Animal Welfare

Our Year In Review

“We pray for plenty of good hard work to do, and the strength to do it.” 

This is the saying written in our dining pavilion over the serving window. It is our farm’s unofficial motto, a prayer Will remembers from his youth.

We had many milestones in 2016. We are proud of our accomplishments and grateful for our blessings. Below, our managers share a list of notable milestones.

1.) Welcome Baby Jack!

Jack Carter Harris was born December 7, 2016 to Jenni and Amber Harris, starting the 6th Harris generation born on the farm. This healthy baby boy has already brought so much joy to the farm family. We look forward to his generation inheriting White Oak Pastures as a farm who’s soil and community has been enriched and regenerated due to our farming practices.

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2.) Grand Opening of the White Oak Pastures General Store 

It truly took our whole community to refurbish and reopen Bluffton’s 19th century general store. We believe that regenerative agriculture has the power to restore rural communities. We see our store as a step towards revitalizing downtown Bluffton.

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3.) 150th Birthday

This year marked our farm’s 150th Birthday, or, our Sesquicentennial. This little known word is hard to pronounce so we made a quick video of our brave employees giving it a try. We had an incredible turn out for our 150th Birthday Celebration with the Bo Henry Band on October 15, 2016.

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4.) Internship/ Apprenticeship Program Initiated 

Our official Internship/ Apprenticeship Program completed its first successful year. White Oak Pastures offers our interns a unique farm experience in scale and vertical integration while simultaneously providing an idea-incubating space for young people interested in regenerative agriculture.

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5.) Second Annual 5K Ruff Run

Regenerative agriculture focuses on the health of the soil, the health of the animals, and the health of the people who perpetuate this system. Many of our customers, partners and employees support us because they prioritize health. What better way to honor our regenerative community than through a fun event focused on healthy bodies? Our Second Annual 5K Ruff Run was a great success this spring.

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6.) Land Purchases

This year we purchased increments of 250 acres, 120 acres and 60 acres. We are excited to incorporate this land into our organic, holistic system. We look forward to using animal impact and holistic management to revive this land which was previously farmed industrially.

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7.) Internet Fulfillment Center Development 

At the start of the year, the Internet Fulfillment Center (IFC) was operating out of the poultry plant. With our internet business quickly growing, the need for a larger facility became apparent. Therefore, we moved our IFC to its own building with nearly 2000 square feet of freezer space and its own shipping dock.

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When we moved the IFC, we hit the ground running. We were filling all of the online orders while transitioning our entire inventory and implementing a new organization system all at the same time. It was a wild first couple of months, but by Thanksgiving we had a clean running machine and filled several hundred turkey orders in about three days. We are now working to fully digitize our inventory management paperwork and looking forward to a great year in 2017.

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8.) Iberian Hogs

This year saw our first successful breeding of Iberian hogs on White Oak Pastures land and our first Iberians to reached slaughter weight. Our Iberian hogs are some of the first Iberians ever born and raised outside of the Iberian peninsula. We have about 200 Iberians now.

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9.) Conversion of Garden to Pig Paddocks

We converted the land on which our organic garden used to be located into pig paddocks. Here, we are experimenting with forage cover crops to reduce the amount of feed we have to buy in from off farm. The cover crops also allow us to further increase soil organic matter, reduce soil compaction and promote a thriving microbial and fungal community in our soil. Our pigs also love the lush forage.

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10.) Hide Barn Construction 

Our new hide barn is well under way in construction. In September 2016, we received a Local Producer Loan from Whole Foods Market to build a new facility for our pet chews. 2016 saw us break ground and make great strides towards finishing this important building. Folks are more and more cautious about what they feed themselves and their pets and the demand for all natural, grass-fed pet chews has grown immensely.

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We began making hand-crafted rawhide pet chews on the farm in 2013 and at that time we were utilizing about 8 cattle hides each week. Due to customer demand, our department has grown immensely. Today we turn about 30 hides from fresh to sun-dried each week. Our goal is to quickly double that number once we move into the new facility.

