Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Big O

When we set out to do this homestead thing we didn't have a plan.

Can you tell?  It's a little like insta-farm: just add water! around here.  Seriously.

Part of the reason we took this on, all 10 acres, all... let me count... 20 animals was simple.  We wanted to be closer to our food source.  And how much closer can you get than 100 ft I ask you?  Well, I suppose 2 ft... but the smell will make you thankful for those other 98.  Promise.

A lot of it came down to a lack of trust in our food supply: not trusting companies to raise our milk or meat in a humane manner.  Not trusting that those animals were given healthy, high quality food and access to pasture.  Not trusting the prevailing wisdom that non organic/GMO foods aren't bad for us.

Also I'm cheap.  Have you seen the price of organic grass feed beef lately?  Or chicken if you can find it? Ouch!  I rest my case.  Don't even get me started on organic raw milk.  Oh wait, you wanted to know, right?  $16 a gallon.  We drink 3 gallons a week.  Uh, nope.  Not in this lifetime, thanks!  Keeping something in milk has to be cheaper than that, we thought.

So we made plans for a garden (coming soon, like so. much. else.) and chickens and a goat for milk.  Then we went and plumb lost our minds and got a cow and then some other cows and here we are.

But are we organic?

No.  We're close.  That annoying moniker "All Natural" fits us exactly.

Why not?  Let me tell you, friend.  It's a good story.  (Ok, not really.)

What is it they say? Location.  Location.  Location.  It's a matter of availability.

The feed store we use the most is up the road from us.  We buy 90% of our feed and supplies from them.  The hay is not organic and we've not found a source local or otherwise that has it.  So right there we're off the "all organic" bandwagon.  Drat.  The pellets for the chickens and the livestock are organic - which we do purposefully.  Most conventional feeds are made with corn and soy - the two biggest GMO offenders out there.  In an effort of avoid GMOs we grab the twice as expensive bag-o-pellets and feel way better about it.

Modern dairy cow's bodies are built to produce milk on a grain ration, it's the nature of how modern herd management has changed their chemistry - keeping to that tradition and understanding that we can't always fight biology, we 'grain' our cow.  That means at milking twice a day she gets about 2 cups pellets (which is a feed concentrate) and 2 cups pure oats.  We also choose to use grain as it has a lower pesticide usage on average and is rarely GMO.  The goats also get the occasional toss of pellets (it's conveniently an "all feed" so everyone can enjoy it!).

The grain isn't organic and, again, I haven't found a local source for it.  But why not order it online?  Or drive somewhere that has it?

All good questions.  Ordering online is financially unfeasible for us: it often costs as much as the feed (usually $20-30 a bag) to ship.  As important as being organic is, we also have to be realistic.  Could we drive to other places that may have it?  The Bay Area, for instance, has been suggested to us - yes, quite possibly.  However keeping in mind that we're doing this evenings and weekends around a work schedule, kindergarten and the sheer bedlam of raising 3 kids it's just not practical.  At least not for us, and not right now.

In a perfect world I'd have a field of hay behind us and an acre of beets and an acre of.... oh heck I don't know... magic cow dust...?  Anything that would make it easier to be all organic, all the time.  Not happenin', as my daughter would say.

So have we compromised our morals?  Are we disappointed in the concessions we've had to make?

Not at all.  I've come to approach organic with a different heart.  For me organic has come to mean the whole picture, not just the food they eat.  The  pasture, the food and their life in general make up what I think the heart of organic is about: an animal raised as naturally as possible with as much respect as possible.  This makes up the total of their existence - to me the quality of their life goes a long way to making up for areas that may be lacking in their feed.  And that makes for milk and meat I'm proud to have raised, with or without it being truly organic.

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