Guest Blogger: Kris Hirth of Old Pine Farm

Kris Hirth owns Old Pine Farm where she operates a meat CSA in Manchester, MI. Her cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and emu are humanely raised on grass, organic feed and on pesticide- and fertilizer-free hay grown by her dad. Most of her animals are pastured, some are heritage breeds.  Kris says: "Our mission is to produce great tasting, high quality, wholesome meats with only the finest ingredients: grass, organic/natural feed,  sunshine and clean water - the way nature intended it to be.....Compassion and humane treatment of our animals is top priority." 

A Local Meat Fancier’s Guide to Quality Meats

"We are all interested in natural, fresh food but how can you be sure that what you are buying is really what you want?  Most “locavores” are concerned about what the animal is being fed in the way of growth hormones, antibiotics, steroids, etc.  But when asking questions about meat, you need to investigate further.

One very important detail is where the animal’s feed is coming from. Does the farmer grow the feed themselves?  If so, how do they fertilize and what do they put on their fields?  Or, maybe they buy it.  Reading a feed label from your local mill or feed supply store is worse than reading a grocery store label.  They are overwhelming due to the varying addition of vitamins, minerals, feed additives, and sometimes medications, growth enhancers, and “unknown” by-products all deemed valuable to the animal.  Whether grown by the farmer or purchased almost all grain feed, and sometimes hay, contains fertilizers and pesticides.  If this is of concern to you, then you must investigate feed resources when buying your meat.  You need to find out if the animal is fed grain and ask questions accordingly.  

Certified organic feed is probably the cleanest and most reliable, but it is very difficult to obtain and expensive. Grain is unavoidable for “meat” chickens and pigs: they must have it.  Small amounts can be used for lambs and goats, but a majority of their diet should come from hay or grass.  Cattle can be fed solely grass and hay which is the only way you can obtain CLA’s  (or Conjugated Linoleic Acids, believed to have antioxidant and anti-tumor properties) from your beef.  According to research, you cannot obtain CLA’s  from beef fed organic grain or any other grain.  Most farmers use grain to feed their cattle because it makes them gain weight quickly and meat is sold by the pound; the more pounds the more dollars. 

Another area that might be of concern to you is animal husbandry. Take into consideration the environment your animal lives in.  Some of the local market vendors are also full-time farmers, obtaining their family income through livestock sales.  Their animals may live in a more “industrialized” set up rather than in optimal animal conditions.  The beef may come from a feedlot (small confined areas), the hogs from crowded pens, and lamb from holding areas. 

Studies show that animal stress does affect meat quality.  The Purdue University Agriculture Department along with Kenna Halford and Erin Visscher from Alberta, Canada have done some interesting articles on this if you would like to read further. (Or do a search for PSE & DFD in meat). If you are looking for quality above and beyond your supermarket meats then you must determine the animals' living conditions.  Do the animals live in a pen and if so, and most importantly, how many to a pen?

So, when you are buying meat from your local farmer or farmer's market, know what you’re looking for.  Ask questions.  Ask a lot of questions.  The answers you receive might help you purchase a quality product that was brought to you in a quality way!"


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