DSC_0616.jpgThe hide barn building is conveniently located across from our General Store in Bluffton and will also include our tallow and leather departments, as well as a nice space to display our cowhide rugs.

Our building will include our leather workshop where we will make all our leather goods such as bags, bracelets, dog collars, etc. We hope our farm visitors will stop by to explore the new building and even bring along their pets!  This will be a cozy, crafty and comfortable space to hang out and even make your own bracelet. Visitors can watch the tallow soap, candle, or lip balm creation processes as well.

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As Mr. Will said, “2016 was the best year of my life and I have had a pretty long and damn good ride”.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community, Zero-Waste | 2 Comments

Employee Spotlight: Small Ruminant Manager Matthew Cantrell

It’s lambing season here at White Oak Pastures. Our pastures and woods are speckled with 200-300 tiny newborn lambs tailing their mammas as they learn about being  pasture-raised sheep. Behind the scenes is our Small Ruminant Manager Matthew Cantrell.

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Matthew grew up in California ranch country and was always involved in the farming lifestyle. Prior to his career at White Oak Pastures, Matthew managed a diversified farm in South Carolina and prior to that, he was an English teacher. However, farming and nature pulled him out of the poetry classroom and back into the fields.

 There is also a poetry in farming. If one spends the day watching Matthew work our sheep and goats with his herding dogs, this is readily apparent. “Farming connects me to what’s reality- what’s really important,” Matthew says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else even though it’s incredibly hard sometimes”. Matthew manages 1500 animals: about 1000 sheep and 500 goats. He has an intellectual, respectful relationship with his herd. He makes sure the “innate value” of the animals is respected and that they are “treated with dignity”.  Matthew works long hours to make sure his animals are happy and healthy and feels that “their value is not relative to human need for them- their value has to be honored as much as I’m able”.

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Farming has always been conducive to family involvement. Matthew’s family occasionally joins him in shepherding. He is a dedicated father and husband. His four children (ages 12, 10, 6 and 4) are all home schooled. Matthew views shepherding as a unique opportunity to raise his children with an “intimate experience and understanding of real life, real things- dirt, plants, animals, life and death”. Matthew and his wife Leah take pride in their farm lifestyle which allows them to live morally and with intention. His oldest daughter, Hannah (12), helps nurse orphaned or sick lambs back to health. Matthew jokingly calls Hannah the “small ruminant neonatal specialist”.

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Matthew works by himself most of the time and relies heavily on his three herding dogs: Pancho, a Border Collie, and Oakley and Annie, Working Kelpies. Both breeds trace their lineage to farm collies in Northern England and thus have similar working styles which compliment each other. “I rely on them every day. They’re incredible. They’re my best friends. I couldn’t do what I do without them”. Matthew views herding dogs as a more natural way to move livestock. There is an instinctual relationship between herding dogs and ruminants which usually precipitates a calmer response. Herding dogs also “rate stock”, i.e., anticipate what the ruminants will do which helps the shepherd move sheep in a low-stress, efficient manner.  

As a shepherd, Matthew works to foster responsible natural resources management while caring for the welfare and nutritional needs of our flock. He is also constantly working long-term to develop a resilient flock which will naturally thrive in the environment of our farm.

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Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Staff Spotlight, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Teenagers With Nose Rings

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We are trying a new type of weaning this year: wean rings. This is a plastic ring that clips inside the calf’s nose like a clip-on earring. We think wean rings are the least stressful and most natural way to wean.  When the calf tries to nurse its mother, the ring’s spiky points make it uncomfortable for the mamma to nurse her calf. She’ll then initiate the weaning process. These rings may look drastic, but they are safe and cannot hurt the mamma cow. Our calves are still able to have all the physical contact that they want with their mammas. They can still nuzzle, follow around, and get licked on by their mammas.

Deer, bison, and other non-domesticated ruminants will kick their babies away from the teat when the time comes for them to be weaned. Humans have domesticated cattle to the point where this instinctual behavior was lost and now it is necessary for the stockman to intervene. Weaning is a very stressful time for the calf and the cow. Both are clearly bonded to each other. However, weaning must occur.

