80 degrees. Sunshine. Low humidity. We couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect summer day for our first annual volunteer outing.
Friends and Family Day at All Grass Farms in Illinois
On Sunday, July 8, about two dozen Crate Free Illinois volunteers, family and friends gathered at one of our favorite local farms in Illinois, All Grass Farms of West Dundee. A sprawling, diversified pasture operation, All Grass Farms is located in the heart of Kane County’s Brunner Family Forest Preserve.
After a warm welcome from friend and farmer Cliff McConville, we piled into an oversized hay wagon to begin our tour. For a group that spends a substantial amount of time keeping up on the miseries of factory farming, it was gratifying to see animals raised in a natural environment, eating what nature intended, and free to express their animal instincts.
Living as Nature Intends: Grazing, Foraging, Roosting and Snoozing
First stop is the cattle.
The farm currently maintains more than one hundred 100% grass fed cows, raised on pasture with no hormones or antibiotics. The cattle are rotated to fresh pasture on a regular basis from April through November, allowing the grass to regrow in between rotations. Replicating natural behavior, these cattle are never penned or confined and spend their entire farm life on pasture.
On to the broiler chickens.
The farm raises Red Ranger chickens, a slower growing breed that is popular on organic farms. After arriving at the farm as babies, the chicks spend one week in a large brooder greenhouse where temperatures are kept at 90 degrees. Depending on the weather, the chicks are moved to pasture when they are two to three weeks old. Once moved, the chickens live outside 24/7 for the remainder of their lives, free to roost, forage, dust bathe, and all the other things chickens like to do.
The farm currently has a flock of almost 1,000 laying hens, including include New Hampshire Reds, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orphingtons, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Partridge Rocks, and Black Australorps. These birds also have 24/7 access to pasture as well as a customized “Egg mobile” — a 24 x 32’ elevated shed. A few of us climbed the steep plank into the shed to peek into the nest boxes and observe the hens as they went about their business of laying eggs.
In addition to an electric fence surrounding the pasture to guard against predators, the chickens are watched day and night by Baraboo, a Karakachan livestock guard dog native to Bulgaria. Although he seemed delighted to meet us, he clearly maintained his watchful eye over his flock.
Pigs, too, lead a good life at All Grass Farms.
The farm raises about 60-80 Heritage Berkshire hogs each year outdoors on 20 acres of woods and meadowland. Like the other animals on the farm, they forage for foods they are designed to eat like roots, shrubs, grasses, weeds, tubers, and insects. By nature, hogs are omnivores and the farm aims to supply a similar diet, supplemented with certified organic, GMO-Free feeds.
We end with a visit to a noisy flock of curious turkeys, dairy cows, and look inside the milking barn.
After the tour we descended into the farm store, stocked with shelves of organic produce from raw milk and eggs to veggies, pork, chicken, and beef … something for everyone. The farm store is open 10 AM – 6 PM daily and products can be ordered ahead online before pick-up.
Buy From Real Farms, Not Animal Factories
It was easy to see as the tour progressed how much effort goes into making sure these animals live natural lives. Wouldn’t you rather get your meat, eggs and dairy from an animal that spends its life in a pasture instead of confined in a cage?
Please support farms like All Grass Farms. Resist going into your local grocery store and spending your hard-earned money on products from animal factories: it’s better for the animals, environment, your health and helps real farmers make a living from the land.
As we said our goodbyes, we shared one final thought: “Why can’t all farms be this way?”
Jessica Chipkin is a veteran Public Relations consultant, strategist and writer specializing in technology innovation and Corporate Social Responsibility. A longtime animal welfare and political activist, she is Founder and President of Crate Free Illinois.