Howland Homestead Farm's philosophy is difficult to describe. We often characterize ourselves as "Organic" but aren't "Certified" Organic. It has never seemed necessary to become certified, as our customers deal with us directly. To further complicate things, we have no confidence in the current USDA Organic regulations and fear that they will continue to be weakened to favor big business.
So perhaps we are "Old Organic". At any rate, we have always practiced "Organic" as a belief system, not as a recipe or as a device to charge higher prices. We simply raise the kind of food that we ourselves want to eat: free of chemicals, nutritionally dense, and raised with full awareness of environmental and social consequences.
Cattle: Our philosophy with regards to cattle, whether for meat or milk is "a cow is a grass-eating animal". We believe that "grassfed is best" for the land, for the animals, and for the humans that eat the food produced without grain feeding. There is a growing body of scientific evidence to support the health benefits of grassfed beef (and pink veal), as well as milk and milk products. For more about the benefits of grassfed, visit EatWild'swebsite.
We try to provide an environment for our cattle that allows them to express natural bovine behavior to the fullest extent possible. We raise them in social groups, on pasture, and basically just let them be cows. We sell "pink" veal, but this is definitely not the same as caged "white" veal that is the subject of so much controversy (rightly so) by those concerned with humane animal treatment. Our veal is simply a calf of weaning age that has spent it's life on pasture nursing its mother.
Pigs: Although our pigs are fed a great deal of grass and other forage, we do raise them in pens. We have tried pasturing pigs, but abandoned it due to the great amount of damage pigs do to the landscape. Our compromise is dirt floor pens that allow the pigs to act on one of their strongest instincts, rooting. We also sometimes keep pigs in the barn in a deeply bedded pen.
Besides lots of grass, hay, weeds, and garden leftovers, we also feed our pigs milk (from our cows) and Certified Organic corn. We don't feed free choice, and we don't feed soybeans. Our goal is to produce healthy, tasty pork with a maximum of forage in their diet. It takes up to twice as long to raise a pig this way, but we think that it's worth it.
Chickens: It has been one of our great disappointments to realize the extent to which chickens have become dependent upon specially prepared high protein feeds. This is true of Heritage breeds as well as commercial breeds. Raising them without such feed is a great challenge and can take many times as long as doing it "conventionally". We have tried to breed our own stock to reverse this trend, but have been only moderately successful.
We let our chickens range for the most part, as most are egg birds at this point and stick close to the barn. We feed whole corn, cow's milk, and sometimes meat scraps, and they rustle up the rest for themselves. We do feed some prepared Organic feed to young chicks to get them started.