We wean calves around 7-9 months of age. The mammas are pregnant with their second calf at this point.  At this time in their lives, calves are steady eating grass and drinking water, so mamma’s milk is just a treat. It is crucial that our calves fully transfer to grass before their sibling is born. The mamma cow needs to spend all of her nutrition growing the fetus calf, as opposed to making milk in her last trimester for the older calf.

Once the younger calf is born, the older calf would out-compete it if both calves were to suckle. Additionally, this would impede the younger calf from getting adequate amounts of colostrum. Colostrum is the first milk produced by a mamma cow during the first few days after birth before her body switches to making normal milk. Colostrum is a unique kind of milk rich in antibodies, fats, and proteins. Calves do not passively receive immune support from their mothers across the placenta as humans do. They must get their antibodies from colostrum. It is imperative to calves’ health that they drink colostrum in the first few hours of life. The wean rings ensure our young calves have a healthy start to life while allowing the older calves a low-stress introduction to their adult diet of grass.

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We are excited about our new system. We look out at our pasture and see a bunch of teenagers with nose rings and we couldn’t be happier. We’re respecting the mother-calf bond and the herd-mentality of our animals while still ensuring the health of future generations of cattle.

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Categories: Animal Welfare, Uncategorized | Tags: | 2 Comments

Simply stated: Chickens aren’t vegetarian. They just ain’t.

We’re in the process of redesigning our product labels, and the first thing to go will be the “Vegetarian Fed” claim on our poultry. Vegetarian diets for chickens have been highly marketed, and successful; however, there’s nothing natural about a completely vegetarian diet for a chicken.

While our non-GMO chicken feed mixture is 100% vegetarian and contains no animal by-products as our current label indicates, we don’t want to imply that our chickens don’t have access to the kind of proteins they evolved eating, which they can hunt and forage for themselves. Our chickens live outside, completely unconfined and free to roam our pastures where they get a tremendous amount of nutrition.

We are not just talking about worms and bugs. We have seen our chickens eat frogs, mice, snakes, and any other animal protein sources that they can get their beaks into, including their own dead. It ain’t pretty, but it is nature.

We are not talking about chickens that are starved to near death, or chickens that are driven to the edge of chicken insanity by industrial confinement. We are talking about well-fed, well-adjusted chickens. They naturally love to forage for a cornucopia of food sources, which includes meat.

Look at them. Try to picture a miniature Tyrannosaurus Rex with feathers instead of scales. It looks like a chicken, doesn’t it?

Categories: Animal Welfare | Tags: | 4 Comments

Debunking the “feed the world” myth

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The topic of “feeding the world” is hotly debated.

Industrialized agriculture interests argue that factory farming is the only way to feed our growing world population. This mantra is used to justify destructive and inhumane practices that make food artificially cheap and wastefully abundant.

We believe that every country has a right to develop their own food production system. We don’t believe that we American farmers and ranchers are supposed to feed the entire world; we think we’re supposed to feed our community. That being said, we’re very happy to take this opportunity to explain our perspective on this issue.

Before having that discussion, we all need to stipulate that the earth has a limited carrying capacity, meaning there are not infinite resources available on this planet to produce food and sustain life for an unlimited population.

If the acreage that is available to farm is the only limiting factor, industrialized agriculture wins. By using artificial crutches developed by reductionist science, factory farms can produce more food per acre of land than regenerative farms can.

If petroleum is the limiting factor for feeding the world, we win, because we don’t use as much as they do. If global warming is the limiting factor, we win. We don’t produce as many greenhouse gasses as they do. If antibiotic-resistant pathogens are the limiting factor, we win. If topsoil loss, endangering wildlife species, increasing dead areas in the seas, pesticide contamination, diminished resources, water shortage and contamination, and a host of other disasters are the limiting factor, we win. These problems have only been with us since agriculture became industrialized.

