By LAURIE KIEFABER
CHICAGO, Ill. — A small but growing number of farmers are moving away from confined-animal feeding operations farming, and have recently been rewarded with grants to improve conditions for their animals or expand their operations.
The Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) – a national nonprofit that promotes safe and humane production of meat, milk, and eggs – awarded more than $94,000 in Fund-a-Farmer Grants to 38 independent family farmers in 19 states on Feb. 26. The $600- to $5,000-amount grants were for projects to improve farm animal welfare and build capacity.
"It's not a lot of money, but FACT is one of those agencies I've dealt with that puts education and funds directly into the hands of farmers," said Paul Dorrance, owner of Pastured Providence Farmstead in Chillicothe, Ohio. "I admire them very much for that."
He needed his $2,500 pasture improvement grant to purchase four guardian dogs to watch over his sheep and cattle. After 12 years in the U.S. Air Force and the birth of their son, Dorrance and his wife, Heather, decided to start eating organic and grass-fed products.
Six years ago this led to a decision "to raise food for others the way we were consuming (it) ... And it happens to be skyrocketing in demand," he explained.
Right now they raise 35 grass-fed cows, 50 lambs, 11 hogs, and 175 chickens. He had been using a donkey to scare away coyotes and other predators. "Donkeys don't care (about other livestock), but they hate coyotes and dogs," Dorrance pointed out.
Either as their operation grew or other reasons, one donkey wasn't enough; last year the coyotes overran the sheep and they lost more than half of their lambs. "Management had to change; they're now confined to a permanent paddock because I had to pull them off the pasture."
Instead of bringing in some hired guns, Dorrance opted for more natural "muscle." Through FACT and other sources, he learned about Maremma guardian dogs that would protect the flock but not necessarily move the herd around. With the grant money, he will buy two adult dogs and two puppies.
Ra'ah, a 5-year-old female Maremma sheepdog, is now bonding with his flock. "When she first got here she was stressed because she'd been taken away from a goat herd," Dorrance said. “Whatever animal they are raised with, they protect. Once they learn those chickens are theirs, they protect them."
Dorrance is not as worried about the cattle, as they don't have many natural predators, and the chickens are cooped up at night.
Another $2,500 grant recipient, Carolyn Johnston, uses two Great Pyrenees and two border collies to protect and shepherd her 60 sheep, 18 lambs, and five dairy goats. Johnston co-owns Chinook's Acres in Laingsburg, Mich., with her husband, Frederi Viens.
The two Michigan State University professors added farming to their résumés three years ago, and they've been selling wool and grass-fed meat directly to consumers. In addition, they have a small egg business.
"We needed (the animal welfare certification grant money) to put in a watering system to get water to the fields without having to carry it," Johnston said. "It's much better for the animals if the water stays cleaner and is accessible. We will also renovate some of the (corn and soybean) fields to hay."
Starting out farming can be expensive, she said. "We don't have watering systems and fences ... It's so helpful to have even $2,500 to put into our operation.
“I really believe we need to take care of animals and treat them well. This grant recognizes people who want to put the effort into treating animals well, keeping them happy, well-fed, and in good conditions."
Since 2012, FACT has awarded 157 grants totaling more than $355,000 to family farmers across 34 states. Two of the three types of grants – animal welfare certification and capacity building – awarded are underwritten by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Pasture improvement grants help farms transition to a pasture-based system, expand the animals' access to well-managed pasture, and/or improve the quality of pasture, according to FACT.
Animal welfare certification grants help farmers obtain animal welfare certification from Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World, Certified Humane or the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), according to FACT. Capacity building grants are for high-welfare farmers and ranchers who already hold one of the three certifications above.
Other Fund-a-Farmer $2,500 grant recipients in this region were Animal Welfare Certification Grant winners Blue Yonder Organic Farm of North Salem, Ind., and Driftless Hills Farm of Calmar, Iowa; and Pasture Improvement Grant winners Case Country Farm of Chatham, Mich., Grass Powered Poultry & Meats of Hillsboro, Ohio, South Stitch Farm of Athens, Ohio, and Whitney Farmstead of Ann Arbor, Mich.
For more FACT grant, free webinar, conference scholarship, or mentorship program information, visit www.foodanimalconcernstrust.org/farmer or contact Larissa McKenna, humane farming program director, at 773-525-4952 or firstname.lastname@example.org