From a farmer’s point of view, soils in southeastern New York abutting Connecticut are sadly lacking in the limestones, shales, and sandstone which make central and western New York such excellent farm country. Metamorphized rather than sedimentary rock often translates into stony fields with the occasional massive boulder. This is the case in much of Putnam County, east of the Hudson River and just over 50 miles from Manhattan.
Agriculture never took off there as well as it did further north and west. Instead, commerce along the Hudson and manufacturing were important. Geological deposits throughout the river valley contain veins of magnetite iron ore. Access to these deposits, as well as trees for charcoal and steam, and water power to drive machinery, meant that from colonial times into the 19th century iron works were established along both sides of the Hudson River.
At the urging of no less a person than James Madison, the West Point Foundry was set up on the east bank of the river after the War of 1812 to improve cast iron armaments. The small town of Cold Spring (across the Hudson from West Point) was chosen as the site. It was a crucial armaments foundry during the Civil War, producing over 2000 cannon and 3,000,000 shells, employing 1400 people and even visited by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. After the war, however, as steel became more important, the iron foundry declined and ultimately went out of business in 1889.
Forty years later George Perkins, a New York financier, purchased 2500 acres in Cold Spring for a country estate. Upon the 1993 death of his wife Linn it was preserved with most of the forested uplands going to make Fahnestock State Park, while the 225 acre core farm, open land, ponds and buildings went to a land trust and was leased to the non-profit Glynwood Center, endowed by the Perkins family, to aid it in working for a Hudson Valley defined by food: where farm-ers prosper, food entrepreneurs succeed, residents are nourished and visitors are inspired.
One of the most important ways Glynwood fulfills its mission is by running the Glynwood Farm, a diverse small scale farming model where young farmers learn the practical and managerial skills needed to survive. At the Farm they raise and market produce, eggs, meat chickens, turkeys, sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. All the animals are on pasture and those who need it (poultry and pigs) receive non-GMO grain supplements. Ruminants, pigs and turkeys are already Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and the chickens are nearing approval. The Farm’s produce is certified organic, and the animals are raised organically except they do not get certified organic feed.
In charge of the animal operations at Glynwood are Ken Kleinpeter, vice president of operations, and Don Arrant, livestock manager
Ken joined Glynwood in 2005 and manages all of the agriculture activities, as well as buildings and grounds maintenance. He was a founding partner of Hollow Road Farms, the first sheep dairy operation in the United States, and later served as general manager of The Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. He also was the farm and genetics center manager for the Heritage Breeds Conservancy, and spent time in Bosnia as a USAID consultant. He holds a journalism degree from Louisiana State University.
Don Arrant is responsible for overseeing Glynwood’s diversified livestock operation. His previous farming experience includes acting as field manager at Red Wagon Organic Farm and apprenticing at Frog Belly Farm and Cure Organic Farm, all in Boulder CO. Don holds a degree in history from Earlham College.
AWA is an organization that audits and certifies family farms that use high-welfare methods of raising animals on pasture or range. The farms then can use the organization’s certification in marketing their animal products. AWA standards and helpful fact sheets on particular issues are available at www.animalwelfareapproved.org.
Among other things, Animal Welfare Approved:
• requires animals to be raised on pasture or range
• prohibits dual production (some animals AWA approved and some not)
• awards approval only to family farmers
• charges no fees to participating farmers
• incorporates comprehensive standards for high welfare farming
Animal Welfare Approved standards try to address every aspect of each species’ lifecycle needs from birth to death and works diligently to maintain a farm’s ability to be economically viable. AWA has standards for all commonly domesticated farmed animals. A number of exotic species are managed for meat and fiber in this country but AWA will only consider accrediting other species if they are indigenous to the country where they are being produced. Currently the only uncommon species they will approve in the US is Bison.