Factory farming truly made food abundant and cheap. It is more efficient and productive per acre of land, if that is the only consideration. But it has horrific unintended consequences for our animals, our natural resources, and the economy of rural America.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community | 11 Comments

Holiday turkeys with a higher purpose

You’ve heard it before. Our turkeys freely roam our pastures completely unconfined, and are never treated with antibiotics or steroids. They are slaughtered and hand-butchered on our farm in our zero-waste, USDA-inspected processing abattoir. Our turkeys are Non-GMO Project Verified, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Step 5+ in the Global Animal Partnership program.

With these attributes, our turkeys surely will make a great centerpiece for your holiday meal. But this year, our birds have a mission that’s much bigger: to heal and restore the land.

Earlier this year, we purchased 250 acres of land that had been stripped of life by decades of monocultural row crop production. By transitioning to a wide variety of diverse species of plants and animals through holistic management, we are working hard to turn this soil from a dead mineral medium to one that’s teeming with life. This Spring, we took our first step toward restoring the land by moving cattle onto it to eat hay, break up the soil with their hooves, and urinate and defecate to add nutrients to the land.

Now it’s the turkeys’ turn. Following our Serengeti Rotational Grazing Model, these birds are pecking and scratching to open up the soil and evenly spread the fertilizer left by the previous herd. They’re adding more fertility to the soil by depositing manure, removing weeds that the ruminants won’t eat, and preparing the land for the new grasses that are beginning to grow. By simply engaging in their natural behaviors, the turkeys are serving a higher purpose by turning this land into productive pasture that will benefit future generations.

This year, we are especially thankful for our turkeys’ contribution to the organism that is White Oak Pastures, and we are excited to share their goodness with you. We hope you and your family will enjoy our holiday turkeys as much as we do; visit our website to purchase yours.

Photos by Laura Mortelliti.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Land, livestock, and the pursuit of a new logo

 

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Selling premium, value-added meat and poultry to consumers requires a good amount of marketing, which is not something that comes naturally to us here at White Oak Pastures. Fonts, color schemes, photos and logo designs weren’t handed down from previous generations like land stewardship and livestock husbandry. But, as we’ve done with so many changes during our rapid growth, we adapted to and embraced this new component: logo design.

In the early 2000s, one of our first tasks in building a marketing platform was to pick a name for our website. For a century, what we all know as White Oak Pastures was actually called Tenac Oak Pastures. Will Harris received great advice from a neighbor: “Don’t call your farm something people can’t easily spell. Do you want to spend the rest of your life spelling the word Tenac?” Tenac Oak is the local name for White Oak. But, since Tenac isn’t in most everyone’s normal vocabulary, Will decided that White Oak Pastures would be an equally appropriate name. Our farm is three miles from the Kolomoki Indian Mounds, and Kolomoki translates to “Land of the White Oak.” The rest is history!

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The second task was to pick a logo. Back in the early 2000s, the only product we had to market was grassfed beef. Thankfully, our logo didn’t turn out to be a cow, since today we raise 10 species of animals. Instead, we reflected on the true definition of the word brand: “an identifying mark burned on livestock with a branding iron.” For generations, the Harris family branded our cattle with the same “circle-H” that you see in the logo today, which stands for the “H” in Harris. In an effort to reduce infliction of pain on our animals, we stopped branding them more than 30 years ago. But what better way to brand our products than with the same mark that previous generations used to differentiate our live animals from those of our neighbors?

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Our old logo, early 2000s to 2016

Back then, we decided to make the Harris “H” the main component of our farm logo. We proudly used that logo during the last busy 10 years of business. Today, in our 150th year, we raise 10 different species of animals, market all of these to passionate customers, grow vegetables, tan hides, compost, house overnight guests, and many other things, and the “H” family brand still communicates all of this to the world.

