They say the grass is always greener on the other side. When I visited the Red Devon cattle at Hover Farms, this saying took on a very literal meaning.
Located in the rolling pastural hills of Germantown, Hover Farms is a sixth-generation farm. Their farming practices have been passed down from generation to generation to produce sustainably raised, grass-fed beef and pastured poultry.
Being a 100-percent grass-fed beef farmer is a science and a labor of love that entails a lot of planning. James cares for the grass in the pastures as much as he cares for his Red Devon cattle. The cattle at Hover Farms are moved every four to five days to graze on new pastures of grass that is the cream of the crop. The time frame depends on the acreage and number of cattle. James likes to keep the ratio at one cattle per one acre of pasture. This involves a lot of land as well as proper grass growth. Each pasture needs 60 days to rest and renew the proper diet of native grasses like clovers, fescues and Timothy orchard to keep the cattle well fed without grain.
Regenerative agriculture and grass-fed beef go hand and hand. Cattle are meant to eat grass and not grain. Grazing the cattle on grass for the entirety of their life benefits the cattle, grass and environment. Known as adaptive multi-paddock grazing, it decreases the need for conventionally grown annual-feed crops that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The attention to the grass fed to Red Devon also reduces methane emissions from livestock, as it is easier for them to digest, and decreases the need for antibiotics. When the cattle at Hover Farms eat directly from the land, they restore ecosystem function and health.
Another way that James practices regenerative agriculture is no-till farming. He does this by seeding in the spring as the ground thaws out. He’ll throw the seed on the ground in the chilly nights of the spring freeze. The seeds are sucked back into the ground as it thaws.
There is no need for energy-intensive petroleum-based chemical fertilizers and herbicides. The cattle rejuvenate the land naturally as they forage and leave manure and urine behind. The impact of grass-fed grazing makes for healthy soil which increases long term stability for years to come.
A note on the importance of grass-fed beef
When large livestock such as cattle graze on grass throughout their life, it’s a win-win situation. Grass-fed beef harnesses the relationships between plants and soil microbes. It restores soil microbial diversity and makes the land more resilient to flooding and drought. This method of holistic farming also boosts the nutrient content and flavor of livestock and plants.
Since grass traps atmospheric carbon dioxide, the grass-fed system can help fight climate change. It pulls excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it in plants and soils where it is a useful nutrient. You get out of the Earth what you put in. It’s the circle of life. Yes, that was a Lion King reference. In a nutshell, that’s regenerative agriculture as it pertains to grass-fed beef.
Benefits of pasture-raised poultry
One cannot talk about Hover Farms without talking about what I like to call the “greeters” of the farm. The turkeys. When you first pull up to Hover Farms, you are greeted by Bourbon Red turkeys that are free to roam the property, and sometimes the surrounding neighborhood. James produces a limited number of turkeys each year.
Another highlight of Hover Farms is their pasture-raised chicken. Like the Red Devon cattle, James moves his Cornish Rock chickens throughout the pasture to promote environmental, human and animal health. Yes, human health. You are what you eat. Pasture-raised chicken is an all-around better cooking ingredient.
Animals raised on pasture enjoy a higher quality of life than those confined indoors for mass production. Raised on open pasture, chickens and turkeys are able to move around freely and carry out natural behaviors. On pasture, chickens get about 15 to 20 percent of their diet from the grass and forage (other plants). Additional vitamins and protein come from eating insects.
The pasture-raised lifestyle is impossible to achieve in mass production systems, where thousands of animals are raised in confined facilities, often without access to sufficient fresh air or sunlight. The conventional way of raising poultry is a breeding ground for bacteria, which leads to a high use of antibiotics to control the outbreak of disease.
Humans benefits of consuming pasture-raised meat and dairy products
Think of it this way. Why are flamingos pink? Is because they eat a diet of algae and shrimp. I’m not saying if you eat a lot of shrimp, you’ll turn pink. I’m saying you are what you eat. Pasture-raised meat, eggs and dairy products are better for your health than conventionally raised grain-fed meats.
Free-range chickens have 21 percent less total fat, 30 percent less saturated fat and 28 percent less calories than factory-farmed chickens. Additionally, pasture-raised poultry has a higher concentrations of vitamins and a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats compared to conventional meat and dairy products.
Environmental benefits of pasture-raised meats
Pasture-based systems help the environment through fertilizing the soil and reducing the amount of grain produced as feed. Pasture raising take advantage of the animal’s ability to feed itself and spread its own manure, unlike intensive production systems which rely on large amounts of fossil fuel to truck feed and animal waste.
Cooking benefits of pasture-raised meats
Supporting local farms who pasture raise meat, such as Hover Farms, takes the hard work out of the equation when you’re cooking. It’s a less-is-more approach. When you have quality products, your food is bound to taste good.
Keep in mind that the consistency, texture, color and flavor of pasture-raised meats differ from mass-produced meats. The biggest difference buyers notice is the flavor of Hover Farms’ chickens and turkeys, but second is the meat density. Pasture-raised chickens contain less fat and water. The chickens grow slower. They are also older at slaughter (56 to 65 days) compared to intensively raised chickens (39 to 42 days).