AWA will not consider the following non-indigenous species in the US: Yak, Water Buffalo, Ratites (Ostriches, Rheas, Emus), Llamas and Alpacas, Beefalo
Glynwood’s certification by AWA was initiated because a major AWA funder, the Grace Communications Foundation, is also a supporter of Glynwood. But being able to meet the standards is important to the mission of the farm, showing that high standards of stewardship and economic viability can go together. Ken and Don are generally supportive of AWA standards as workable, although they have some quibbles.
“I don’t know the other animal welfare certification organizations,” says Ken, “so I can’t really compare AWA to them. Most AWA standards are reasonable, but a few I have trouble with. For example, for goats, they have a square foot requirement which is fine. But you also have to build platforms for the goats to play on. (AWA Goat Standard 8.1.25 ‘When goats are off pasture, raised platforms must be provided.’) Now I’ve set some broken legs on goats from jumping off the platform. But I can live with that.
“I also don’t really have any issues with their standards on pigs or cattle or poultry,” he continues. “My only issue with the chickens is that they recommend against using [but do not prohibit – ed.] very productive breeds. They define that as varieties exceeding 280 eggs per laying cycle. We have managed highly pro-ductive layers here for years and if you feed them right and they are roaming they are just as healthy as any other chicken.”
Concerning the sheep, however, Ken does have one complaint with AWA standards – tail docking.
“The sheep requirements won’t let you dock the tail,” he says, “even of ewes that you are going to save as replacement stock. If you have long tails on sheep they get very wooly, and if they are on pasture and have the slightest loose manure on them because of green grass diarrhea, you have a much higher chance of fly strike. Fly strike happens when blowflies lay their eggs in the manure adhering to an animal. Those maggots work their way to the skin and then start consuming their way inward. Fly strike is hard to spot early, but easy to spot later when the ewe’s whole rear end is infested and the animal is in great distress – hundreds of thousands of maggots are eating her alive.
“When you say that to AWA,” he continues, “they reply: ‘Oh, you just have to bring them in a few times in the summer and crutch them’ (shave their rear ends – ed.) That is fine except that your whole plan is to avoid stress on an animal. To handle animals 3 or 4 times a summer, to crutch them, is stressful on the sheep, the people, and our time and labor. Our sheep are scattered all over everywhere. You are telling me it is less stressful to haul a sheep in 3 or 4 times a summer, hold them down, shave their rear ends –doing that, as opposed to taking one second when they are babies, and docking their tails and then it’s done? Having to deal with fly strike is not more humane than docking the tail when they are young.”
The AWA standard on this at 5.9.3 says simply ‘Tail docking is prohibited’. When I looked up ‘tail docking’ on the ‘Standards and Program Definitions’ web page, however, I saw that it reads: ‘The removal of all or part of the tail. This practice is prohibited under Animal Welfare Approved standards, however sheep farmers who meet all other Animal Welfare Approved standards may apply for a derogation to this standard while they work towards the goal of no tail docking.’
Ken adheres to the AWA standard, anyway, and Glynwood has not applied for derogation.
Regarding parasites among lambs on pasture, Ken feels that the AWA standards are quite reasonable.
“We move them every two or three days,” he says. We try to work around the parasite cycle. After a certain amount of time, the eggs that the parasites are putting down will hatch and can re-infect the sheep. So you want to get them out of that pasture before that happens. You are never going to be perfect. Parasites are not stupid. But you can certainly reduce the parasite load with smart management. Young animals are much more susceptible to being badly parasitized than mature ones. These were all born this year in February, mostly.
“AWA does allow some wormers,” he continues. “Even the organic standards allow some. AWA calls for the primary method of managing parasites to be pasture management, which is perfectly proper. After that, wormers are allowed if they are not organophosphates or similar products. And of course fecal samples must be taken at least annually to assess how well you are doing.
Of course, like much of western New England and eastern New York, Glynwood has lots of pasture that is difficult to maintain. It is hilly and rocky, soils are poor and want to go back to forest. But the farm needs less forest and more open land.
