Hunter Cattle Company is a pastured and sustainable farm that raises cows, chickens and hogs. Kristan Fretwell, part of the Hunter Cattle family, explains the difference between their approach and conventional cattle production.
What does being a pastured and sustainable farm mean for your cattle? And what does that entail?
Pastured: During the cows’ lifetimes on our farm, their hooves never touch concrete. Cows are herbivores and also ruminant animals which means they are supposed to graze on grass, legumes, and hay while continuously feeding the “rumen”, or the first of their four stomachs.
Sustainable: Our land and the grasses we grow are one of our main focuses when it comes to sustainability. We utilize the natural habits of animals we raise – cows, pigs, poultry – to fertilize the ground and improve the nutritional density of the grass each year. As Aldo Leopold once wrote, “the sun does not shine in vain,” and so it goes on our farm, as well. Our grasses depend on it, not artificial fertilizers, to grow. Our animals do not need the intervention of artificial hormones or administration of antibiotics. By eliminating the industrial model’s chief requirement of crowding, we keep our animals healthy – naturally.
Our true measure of sustainability can be measured by asking ourselves one key question – “What is the farm’s level of dependency on the outside world.” And ours is very minimal.
What made you decide to raise your cattle this way?
We whole heartedly believe that when you feed an animal what it’s naturally supposed to eat, raise them in a natural environment; the animal will be healthier, the environment will be built up and when we consume the meat it’s at its peak nutrition.
We wanted to raise beef that was good for our bodies without any hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. We learned that when a cow is fed an unnatural diet of grain and corn, it begins depleting the good nutrition, including omega 3’s (the good fatty acid) and it’s then replaced with omega 6’s (bad fatty acid).
What breed of cattle do you have on your farm, and why?
We have Black Angus, and Black Baldies (Angus-Hereford mix), and two Longhorns. We have a docile herd and the taste of the meat is superb, so we’ve kept raising these breeds. The Longhorn cow and her female calf are pretty additions to the herd, plus we enjoy getting asked if the Longhorn is “the bull” just because she has the longest horns!
What impact does grass feeding have on the nutritional value of beef?
We follow the American Grassfed Association standards and our cattle are never given hormones or antibiotics, so right there, our meat is healthier than meat from animals given pharmaceuticals. Since cows are naturally herbivores, their bodies have negative reactions to being fed grain and need antibiotics to treat their illnesses. Because of this, our farm does not produce hazardous runoff for other area farms and waterways. Furthermore, studies show grassfed beef is leaner, contains a higher percentage of good fats like Omega 3s and CLA in addition to antioxidant vitamins and minerals.
How is the process of raising grass fed cattle different, and how does that affect the price?
Grassfed cattle gain weight at a slower rate than cattle that are fed grain taking us twice as much time to grow them to slaughter weight. Protecting our farm’s natural grass resources takes herd management and strategic rotational grazing. This requires more land, pastures, and fences. Not to mention, the grain and corn fed to most industrial feed lots is heavily subsidized.