Increasingly, shoppers want to know more about where their food is grown or raised. Some of this probably has to do with the fact that only 2 percent of people in North America work as farmers. Most of us are far removed from agriculture, except when we drive by a field or farm on our way to work, school or vacation.
For the past few years, I have been visiting various farms to help answer questions that consumers have. Here are excerpts of my visit to Ridgefield Farm in Brasstown, North Carolina, that supplies Brasstown Beef to Ingles Markets.
Ridgefield Farm is a 1000-plus acre cattle ranch owned by Steve Whitmire in the Southwestern corner of North Carolina close to the Georgia state line. Steve Whitmire’s father, E.J. Whitmire, established Ridgefield Farm in 1954.
At the farm I met Tim Dietz, a Texas native and Ridgefield’s ranch manager. Tim and I spent a couple of hours walking and driving around the farm that is home to some 1,200 to 1,400 head of cattle. It is a beautiful area of rolling hills, forests and ridgelines.
The four tenants that you will see clearly advertised on Brasstown Beef’s packaging are:
1. Humanely Raised
2. Vegetarian Diet
3. No Antibiotics
4. No Added Hormones
One of the things that you will often hear Brasstown Beef’s representatives says is that their cattle are “always on grass.” To accomplish this, the cattle are always in pastures with grass and/or hay and are offered a free-choice corn silage- (fermented feed) based ration. The corn silage is grown on several hundred acres of bottom lands that Ridgefield leases from nearby landowners.
Care and treatment
Dietz and Whitmire are proud of the fact that Ridgefield Farm is GAP 4- (Global Animal Partnership) and BQA- (Beef Quality Assurance) certified. These certifications address the humane treatment of animals.
Since Brasstown Beef clearly advertises their beef has “no antibiotics,” I asked Tim what would happen if one of the “feeder” steers got sick and needed antibiotics.
“If an animal is sick, they would be separated from the herd and identified with a special ear tag so it doesn’t spread to the others,” he said. “If the animal ends up needing antibiotics, then they get that care but then we sell them at auction and they don’t remain on the farm. Our priority is to have healthy cattle and a healthy herd and to try and prevent illness.”
The bottom line
Throughout my visit, I was impressed by the emphasis on animal care and safety as well as the personal safety of the workers. I asked Tim how he would respond to consumers who think that farmers and ranchers mistreat their animals. Tim replied thoughtfully, “When I see these cattle running down the hillside I know they are content. I can walk right up to them. They aren’t afraid because we take care of them and treat them well.”