I started my career in agriculture back in early 2007, just before graduating from college, as an agronomist for one of the largest dairies in Wisconsin. This single dairy had more than 3,000 head of cattle and produced millions of gallons of manure every year. Because I didn’t grow up on a farm, but had a lifelong desire to raise cattle of my own, I was intensely eager to get started. I longed to become deeply immersed in agriculture. I wanted to experience and learn from the best, and in my young, naive mind, I thought the best was the biggest.
As the years passed, I became increasingly uncomfortable in my job. I didn’t believe that raising cattle on concrete inside a building was in the animals’ best interest. I didn’t believe that separating calves from their mothers shortly after birth was good for the calves. Harvesting animal feed from the fields, bringing it inside buildings for animals to consume, collecting the waste from the animals inside the buildings, and hauling the waste back to the fields didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. I left my position in 2013.
My next job put me on the other side of the table, as an environmental regulator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. In this position, I inspected and issued manure discharge permits to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) just like the one I had previously worked for. The goal was to keep Wisconsin surface waters and groundwater clean by minimizing the amount of manure pollutants that were discharged from the CAFOs. This position placed me inside even more mega-farms. As a result, I was able to see firsthand even more negative consequences of large-scale agriculture, like manure spills and runoff that led to fish kills in surface waters and groundwater contamination of private wells. I witnessed the lack of true environmental protection and regulation of these operations, and I felt that by staying in my position, I was contributing to a very broken system.
Although I spent my days during this decade working in factory farms, I lived within a completely different world at home, where I had started a small ranch of my own on 40 acres in 2009. It was like a parallel universe, in which I was rotationally grazing a couple head of cattle on pasture, letting my chickens free-range amongst them, and producing grass-fed beef and pastured eggs for my family.
It took a long time for me to realize that what I was doing with my own animals at home was significant. Once I realized this, however, I knew exactly what I needed to do.
On Earth Day 2016, I quit my job with the state government to begin promoting the type of agricultural system I believe in: small-scale food production, where the animals are raised with love and in alignment with nature. I named my passion MooPoo Ranch, and I began putting all my energy into it. My evolved ranch now contains a small herd of less than ten head of purebred Belted Galloway beef cattle, a couple Tamworth pigs, just under one hundred heritage chickens, and around a dozen turkeys. All the four-legged creatures rotationally graze, and the creatures on two legs free-range throughout the 40 acres.
Raising animals in alignment with nature means allowing them to live outside on healthy land, as they would if they were wild in nature. It means keeping the number of animals on the land at a healthy level so that they can be adequately fed from the earth, and the earth can adequately absorb the waste from the animals. Rotational grazing mimics nature’s principal of movement to stimulate new growth and prevent the infestation of disease. It also means allowing that animal the ability to express its natural instincts: the rooting action of pigs, the scratching and pecking action of poultry, and the grazing action of cattle. Allowing animals the space to be themselves helps them naturally thrive. There’s no need for additives, chemicals, or drugs. Humans, animals, and the entire ecosystem as a whole benefit.
MooPoo Ranch is my version of healthy food production. But it’s even more than that. It is my example of the ongoing practice of aligning one’s life with nature, and a vessel for spreading my love out into the world.
Stacy Martin is the creator of MooPoo Ranch in Junction City, Wisconsin – a happy place where animals are raised with love and according to nature’s principles.
For $15 you can get four issues of the magazine, a 50 percent savings off the newsstand rate.