However, over the last 10 years, we found that we were constantly explaining the connection between the “circle-H” and the words “White Oak Pastures.” It seemed folks struggled with the correlation, and we couldn’t really blame them. Knowing that we needed some guidance, we hired Egg Branding to help us consolidate our message. After months of discussion, we are excited to reveal our new logo (top of this page), which still proudly includes the “circle-H” while putting more emphasis on the amazing “organism” (as Will calls it) that is White Oak Pastures. What would our brand be without the history of who we are and where we came from? We hope you like our new look, and the hard work and dedication it represents.

Join us October 15th to celebrate 150 years of building the White Oak Pastures brand and culture. Click here for event details.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community | Tags: | Leave a comment

Day in the life of John Pedersen, Hog Manager, midwife to the sows

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Photo by Laura Mortelliti

It’s a farrowing affair and not for everyone. But it takes a talented, caring person to raise some of the smartest animals on the planet. Unlike factory hog production that confines sows in gestation and farrowing crates, we raise all of our pigs on pasture, completely unconfined. It isn’t easy or convenient, but it is the right thing to do. Our Hog Production Manager, John Pedersen, does a brilliant job caring for them, and we’re excited to introduce you to him on this week’s blog. Read on to get a glimpse into a day in the life of one of our favorite pastured pig farmers. 

Q: Why did you get into farming?
A: I started contemplating farming as a potential career about 7 years ago after my son Nicolaus came into this world. My food focus switched from a solely sustenance approach to a source of preventative healthcare and high nutrition for my family and me; we began searching for local farmers to provide us with the food we felt would be best. During the search for food and educating ourselves to the farming practices in our area we learned about regenerative farm practices that not only provided nutrient dense protein and vegetable sources but also was extremely respectful of the animals grown and the land/soil used to raise them, and I wanted to be part of it.

Q: What has been your proudest moment at work?
A: Being the “midwife” to the hogs (thank you for the new nickname…) brings with it many proud moments every time a new litter is born. Anyone who has had a child enter their life will be able to relate to this. Caring for a pregnant sow or gilt and then being there for that new litter of piglets is so satisfying.

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Photo by Angie Mosier

Q: What’s your favorite daily chore?
A: My favorite and most satisfying daily chore is checking on the piglets and mommas. They are on a specific diet that we daily feed utilizing five-gallon buckets and when they see the truck coming they dance and squeal and hop around like you would imagine a puppy would when seeing its owner after a long day away at the office. It’s precious!

Q: What is your favorite food in our on-farm dining Pavilion?
A: I have coined a new slogan for anyone dining at the Pavilion, “Support the Pork.” Every meal that Reid and his team prepare with pork quickly becomes my favorite. Support the Pork!

Q: If you could trade roles with someone on the farm for a day, who would it be and why?
A: All of the employees at White Oak Pastures have extremely diverse, rewarding and challenging roles. Each of us are passionate about our programs and we frequently work together. I miss working with cows and really enjoy working with our livestock manager John Benoit. He wears many hats and I couldn’t handle all of his responsibility, but I do have fun working with cows when I have the chance.

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Q: What’s the best, and worst, part of living in Bluffton, GA?
A: I grew up in very suburban/urban locations and enjoyed all that those places have to offer, most importantly, the diversity of restaurants which ironically is the best and worst part of living in Bluffton. We have the best restaurant right here on the farm but regrettably the only restaurant in Bluffton.

Q: What is your favorite meal to cook at home?
A: I love a good seared pork chop, salt and pepper only. The flavor that comes through on our pork is amazing and needs no amendments. Support the Pork!

Q: Choose one word to describe White Oak Pastures.
A: “Pioneering”

Shop our pastured pork online

Categories: Animal Welfare, Staff Spotlight | Tags: | 8 Comments

We’ve got balls at White Oak Pastures

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Castration of male animals is a common practice in the livestock industry. Said to reduce aggression, the practice likely came about with the confinement of cattle in crowded conditions where the animals aren’t free to roam and express natural instinctive behaviors. As Will Harris says, you just can’t keep a bunch of bulls in confinement; it’s like the worst prison movie you’ve ever seen.

