Farm Blog

What does grass fed, pasture raised, organic, etc. all mean???

There are so many different terms used for food today and it can be quite confusing for consumers. Some terms can be backed up by certification such as organic and some are up to the farmers to do what they are actually promoting such as grass fed. Today I'm going to break down some of these terms for you.

Grass fed: This term can only be used for ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats. Those animals stomachs are deigned to eat grass and get all the nutrition they need and to grow off of. Grass fed means no grain what so ever at any point in their life. There is also the term grass finished which means the animals were cut off grain towards the end of their life depending on what the farmer likes to say their finishing period is but that is not the same as grass fed. All cattle eat grass or hay/silage but some farmers supplement with grain to help finish them quicker which is refereed to as just regular beef or grain fed beef.

Finising beef cattle on pasture.

Finising beef cattle on pasture.

Pasture raised- This term is used for pork and poultry that are on pasture and get moved to fresh grass daily or as often as they need to (weekly, twice weekly). Pork and poultry are simple stomached animals like us and do require grain to grow since they can only get about 30% maximum of what they need nutritionally from grass just like how we couldn't survive eating just lettuce.

Meat chickens in a "chicken tractor" which gets moved daily.

Meat chickens in a "chicken tractor" which gets moved daily.

Free range- This term is used for pork or poultry that are outside in an area but they stay there all season long. To me free range is not as good as pasture raised because the area the animals are in quickly gets dirty and there will be little to no grass for the animals to consume making the meat not as nutritious as when animals always have access to some greenery.  The manure build up is harmful to the environment and can make the animals sick as well.

Free run- This is a term for animals housed in a barn but are loosely housed as in not in cages.

In the winter our hens are free run.

In the winter our hens are free run.

Certified Organic- In order to use the term organic you must be certified (in NS anyway) which means you pay a certifying body to come out and inspect your farm in order to get the certification. Just because your animals are certified organic does not mean they are out roaming in nice pastures all the time either. Large poultry farms can be certified organic just because they feed organic feed and have an area their birds can go out into.

Natural- This term means absolutely nothing and is up to the farmer using this term to define what they mean by it. It always bothers me when I see the term natural used to describe beef that aren't grass fed because there is nothing natural about feeding grain to cattle.

I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion around food. The only way to really know what you are eating is to know your farmer, maybe visit the farm and then follow them on social media if they have an account. Any farmer who is telling the truth should be proud to talk about their farm and show you lots of pictures.

Written by Susan Hamilton

 

Our Winter Hen Set Up

I often get asked at the farmers market for free range eggs in the winter and I always say "no, my hens are in the barn from November to April". Why do I not let my hens outside in the winter? There are many reasons but my first answer is that they wouldn't lay much. Since I have hens to make the farm money I need them to lay eggs regularly. Hens need at least 15 hours of light to lay eggs or their body thinks that means the weather is not suitable for hatching chicks that would survive so then their body tells their hormones not to lay  eggs.

Hens in the barn for the winter

Hens in the barn for the winter

Another reason why I keep my hens inside in the winter is that they don't do as well in the cold. Hens need to stay warm or all of their energy would go into making body heat instead of using it for producing eggs. Plus they eat more feed in the winter to produce that extra body heat. They could also get frostbite on their combs and wattles which is poor animal welfare.

Lastly, it would be bad for the environment. In the summer we rotate our hens on pasture using portable electric fencing and once the ground is frozen we wouldn't be able to put the fence posts in the ground. If they stayed in one spot it would eventually turn to muck and there would be too much manure in one area. The birds would also get sick from always being exposed to too much manure. On a backyard scale this would work but we have 90 hens so they always have to keep moving from paddock to paddock.

The hens on pasture in May

The hens on pasture in May

I hope you enjoyed our first blog,

Susan