Innovative Livestock farmers to LEARN from

 It is estimated that there were 1 billion cattle and 767 million pigs worldwide in 2019. And there were 996 million chicken in 2018. The number of chickens alone is three times larger than the global human population. Animal source foods like meat, eggs, milk, yoghurt, and cheese comprise an important part of our daily diets, and is expected to continue to grow.

Industrial-scale farming systems enable mass production of cheap animal foods at low cost. However, poorly managed livestock systems have raised various environmental and health concerns. Factory farms, in which 99 percent of farmed animals in the United States are estimated to live, produce tremendous amounts of animal waste that can contain contaminants such as plant nutrients, pathogens, antibiotics, and other chemicals.

But many innovative livestock farmers around the world are driving change by moving away from conventional farming. Instead of raising animals in confinement systems, the farmers provide animals with access to the outdoors and facilities to express their natural behaviors—for pigs to root and for chickens to peck. On pasture-based farms, animals are raised on grassland all year round, and the paddocks are rotated to prevent overgrazing. Farmers who produce 100 percent grass-fed beef raise and finish their cattle on grassland, letting the ruminants eat what they are designed to eat for their entire life.

According Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist and rancher, mimicking nature using livestock is the only option for us to reverse desertification and climate change. According to Savory and other proponents of regenerative agriculture, carefully planned rotational cattle grazing can allow grassland to rest and grow, and this process accelerates the storage of atmospheric carbon into the soil and plants.

Many farmers on this list have switched from industrial to sustainable livestock production systems showing they can protect the environment, promote animal welfare, and improve incomes. And the farmers also try to go beyond their own farms to spread the innovations and empower other farmers, community members, and consumers.

To celebrate their work, Food Tank highlights 28 innovative livestock farmers who are shaping the future of livestock production.

1. Aloha House (Philippines): Keith Mikkelson

Keith Mikkelson is the Executive Director of Aloha House, a ranch and an organic farm in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. The food produced on the farm caters to the local community and Aloha Orphanage housed on the farm. Mikkelson raises cattle, goats, hogs, and chickens on his small-scale, diverse farm in the tropics, and these animals are part of the natural farming process. Mikkelson makes use of animal power, manure, and other animal byproducts to grow vegetables, make fertilizers, and turn other wastes like forage crop residues into useful materials including biochar. He has shared his knowledge and experiences in livestock-farm integration, feed production, and cost-saving strategies through his writings and lectures.

2. Bean Hollow Grassfed (United States): Betsy Dietel and Mike Sands

Bean Hollow Grassfed is a family owned farm in Flint Hill, Virginia. Mike Sands and Betsy Dietel operate the farm, and their son Will Sands and his spouse Giada Bertonelli joined the team in 2018. The farm works to bolster biodiversity on the farm. The farm puts their cattle and sheep together to work symbiotically. These two species prefer to graze on different vegetation and can work together to control diseases and parasites. Multi-species grazing can also increase productivity and improve pasture. The farm does not sell its products online to promote local food purchase. The family encourages people to visit the farm in person to pick up the food and learn how it is produced.

3. Belcampo (United States): Anya Fernald

Anya Fernald is the Co-founder and CEO of Belcampo Meat Co, an organic and animal welfare certified farm in Northern California. Belcampo grows cattle, pigs, broilers, and layers, and the farm has built its own alternative meat supply chain from the farm to retail shops and restaurants. This vertically integrated chain can enhance transparency and traceability. Animals are butchered and processed on a small scale at the Belcampo’s whole animal butchery designed by Temple Grandin, an American animal behavior and welfare expert. In addition, at the Belcampo’s retail shop, customers are given opportunities to talk to their butchers and learn about the meat they are purchasing. Through this process, Belcampo is trying to link customers to butchers.

4. Big Picture Beef (United States): Ridge Shinn

Ridge Shinn launched Big Picture Beef in 2016 in Hardwick, Massachusetts to provide the Northeast United States with locally grown 100 percent grass-fed beef. Shinn partners with local family farms to assist them to produce beef sustainably and ensure a more stable income through expanded sales channels. The partner farmers raise their cattle according to the Big Picture Beef’s protocol. Then, the farmers transfer their stocks to the Big Picture Beef’s finishing farms where graziers fatten the cattle for market using regenerative grazing techniques. It ensures that the cattle have never eaten corn and grains at a conventional feedlot.

5. Brown’s Ranch (United States): Gabe Brown

Gabe Brown raises cattle, sheep, hogs, and broiler and layer chickens at his Brown’s Ranch in Bismarck, North Dakota. Brown uses different cropping strategies and no-till farming techniques to protect and improve the quality of soil. He has unified cash crops, cover crops, and his cattle in an integrated crop-livestock system. Various cover crops and cash crop residues after harvest serve to feed cattle, which are managed according to Allan Savory’s Holistic Management principles. In turn, the cattle improve soil health through grazing and manure. Brown has written a book on regenerative agriculture and is a partner of Understanding Ag, a regenerative agricultural consulting firm. 

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