Our Livestock

At Hawthorne Ridge Heritage Farm we grow grass-fed beef and some pastured poultry for meat.

We believe that some heritage breeds, which have largely been left behind because they do not produce as efficiently in modern agricultural systems, offer excellent traits for the smaller producer and have delicious flavour profiles for the table consumer. One of these cattle breeds is the Red Poll, and we invite you to learn more about their fascinating history here. Suffice to say, that they are a smaller, gentler breed, do well on rougher pastures typical of Peterborough County, are excellent moms and provide lean, flavourful cuts. We grow Red Polls exclusively, with real dedication to maintaining strong genetics so that this classic breed can continue for generations.

Similarly we raise heritage poultry, including the Canadian Chantecler Chicken, taking care to choose those breeds with characteristics that fit our methods. Our pasture-raised poultry grow up in outdoor “chicken tractors”, bottomless meshed shelters that provide protection from weather and predators (big problem at Hawthorne Ridge!), yet allow them access to fresh grass to run on, bugs to catch and fresh air always. Because poultry production is closely managed in Canada through a quota system, we are permitted to grow only a small number each year. We have our chickens processed in the fall and are often sold out by Christmas. Read more about heritage chickens and our approach here.

Customers often ask us about eggs. Like other poultry products, egg production is managed through a quota system to ensure that supply and demand are generally matched, which makes perfect sense to us. We do not own the quota that would be necessary for us to produce large numbers of eggs, so we sell only a few dozen each week “at the farm gate” as the law allows. Our heritage hens do not produce well in the short days of winter, so our production varies greatly from the spring peak, to just enough for breakfast in the winter. To be honest, eggs are more a labour of love than a business proposition here at Hawthorne Ridge Heritage Farm.

Other Livestock

Some animals are considered livestock when you complete a Census of Agriculture, but are not animals we actually sell….mystified? Read on!

We manage honeybees on the farm – not because we want to sell them, or even because we want to sell honey (which we do from time-to-time), but because we value the pollination services that they provide. We have a variety of fruits and vegetables that require pollination to produce the products we want. We also have hay fields that need to produce seed by fall in order to maintain productivity for the following year. Bees are essential to help plants complete this lifecycle and we value them, along with native pollinators who provide a similar service. We make management decisions based on helping pollinators whenever we can: we limit the use of pesticides (really only spot treatments of herbicide to manage poison ivy, which is evil); we maintain lush fencerows of native plants so that the bees have flowers all season; and we limit cosmetic mowing to reduce disturbance of native pollinators (and also because there are better uses for time and fossil fuels).

We maintain a flock of guinea fowl, who free range. Guineas are probably the “wildest” animal on the farm – they keep completely to themselves, free-ranging for bugs and seeds and ignoring us completely. We keep them for three reasons: they are the best alarm system known to farmers, shrieking loudly when visitors arrive and creating a tremendous fuss when predators are lurking around (difficult to sleep through at 4am too); they reduce the population of potentially disease-carrying ticks by selectively snapping up immature ticks before they have a chance to attach to livestock or humans; and, they taste amazing if you can catch and cook one up – they are the original “pheasant under glass” and are considered a delicacy for good reason.

In an effort to help maintain dwindling stocks of heritage livestock, we have attempted to grow a flock of Beltsville Small White Turkeys. These are smaller birds, as the name implies, than the monsters that grace North American Thanksgiving tables, and they are fun to raise. We continue to work at this project, which has been hampered by some wily predators…stay tuned for this year’s update.

And then there are cats. Are cats livestock? Well, no, not really. but they are essential to the operation of our farm because they keep the rodent population, which could destroy animal feed and damage electrical wiring, at a real minimum. We have a small population of barn cats, who live year round in the hayloft of the barn where there is lots of fluffy straw for snuggling. They have names (meet Bootsie, Pepe and Chip below), they are fed and cared for daily, they are friendly but not cuddly and they are all participants in our rigorous spay and neuter program. They have a job to do, and they take it seriously! So why did we include a note about the cats? To reassure people that it is NOT ok to take unwanted pets “for a ride to the country” – unfixed cats are not welcomed by the existing cat population or by their owners. We try to balance the necessary work of rodent control with the well-documented risk that cats offer to song bird populations by keeping our gang to the minimum number and keeping them well-fed to reduce predator activity outside of the barn.

And a little more info for the eager reader…

Farming relies on close understanding and management of biological cycles, which can be thought of as closed loops. Imagine the life cycle of a tomato plant – a seed is planted, and a  seedling transplanted to the garden where it collects energy from the sun through photosynthesis, along with food and water  from the soil to produce yummy tomatoes in August. When the fall frosts come along, the tomato plant withers and dies and is broken down by microbes to return to the soil that will grow next year’s garden. It seems like a completely closed cycle, but it is not. Whenever we harvest,   we leave the system just a little depleted, and if we did that over and over, soon we would not be able to grow tomatoes at all.  So in the garden we add back well-composted plant materials and manure to ensure that the balance of soil nutrients is maintained.

Livestock are essential to the biological cycles on our farm. They convert grass that we grow for them (hay), and plants that they forage into fertile manure that they deposit in the pastures over the summer and that we collect from the barn floors over the winter when they are housed indoors. People turn up their noses at manure (p-ewwwww!) but it is the product of cattle’s amazing ruminant processes (did you know they have a 4-chambered stomach?) that allows them to eat and digest materials that humans can’t and it is the gold that keeps our land fertile and productive.  The extra benefit for us is that from time-to-time we harvest a beef for the yummy bbq treats that we sell to our customers.