For our grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, duck and pork, nutritional integrity comes from grazing rotationally on diverse, fresh pasture including vitamin- and protein-rich forages, seeds and insects. Research shows that pasture-raised meat and eggs tend to be lower in overall and saturated fat and cholesterol while containing more OMEGA-3s and more vitamins like A, E, and beta-carotene.
For our pasture-raised chickens, ducks and pigs, nutritional integrity also comes a diverse mix of locally grown grain and seeds, most of which is organically grown and all of which is non-GMO, clean and unmedicated. Research shows that diverse feed that is low in soy has healthier (lower) OMEGA6:3 ratios (references).
Pasture-raised animals exercise their muscles so the meat tends to be richly flavoured and better retains moisture while cooking. And you can enjoy the scrumptious pasture-raised fat knowing it is chocked-full of healthful fats and vitamins. Because pasture-raised meat is not overly fatty or injected with solutions like conventional meat, it cooks differently. Read our cooking tips for pasture-raised meat, recipe ideas and kitchen primers to help you get full value and enjoyment out of pasture-raised meat.
Three Ridges is an agroecosystem with integrated livestock such that the humane nature of our husbandry and ecological integrity of our management are intimately tied to the animals’ role on the land: animals live outside on pasture in a way that they can express their natural behaviours under stress-free conditions. The best way we have to describe this integration is by describing the animals’ lives, which we write about below.
Our laying hens live full lives on pasture as precocious foragers. They roost in a mobile coop that moves around pasture and lay beautiful shades of brown (ISA Browns, Chantecler) and lavender eggs (Ameraucana) with deep orange yolks – a sure sign of the green they eat! ? Read more about the geeky details behind different coloured eggs.
Raised under the Artisanal Chicken Program, our chickens live in mobile “chicken tractors” that we move around the pasture. On pasture, chickens are able to express their natural instincts as voracious omnivores with access to a fresh buffet of forage, seeds and insects; they have fresh air; and pasture grasses provide natural bedding.
Our Standard chicken is a breed called the White Rock, or Cornish Cross, which is the industry standard. They have white feathers and grow to around 8-9 weeks on pasture. The meat of a Standard pasture-raised chicken looks similar to high quality supermarket chicken: plump breasts and legs and a good amount of white meat. You can see the difference pasture living provides in the collagen-set of stock and health of the organs.
Our Heritage type chicken, the Nova Free Ranger, is developed from European Heritage breeds for life on pasture, superior taste and meat texture. Heritage chicks are flown in from Nova Scotia, where the breed was developed. They have beautiful red feathers and grow to around 9-12 weeks on pasture. To quote a chef friend: The meat has “a little more chew to it – but in a pleasant way, like you might be eating a tender cut of beef.” Heritage chickens have slimmer breasts and more dark meat. Please note that our Heritage chicken is not available in 2018 because, sadly, the breeder died in May.
When they are ready, we transport them a short distance to the local Amish community, where they are processed with care at an Ontario Approved inspected abattoir. Read more about why pasture-raised chicken is better you, the chickens and the soil.
Laying ducks are Muscovy and heritage breeds Buff Orpington and Welsh Harlequin (photo), who live on pasture with shelter for roosting and laying, and small pools for preening. They are full of personality and produce rich pastured eggs that are great for quiches and baking.
We also raise Muscovy for meat. Muscovy are either reared on pasture by brooding hens or brought to the farm as day-old ducklings. Ducks live within electric fencing and are moved to fresh grass after they graze down a paddock. Pasture-raised duck meat is simply perfection: rich and flavourful but not too fatty.
We raise Tamworth (“Irish Grazer”) pigs, a heritage breed known as a “bacon pig” because of its low fat to body mass ratio. We raise pigs outdoors farrow-to-finish where pasture meets woodland’s edge, which is why we call our pastured pork Savannah. A diverse mix of high quality grain supplemented with local nuts, fruit and squash results in sweet pork with complex flavours. We select pigs that like to graze but also use them strategically as “rototillers”, working up stubborn patches of opportunistic plants or compacted soil.
We have a small herd of grass-fed cattle that help regenerate our pastures through rotational grazing. Grazing signals plants to slough off roots and excrete root sugars, which soil microbes use to build soil organic matter. Manure returns fertility to the soil and the two Jerseys provide us with milk. We breed the Jerseys (Butterfly and Buttercup, her first calf, see photo) to Red Angus for beef, which are grass-fed and grass finished. They are generous, smart but humbling souls.