There is a tremendous appetite for sustainable, ethical meat. Especially bacon.
Bacon and ethical meat are popular topics of conversation in the media as well as in grocery store aisles. Judging by public discourse, consumers turned off by their understanding of industrial livestock operations are searching for alternative meat sources. Around my area of BC, farmers raising pastured hogs often have multi-year wait lists. Meanwhile, there is little consensus in terms of the standards that define alternative methods of production. Does ethical mean organic? What about “Pastured”, “SPCA-certified”, and so on?
Raising and selling “ethical” meat can be a confounding proposition. In a market flush with green washing, staking a position and definition around “ethical” meat can be a challenge. For farmers focused on ethical management practices, who raise a superior product, convincing consumers to pay a fair price for their product often remains a challenge in many markets.
Anyone struggling with these issues will find The New Livestock Farmer beneficial in starting their business planning process. This book aims to help farmers make a successful entry or transition to producing and marketing ethical meat. Authors Rebecca Thistlethwaite and Jim Dunlop present various challenges and opportunities, based in part on their experience in running a pasture-based livestock operation in California.
The very format of the book acknowledges the complexities of designing and operating an “ethical” meat system. The authors conducted interviews and conversations with producers across the U.S. to gather and share information beyond their own direct experience. This knowledge yields a book that can help farmers map out their own options and develop a business strategy around raising and marketing livestock, while emphasizing the values of ethical animal husbandry that lead to a superior product.
The authors outline a production philosophy defining “ethical meat” as a process that takes into account environmental impact, financial profitability, humane animal treatment and quality product to the customer. To this end, the book is divided into two sections; the first focuses on production, the second focuses on “the business of getting those animals to market.”
The production portion of the book contains five chapters providing an overview of best practices and considerations for pasture-based systems of raising poultry, sheep, goats, pig, cattle, rabbits, bison, elk and deer. In these chapters, the authors review shelter design and pasture management options, common breeds, life-cycle phases, feed, water, health, fencing, slaughtering and post-harvest handling considerations. Conversations comparing chickens and ducks or sheep and goats may help determine appropriate animals to add to a particular farm – despite both being small ruminants, sheep and goats have different foraging and shelter needs.
Thistlethwaite and Dunlop’s writing is useful to farmers because they do not attempt to provide a to-do list of imperatives. They understand that local ecologies and markets differ significantly across the continent, making it difficult if not impossible to prescribe a way of doing business. Instead, they survey options, profile success stories and pose questions to help the reader determine their own course of action.
Chapters covering the business operations of livestock production include topics such as regulations, marketing options, slaughtering and butchering logistics, mobile processors, packaging, labeling and storage. Discussions of regulations obviously have a U.S focus, but they also outline useful issues and questions for farmers to consider, regardless of where they farm. Thistlethwaite and Dunlop comment on the increasing number of livestock farmers across the U.S. who are attempting to direct market their product in the face of declining returns and a consolidated processing market. The chapter on slaughtering and butchering will lend some confidence to new farmers trying to get a better understanding of questions to ask abattoirs they might want to partner with and how to organize getting their animals to the point of slaughter.
The authors also cover off financial management and pricing. Although the chapter is short, it dovetails nicely with Thistlethwaite’s earlier book Farms With a Future: Creating and Growing a Sustainable Farm Business. The main strength of both books is that they aim to ultimately help farmers succeed in farming as a business. Understanding cash flow, financial statements, financing and profit margins are integral to this success.
The book is intended for both new farmers looking at entering livestock production as well as established farmers considering changes to either their production or marketing practices—in other words, this book is for those who seek to earn a livelihood from livestock farming through commercial production, not homesteading or hobby farming.
The New Livestock Farmer is focused solely on ethical meat production and does not deal with egg or milk production, or by-products such as hides or fibers. The book may still prove to be a useful resource to some farmers in these domains, particularly for farmers considering raising offspring that result from dairy operations as an additional product line and income stream.
Ultimately, the successful livestock farmer selling ethical meat direct-to-consumer needs to know a lot about the business of raising animals and marketing their products. Those taking a serious approach to this task will benefit greatly from The New Livestock Farmer.