For over 100 years, White Oak Pastures castrated everything on this farm that wasn’t named Harris. It’s one of the practices we did away with in our transition to a kinder, gentler agriculture, in an effort to reduce the infliction of pain on the animals. Global Animal Partnership, Animal Welfare Approved, and Certified Humane all have thick manuals that detail what good animal welfare looks like. To meet the highest standards in these programs, we don’t perform any physical alterations on our animals, including castration, dehorning, or branding.

While the term ”bully” comes from the behavior of bulls, we don’t have a problem with aggressive bulls out on open pasture. If a big bad bull wants to bully a little bull, the little guy can just keep on walking. He has more incentive to get away than the big bull does to pick on him, and he has enough space to do so.

Fried Grassfed Beef Testicles Recipe

Our cattle are humanely processed in our on-farm abattoir. When our mature bulls are slaughtered, we offer grassfed beef testicles to our customers as part of our commitment to ensuring no part of the animal goes to waste. Sometimes called “Rocky Mountain oysters” or “cowboy caviar,” these are a unique and novel nose-to-tail treat. They are typically served fried as an appetizer, and would be a great surprise for your dinner guests or as a culinary adventure for yourself or your family.

This Harris family testicle recipe has been passed down through many generations. We hope you’ll give it a try and let us know what you think!

Ingredients
1 pack White Oak Pastures grassfed beef testicles
2 eggs
1 cup flour
Your choice of oil, for frying
Dash of salt and pepper
2 tbsp milk (optional)
Small handful of parsley for garnish (optional)
Ketchup or cocktail sauce for dipping

Preparation
Whisk eggs in a large bowl with milk, and in a separate large bowl season the flour with salt and pepper. Parboil the testicles in boiling water with a splash of salt for 1-2 minutes. Allow to cool. Peel the outer membrane from the testicles, and slice the testicles into medallions. Dip medallions in flour, then the egg mixture, then the flour again. Repeat this step for a thicker breading. Fry medallions in hot oil for several minutes, until crispy and brown. Remove from pan and allow to drain on paper towels.

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Photo by Laura Mortelliti

Categories: Animal Welfare, Kitchen | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The many dogs of White Oak Pastures

The internet loves dogs, and so do we. Dogs play several vital roles in the organism that is White Oak Pastures, as companions, livestock guardians, and herding dogs. We couldn’t operate our farm without them. Here’s to the many dogs of White Oak Pastures and all the ways they contribute, in loving memory of our most loyal friend, Ox.

Companion dogs
If you’ve ever visited our farm, surely you were greeted by this cast of characters when you arrived. They’re our very own welcoming committee, and they love tagging along during farm tours and gathering with visitors in our on-farm dining pavilion. Their family tree looks like a southern family reunion. Meet Cud, Regal, OJ, and Roxi.

Livestock guardian dogs
Livestock guardian dogs have been bred for thousands of years to sense danger and protect livestock from predators, and we have enormous gratitude for their role. But all dogs don’t get treated the same on a farm. If you’re not very careful with guardian dog puppies, they will bond to the person who’s feeding and playing with them instead of bonding with the species you want them to guard. To avoid this, we focus on keeping puppies in close proximity to the species they are supposed to protect. We keep them fed and watered, but show very little social attention, which isn’t easy when they’re this cute!

Herding dogs
Used for moving animals in a controlled manner, you want herding dogs to bond to the herdsman or woman, so the dogs can specifically follow their directions and do their bidding. These dogs are both companions and tireless workers that are capable of performing the work of several people. Like livestock guardian dogs, their instinctual relationship with livestock is one that has evolved over thousands of years.

Our dogs don’t mind working hard all day, knowing a never-ending feast of meat and organs fresh from our processing abattoirs awaits them. Our dogs eat ground beef, ground chicken, ground pork, and anything else they find on the ground. They also enjoy the pet chews we make out of everything from chicken feet to cattle noses, and even hides, as part of our commitment to following a zero-waste model. Whether a companion, guardian, or herding dog, living on a farm is a pretty good gig, and we are grateful for all of them.

 

Categories: Animal Welfare | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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