“You can’t mow it, you can’t do anything here but graze some goats,” asserts Ken about some of his brushy areas. “Twenty years ago this was all open pasture, for cattle, and managed by a crew of landscapers because the cattle couldn’t keep it all in grass. But that cost a lot of money, to maintain it. A lot of it was hand work. You can’t brush-hog this stuff.”
The goats are contained, mostly, with a 42 inch electronet fence, powered by a battery and solar charger. Water is brought out on a truck. The goats are primarily to keep the land open and the invasive species down, but the farm has found a steady market for goat meat – not only ethnics but suddenly it is fashionable with the chefs in New York City! At Glynwood they usually wait 18 months for a goat to grow to sale size, however, as opposed to lambs that can be ready in 8 months.
The farm raises both layers and meat chickens. As AWA standards require, both are out in the open on pasture when the weather permits. The meat birds are in slightly shorter versions of the lamb and goat electronet. Their yard is in the orchard and contains the shelters where they spend the night and also can hang out in the shade on sunny days. The shelters are moved every day, advancing through the yard, and the yard is moved every few days when fresh shelter locations are no longer available.
Ken has found the pasture yards are excellent at keeping out 4-footed predators, but not so much the winged ones.
“We have problems with hawks and owls, but that is a cost of doing business if the chickens have to be free ranging” he sighs. “We use the electronet fence so we rarely lose birds to ground predators, but we lose them to other birds. We started putting chickens in at night because the worst losses we got were in the early morning from owls. They were coming at dawn and really killing us. So after dark everyday someone has to put the birds in.”
One other downside of open pastures is that the feed and water is kept there, not in the moving shelters. Which means that wild birds are often coming for break-fast, lunch and dinner. Ken estimates that sometimes he is feeding 100 times as many wild birds as domestic ones!
The layers are similarly contained in yards, with wheeled Conestoga wagons, containing their egg boxes and required roosts, for housing. Ken brings the layers out gradually from their winter barn through a series of yards.
AWA is happy with the farm’s poultry-raising system, and Ken is happy with their standards.
“They care about having enough ventilation, space to move around, roosts, etc.” he relates. “I don’t find those standards unreasonable.
“We are taking steps toward completing our AWA certification for slaughter of poultry,” he continues. “We are not AWA certified for our slaughter yet because we don’t have the captive bolt system they want us to use for stunning. It costs $300.”
During my visit the farm was processing a batch of birds in a room in one of their buildings. They slaughter under the federal on-farm exemption so that it doesn’t require a USDA inspector, and compost the guts, heads, feet and feathers.
“You can do up to a thousand birds under that exemption,” explains Ken, “but you can only sell them from your own farm. You can’t put them in a store. If we were to be state licensed for slaughter, we would need two rooms, one for killing, scalding and plucking, and one for eviscerating. We have a walk-in cooler here in the processing building, and a walk-in freezer in another building just a few steps away.”
The captive bolt equipment the AWA requires is a smaller version of that used to kill large animals. Driven by either an explosive cartridge or compressed air, a metal ‘bolt’ is driven into the head of the animal a certain distance, but does not fully leave the device (thus is ‘captive’) and is reused. Although the device often kills the animal instantly, its purpose is to stun and cause immediate unconsciousness, avoiding any sensation of pain. The bird’s neck is then dislocated or cut to ensure death.
“I have the paperwork from AWA,” says Don. “We need to get the device and meet with them to inspect it. It is used for cows and pigs for the most part, large an-imals, but they have a small one for poultry. It runs off air pressure or a CO2 cartridge. You put it right against the animal’s head and the charge sends the bolt into the brain. It is supposed to be instantaneous, as opposed to cutting the head off, which involves some pain.”
“What we have done,” adds Ken, “is use a very sharp knife to sever the jugular vein, but not the windpipe. That way they bleed to death in a pretty peaceful way. But if you sever the windpipe they can no longer breathe and they start to panic and flop around.”
A detailed AWA fact sheet on poultry slaughter is available at: www.animalwelfareapproved.org