The New Livestock Farmer – A Book Review

In Book Reviews, Pasture & Livestock, Reference by James2 Comments

What is a “new” livestock farmer? Farmers have been farming livestock for thousands of years. What has changed to deem the word “new” valid when describing livestock farmers? The change comes in the form of mixing the old with the new. More specifically mixing many of the traditional ways to raise livestock (no grain for herbivores, no antibiotics, no vaccines, etc.) with many of the advancements made in infrastructure and marketing (portable electric fencing, egg mobiles, direct marketing, etc.). So if it’s “new” what differentiates it from the current or modern livestock farmers? Modern livestock farmers finish cows on corn in massive feed lots, keep pigs and chickens in confined spaces, pump animals full of antibiotics and feed their bodies are not designed to digest, and contribute to land degradation and pollution via their management systems. On top of it the modern livestock farmer is hardly making a profit after all of this. The “new” livestock farmer adds value to the environment, the animals, the customers, and himself. It’s a quadruple win, and Rebecca Thistlethwaite’s The New Livestock Farmer: The Business of Raising and Selling Ethical Meats leaves no stone unturned when showing us how.

What’s in the book?

This book is comprehensive and the perfect introduction guide to anyone who is curious about or considering getting into pasture livestock farming. The book is also valuable for farmers already doing it.
The book is sectioned into 13 chapters.
Chapter 1: The Meat Landscape
Chapter 2: Poultry Production
Chapter 3: Sheep and Goat Production
Chapter 4: Pig Production
Chapter 5: Cattle Production
Chapter 6: Exotics: Rabbits, Bison, Elk and Deer
Chapter 7: Regulations
Chapter 8: Sales Outlets and Market Options
Chapter 9: Slaughtering and Butchering Logistics
Chapter 10: On-Farm and Mobile Processing
Chapter 11: Packaging, Labeling, and Cold Storage
Chapter 12: Principled Marketing
Chapter 13: Financial Management, Pricing, and Other Business Essentials

Highlights

Thistlethwaite does a great job of profiling real farmers in her books. Her prior book “Farms with a Future” was a compilation of various farmers all in different contexts addressing essential topics on farming. I like this approach, rather than theory, she uses real life examples to show the principles in action and enables the reader to hear from the people on the ground having the experiences. The thing about farming is everyone will have a slightly or drastically different context they’re working within, so it’s best to get as many on the ground examples as you can to get a sense of what could happen.

In addition to the numerous real world farmer examples the book is resource rich. Rebecca did not hesitate to recommend websites, books, and other critical resources. Often times finding out where to look takes more time than the actual looking. For example one of the tasks you’re going to have to figure out is finding the right processing plant in your area. She gives the reader a shortcut by explaining how to save time when looking for one:

You can also go to the FSIS website and find the approved facilities in your state on an Excel spreadsheet. It’s not the most user-friendly document, but it will list all the poultry and red meat facilities currently licensed in your state. Some are approved just for slaughter; others are approved just for butchering; while some are approved for both.

She then goes on to help the reader with a criteria on how to evaluate the processing plants:

Where are they located? Calculate how far of a drive that is for you. 2. Do they process for farmers, fee-for-service? 3. What animals (red meat, poultry, both, beef only)? 4. Do they offer full service, just slaughter, or just butchering? 5. What are the processes used (such as scalding, scraping for pigs)? 6. If you require certified organic or animal-welfare-approved processing, do they offer that? 7. What are the kill fees, cut-and-wrap fees, and other costs? 8. Where exactly are they located, what are their hours of operation and receiving hours for animals, and can you come for a visit? What chilling method do they use, such as rapid blast chilling, two-stage chilling, or electrical stimulation to prevent cold shortening (toughening) of the meat? Although the science is not yet conclusive on the best way to chill meat to prevent toughening of the meat (Savell, 2012), it is important for meat quality that your carcasses have undergone full rigor mortis, their pH has dropped to around 5.6, and the meat has reached an internal temperature of around 40 degrees F (4 degrees C). Also, find out how long are they willing to dry-age your beef, or do they only do “wet aging”? For other animals, how long do they age the carcass (lambs and pigs)? You can age lamb carcasses for 5 to 10 days and pigs can normally age for only a few days unless they have their skin on, in which case they can age for longer.

Final thoughts of a wannabe farmer

This was a good read and I recommend it to anyone interested in pasture livestock farming. It is a comprehensive book and loaded with additional resources to explore. I think Thistlethwaite has written a much-needed book that will set the standard going into the future in terms of comprehensive pasture livestock farming. I’m sure I’ll go back to sections of this book again in the future.

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