products, Haws said.

“I would say that just about everybody we deal with has been up to the farm. I think that makes it a more real relationship than people just calling us and saying ‘Hey, I want 10 boxes of this or that.’ These people have an investment in the farm,” he said.

Even though family farming isn’t as lucrative as factory farming is, Donn Hewes, co-owner of Northland Sheep Dairy, said he thinks family farming is more enjoyable.

“We think it provides something in the way of building a better cultural community,” he said.

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