Red Haven Farm is family owned and operated farm that specializes in raising pastured animals for meat, as well as chickens for eggs. They are located near Oxford, Pennsylvania and bring their products to several farmer’s markets in the area. Those markets include the Media Farmer’s Market, Kennett Square Farmer’s Market, Collegeville Farmer’s Market, New Garden Farmer’s Market, Winterthur Farm Stand and Skippack Farmer’s Market. I myself, purchase eggs and meat from Melanie at the Media Farmer’s Market, which is due to start back up May 12th. I simply cannot wait! However, Red Haven Farm has kindly been willing to do a delivery monthly to the market location throughout the winter (I can’t say many other farms were willing to do that!). So, I have been fortunate enough to have farm fresh eggs all winter long! I am thoroughly pleased with all of their products as well as their friendly service. Red Haven Farm is a great resource to the greater Philadelphia area. Melanie Sisemore of Red Haven Farm was also gracious enough to allow me to interview her, below you will find her expound on the details of their amazing farm.
Lydia: When and why did you start Red Haven Farm?
Melanie: Almost a decade ago, my husband took a job at the Natural Lands Trust while in graduate school. Soon, he was offered a position as a Nature Preserve Manager at the Stroud Preserve, a 600 acre nature preserve in West Chester, PA. It was there that a neighbor sold him his first two Jersey cows and he began to read the works of Allan Nations and Joel Salatin. Jerseys are sweet animals (perfect starter cows for a family!), and he was hooked immediately. Our original intention was to raise the animals to provide for our family ? and a few lucky friends ? with high quality, grass fed meat, and after talking to other pasture based farmers, we started selling quarters and halves by word of mouth to cover the costs of raising our own food. We quickly added more cows, then chickens, then East Friesan sheep. We were lucky, in that the Natural Lands Trust let us use the pasture at no cost, and lovely neighbor allowed us access to more pasture in return for mowing his fields. As much as we wanted our own farm, without those years at Stroud, I doubt we would have become farmers.
When a 60 acre farm owned by an Amish family went up for auction, Erich and his brother decided to take the plunge and purchase it. Red Haven Farm was born! We’ve since bought out Erich’s brother, but our farm began and continues to be a family endeavor. Pasture based farming allows Erich to combine the knowledge he received in his Natural Resources Management program with his love of animal husbandry. It also gives us the chance to increase the quantity and quality of time we spend together as a family. It’s a great lifestyle for our family.
Lydia: What type of farming practices do you adhere to?
Melanie: We consider ourselves grass farmers. We use a system of rotational grazing to manage our pasture and nourish our animals. Our cows and sheep are 100% grass fed, and our chickens and pigs are pasture raised, supplemented with healthy, GMO free grains. Although we label our eggs ‘free range’ because that’s the term most people recognize, we don’t simply allow our chickens access to the outdoors. They are outdoors. We like to think that we’re what Joel Salatin calls ‘beyond organic’. We make choices based on the individual needs of our animals, not on the standards set by the USDA.
Lydia: What are your animals actually fed in addition to grass and pasture? What exactly is in any feed you supplement with?
Melanie: Our cows and sheep are 100% grass fed. Our chickens and pigs are raised on pasture, where they can scratch and eat bugs or root and eat what they find. Our pigs are supplemented with milk and whey from our herd of milking Jerseys and fed GMO free grains. Our chickens are supplemented with whatever they steal from my garden and GMO free grains.
Lydia: Do your animals ever get sick and if so how do you care for them?
Melanie: Raising animals in the way they are meant to live leads to animals who are rarely sick. Still, just as humans who have healthy diets and plenty of exercise sometimes get sick, we are no stranger to sick animals. We make a commitment to our animals that they will never be denied appropriate medical care. Any animal that has been treated in a way that could compromise human health is not sold as meat. We aim to intervene only when necessary and in the best interest of our animals, and we consider appropriate treatment through consultation with our vets. Erich works at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, a large animal teaching hospital, under another pasture based farmer and veterinarian whose counsel has been invaluable in helping us learn how and when to intervene.
Lydia: How often are your animals actually out side in the sun on pasture?
Melanie: Unless an animal is sick and needs special care or the weather is prohibitive, our animals are outside in the sun and pasture all the time. For example, our layers spend the warm seasons in a mobile, A frame chicken mobile that is moved once or twice daily, following our cows and sheep around our pasture, and this allows them to take shelter when they choose but still spend their days on fresh grass, scratching in the sun. In the winter, chickens need more shelter and a warmer environment. This year, we’re experimenting with using hoop houses as winter housing.
Lydia: What breeds do you raise and why?
Melanie: We raise Jersey and Angus cows, East Friesan sheep, Yorkshire pigs, and a variety of breeds for our layers. Our first cow was a Jersey, and we adore the personalities of them. We also prefer the taste of their meat to that of other breeds, and they produce arguably the most delicious raw milk. As we increase our herd of milking Jerseys in preparation to begin raw milk sales, the Jerseys have started to outnumber our Angus.The fact that we have East Friesans was simply a coincidence. We purchased our first East Friesans from a friend whose flock had outgrown her pasture. We really knew nothing about raising sheep, other than what we had read in a Storey book, but we quickly learned that we had taken on a wonderful dual purpose breed that provides wonderful milk and meat. Given their propensity to have twins, our flock has increased exponentially, as has our husbandry.
The breed of pig we raised was chosen solely because Yorkshires, the most common breed of pig raised commercially in the US, are the breed raised by a project of the University of Pennsylvania that is studying and promoting humane farrowing practices. We hope to add heritage breeds as we are able, but given the state of farrowing practices in the US, our first commitment was to find and support animals born and raised under human conditions.
Lydia: When you process and butcher your meats how do you proceed, what are your standards for your finished product?
Melanie: We use Smucker’s Meats (http://www.smuckersmeats.com/) in Lancaster County, PA. Because we sell individual cuts at market, we must use a USDA inspected facility to process our animals. Finding suitable USDA inspected facilities that will work with small farmers, use low stress practices, adequately age meat, and have good abattoir skills is one of the biggest problems facing grass based farmers in the US. We’re fortunate to have access to Smucker’s, which serves as a national model. Smucker’s uses low stress practices that ensure our animals are treated humanely, and they provide a completely transparent operation, allowing individuals to see every inch of their operation, including their kill floor. They’re willing to speak directly with our customers if I can’t answer a question. Even more impressive, Smucker’s will dry age all of our meat for 21 days, which is a treatment that is usually reserved only for high end steaks. I’m able to work with their staff to ensure that our products are cut to our specifications, and though we have occasional issues, I can’t say enough about the quality of product we’re able to offer through them.
See, isn’t Melanie a wealth of knowledge! I hope you learned something valuable through this interview. I simply can’t recommend their meats and eggs enough. Be sure to check out their website too, if you live in the lower Pa area.