Neither cattle nor sheep evolved to eat grain; Instead, our animals enjoy biodiverse open pastures with not just grasses, but various forages, such as clovers, wildflowers, brassicas, and other forbs. A side benefit: the diversity in their diet and the absence of grain keeps them healthy so that we don’t need to use as many routine veterinary practices that conventionally raised animals would require.
Our grazing animals (cattle and sheep) forage open pastures from birth to slaughter. Our pigs and chickens are fed a carefully selected menu that includes various proteins and carbohydrates, such as barley and peas, along with vitamin and mineral supplements, without any GMOs, corn, or soy. Besides this diet, they are in open pastures all day long to eat diverse plants and hunt bugs/grubs/worms of their choosing.
No. Corn and soy are by far the cheapest of feeds available, but besides being allergens for a significant segment of the population, these are finicky crops that are quite hard on the land, requiring various detrimental practices, including plowing and use of herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, and other synthesized chemical inputs. It costs us dearly to locate alternative feed options for our pigs and chickens (so you’ll pay more for our proteins), but we are dedicated to producing food that better supports the land and our animals’ health (as well as yours).
We never include antibiotics as a routine part of an animal’s daily diet, as conventional industry practices require (conditions and diet there routinely cause ill health). However, were we to see an animal in dire circumstances in which an antibiotic could save a life or prevent serious suffering, we ABSOLUTELY take the animal’s welfare to heart, and we DO use an antibiotic, marking it to sell separately from our Lick Skillet product line, so that folks who have concerns about this need not worry.
Our ruminants (cattle and sheep) consume only the pastures on which they are standing. However, we do use supplements, both with ruminants, and our monogastrics (chicken and pigs). These include vitamins and minerals to ensure health (no GMOs or antibiotics), and are always offered free choice, so an animal can choose only what it needs and all it wants.
Although the conventional industry requires hormones for animals to gain enough (and grow fast enough) for the quick turnover (more animals sold out of the feed lot and new ones in faster), our animals are never given hormones. This means we often sell an animal with perhaps a hundred pounds less meat – one reason why we ask you to pay more for our proteins!
Many years ago, we vaccinated for several diseases that still routinely afflict cattle in the southeast, because we understood that was part of compassionate husbandry. Now that we understand that proper pasture maintenance renders most of the accepted veterinary practices unnecessary, we are moving toward no vaccines at all. We still do sometimes use a vaccine our vet has created specifically to address the Pinkeye (spread in summer by flies; serious infection – can blind an animal) virus local to our area, and as well, another for “Blackleg,” which is caused by the Clostridium bacterium and is lethal). We do not vaccinate pigs or chickens, but we do vaccinate sheep against Enterotoxemia and Tetanus, both also lethal. If we ever feel we can successfully defend our animals against these, you can bet we’ll dispense with the vaccines! We do not use mRNA vaccines.
No! As our pastures are not monocultures that could be threatened by a pest, it’s not necessary to broadcast these. Conventional industry (and most local farmers) use a pesticide to remove worms from animals, because an animal with worms is sickly and cannot gain weight adequately. However, proper grazing management and biodiverse pastures mean our animals are resilient: were they to pick up a worm or other parasite, their systems would shed it naturally (they sometimes munch a few bites of a slightly poisonous plant to send that parasite packing)!
Again, no need to broadcast a herbicide because we aren’t growing a crop, such as corn or soybeans, that would be devastated by an infestation of invasive weeds. Instead, we focus on biodiversity in our pastures, and that means allowing the “bad guys” in, too. However, we DO sometimes use a herbicide JUDICIOUSLY, spraying by hand, when there is a serious threat, such as Canada Thistle, a dangerous invasive competitor that will literally overwhelm/ruin a pasture, rendering it unfit for any grazing animal or crop, etc. This is not common practice, but one we feel is occasionally required for responsible land management.
The Miller family farms around 900 acres in New Market and then leases another two hundred as testing grounds/research studies investigating the best practices for small farmers to be successful in raising animals while respecting and maintaining a healthy ecosystem, without giving up the financial returns required to sustain their business.
Always changing, depending on the season! We average around 400 head of cattle, 100 head of sheep, 30-40 pigs, and 600-800 chickens.
Our cattle are Black and Red Angus and Senepol crosses. Our pigs are a mix of various heritage breeds, including Herefordshire, Yorkshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, etc. (Which is why the acreage our pigs graze is lovingly referred to as “The Shire!”) We also have Duroc and Iberico. Our sheep are Katahdin. Our chicken breeds change as we learn what works best (lives healthiest and happiest) on our land. Currently we have ISA Brown and French Marans. Thanksgiving turkeys are Heritage Midget Whites.
Absolutely! The Miller family has been, and still is, involved with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, carrying out various conservation projects for more than two decades. We are proud to say we won the Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award for agriculture and agroforestry in 2023. To learn more about our various ongoing projects, visit the Lick Skillet Collective website.