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What’s In A Name? an essay by Apprentice, Adrienne Barrett

Posted 7/19/2011 9:56am by Adrienne Barrett, Apprentice.

What’s In A Name?

an essay by Apprentice, Adrienne Barrett

 

At Devon Point Farm, apprentices are doing more than just learning the mechanics of farming. Apprentices are exposed to the inner workings of the farm and are taught how to make a farm not only environmentally sustainable but also economically sustainable. Whether while weeding and planting together, or having dinner-table discussions, we have open dialogues about different issues relating to farming on a daily basis. This summer we hope to share some thoughts with you through a series of essays written by Devon Point Farm apprentices.


    At Devon Point Farm, we truly aim to be a well-rounded, multi-faceted establishment that gives back into the earth and the community. With that in mind, I would like to take some time to tell you about our grass-fed beef as it is one of the pillars of the farm and is instrumental in helping us create a sustainable business.

    Cattle that are fed a pure grass diet such as ours have some fundamental differences from the beef for sale in the average American grocery store. To begin with, the beef sold in most grocery stores comes from animals that are being fed a diet consisting mainly of corn silage (corn cobs and stalks chopped up and piled to ferment) with other elements such as cereal grains, beet pulp, and a small amount of hay. This type of food must be taken to the animal with specialized tractor equipment and is fed out into a concrete feed trough. The cows are being fed this diet high in calories in an effort to speed up their average daily gain, or the amount of weight they put on per day because the faster they reach market weight, the faster they can turn a profit for the farmer. This diet pushes the average slaughter age for a Hereford steer up from 18-20 months for a pastured animal to 15-18 months for one fed grains. There are some inherent problems with this strategy. For one, the breakdown of large amounts of high-energy starch such as that found in the typical cow’s diet causes the pH of the cow’s rumen (stomach) to drop. This causes a condition known as acidosis and also creates the perfect environment for bacteria such as E. coli to flourish. This necessitates the use of antibiotics and acid buffers to help keep the animals alive. Also, as the cows are on concrete, their manure needs to be scraped up and sprayed onto the corn fields as fertilizer. This means more debt to the farmer as he must pay for all of the equipment to chop and store the food, collect and spread the manure, and plant and maintain the corn.

Grass-fed cattle lead a slightly different lifestyle. They are given a piece of pasture and set out upon it to harvest their own meals with the tools evolution has honed for them. From between their wide malleable lips there appears a long, rough tongue that quickly swirls around the grass clumps and pulls them into the teeth where the grass is sheared off at just the right length (any shorter and the grass would die, any longer and the plant will not be as stimulated to create new growth). Their cloven hooves in a well-managed herd serve to work manure back into the soil and create micro-climates ideal for the germination of new grass seeds.  As the cattle are not getting large quantities of sugary feed, they do not have problems with acidosis and therefore do not need antibiotics (so we are happy to not give our animals any!). The main drawback to this method is that it takes the steer about three months longer than grain-fed beef to reach an optimal weight. Then again, there’s a reason that good cheeses and wines can take years to fully ripen; good things often take longer to create.

In addition to the animals leading a more natural life, the product they make has many benefits over grain-fed beef. Along with its robust, meaty flavor come many other nutritional benefits such as; five times the levels of vitamins A and E, twice the beta carotene, and higher ratios of omega-3 fatty acids with lower levels of saturated fats than grain-fed beef. Grass-fed cattle also have a much higher concentration of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is a potent anti-cancer agent and has also been proven to decrease cardiovascular disease and aid with weight maintenance.

One of the most important considerations in any grass-fed beef operation is which breed to choose, because each breed has been specifically adapted to thrive under certain conditions. Here at Devon Point Farm, we have chosen the American Milking Devon for countless reasons. Devon Cattle are a heritage breed and were in fact the first cattle brought to the colonies from England when they arrived in Plymouth Colony in 1623. They are a true tri-purpose breed, intelligent for work as oxen and with the ability to efficiently create both milk and meat from grass alone. Devons adapt remarkably well to hot and cold weather alike by virtue of their red coats and are noted for their docility, mothering, fertility, and hardiness. You may also note the beautiful white horns on all of our cattle. These are a pasture-raised animal’s first line of defense from predators such as coyotes and we would never think of removing them in much the same way as it is unsafe to declaw an outdoor cat. In addition to all of this, Devons also create a superior eating experience because they are designed to eat solely grass, so as a result, their meat remains tender if cooked with care, despite the fact that they walk for their meals instead of having the food trolley come to them.

It is my hope that the next time you drive in past our sign or see a herd grazing in our fields, you’ll smile like I do when I see those beautiful animals doing exactly what they are meant to do, in complete harmony with their surroundings and the farm.

 

About Apprentice, Adrienne Barrett...

Adrienne      


Adrienne is joining Devon Point Farm for a second season, interning part-time with us, and part-time with a local large animal veterinarian. Adrienne will be going into her Junior year at UCONN where she is in the honors program majoring in animal science. Adrienne is planning on being a veterinarian and has worked as a veterinary assistant at the Niantic Animal Hospital, and as an animal education intern at Holcomb Farm in West Granby, CT.  Adrienne grew up in Granby, CT but attended the Green Mountain Valley School, a world-class ski academy and independent high school in Waitsfield, VT. She is also a varsity rower on UCONN's crew team. Her hobbies include sailing, competitive skiing, crew, and spearfishing.