When we first talked with Martin Beck of New England Grass Fed in January, he had recently moved his Devon, Angus and Hereford yearling cattle to 100 acres of leased land on Jepson Lane in Portsmouth.
Six months later, his vision of having the “holy trinity” of sustainably produced beef, poultry and vegetables on the property is coming to fruition at the collaborative Cloverbud Ranch. He’s teamed up with Joshua and Felicia DaSilva of DaSilva Farm to bring pasture-raised chickens to the property, as well as Andrew and Amy Smith who are producing a wide variety of organically grown vegetables on the front acreage of the land. Together on the boutique farm’s coastal pastures, these businesses benefit from a synergistic relationship that’s guided by a shared value system. “We have production goals and we have land stewardship goals,” Beck said. “We’re using both as guideposts.”
We checked in with Beck over Memorial Day weekend to chat about progress, meet some of his new farm partners, and see the new timber-framed farm stand that’s being prepared for a mid-June opening. Read on to find out what’s up at Cloverbud Ranch and how you can get in on local, sustainably raised food through Cloverbud RanchShares.
The Local Patch
At The Local Patch, Cloverbud Ranch’s new mixed vegetable operation, owners Andrew Smith and his wife Amy are growing everything organically.
“We don’t use heavy machines and equipment that are constantly turning over the soil,” Smith said. “We can do this without [any of] the sprays that bigger and more conventional growers have to use.”
The husband and wife team just put their first round of tomatoes, tomatillos, and pumpkins out. Some other vegetables they’re growing include squash, several kale varieties, lettuce, beets, carrots, pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers and more. They’re even growing a special type of French melon for Chef Lou Rossi at Castle Hill Inn.
Since the Local Patch is visible from Jepson Lane, the Smiths have been getting a lot of questions from curious passers-by. “People have been driving by and seeing the work being done on the farm stand and stop in to ask questions,” Smith said. “People seem to be happy that something is being done with this land and that we’re breathing new life back into the area.”
The Local Patch benefits from sharing the land with the animals at Cloverbud Ranch. “It’s great we have the cows and chickens here,” Smith said. “We can benefit them by giving them the scraps from the garden, and in return, we get to compost the manure, so that brings it full circle.”
Beck explained that the Smiths will be able to pick the vegetables at peak ripeness when plants experience a spike in phytochemicals. “Much of our country’s food supply is shipped over long distances, so it’s picked way before ripeness,” Beck said.
In addition to offering produce picked at the ideal time for nutritional value and flavor, you can expect to find some vegetables you won’t see at the supermarket. “Plants will be available here that are just not available in the mass market due to shipping distance or not being able to be grown at scale,” Smith said.
New England Grass Fed
Further back on Cloverbud Ranch, Beck’s small herd of Red Devon, Angus, and Hereford cattle – old breeds that Beck said are adapted to fatten up in colder climates – graze calmly.
New England Grass Fed is a stocker operation, Beck explained, so there are no bulls in the herd for breeding. He periodically buys 500 lb. cattle from known grass fed sources and brings them to Cloverbud for rotational grazing until they get up to about 1,200 lbs. A few are getting close to slaughter weight, and one of them will be sold Castle Hill Inn soon, Beck said.
According to Beck, the trick to growing good grass fed beef is access to lush fresh growth. “The top growth of the grass is much higher in carbohydrates, which converts to fat and can give us tasty grass fed beef that’s not too dry,” he said. “The bottom of the grass stalk is much firmer – it has a lot more lignin and protein. If they’re eating that it can lead to a stronger and gamier tasting beef.”
To ensure that the animals can continually access the best part of the grass, Beck must keep the herd small and frequently rotate their grazing area. “The only way to make it happen is by balancing the amount of animals out there and the amount of grass so they’re not eating too far down,” he said. “This way, the plant can regenerate itself with photosynthesis without drawing on its subterranean resources. Then the animals can come back to lush grass in the rotation.”
In addition to taste, Beck said grass-fed beef also has superior nutritional value. “Our beef is healthier because its omega 3 ratio is much higher,” he said. “It has 7 times the B vitamins and it has CLA (conjugated linoleum acid) – a fatty acid not available in grain finished beef,” he said.
The third critical piece of Cloverbud Ranch’s “holy trinity” is DaSilva Farm, Josh and Felicia DaSilva’s pasture-raised poultry operation. They’re currently raising 1,000 layers, who produce 50 dozen eggs per day, and 200 Cornish Cross broilers. The DaSilvas are also preparing to bring about 250 turkeys and three Mulefoot pigs to the property this week.
In addition to egg and poultry production, the birds serve another critical purpose on the ranch. “There’s great synergy between them distributing and scratching the cattle manure apart, increasing it’s surface area by 1,000% which increases the frequency of nutrient cycling into the soil and eliminates the need for fertilizer,” Beck said.
Like the cattle, DaSilva’s chickens are also frequently rotated. Over the weekend, Josh DaSilva moved his layers and mobile laying coup. “I move them very 1-2 weeks so they’re always on new pasture,” he said.
On top of improving the soil quality, DaSilva said the pasture-raised chickens also help the cattle by eating insects and larvae in the field, which helps control the amount of flies around the cattle. This extra protein is a healthy addition to the birds’ certified non-GMO grain feed, a more expensive type of feed that DaSilva feels is critical to sustainably raising chickens. “It’s healthier for the birds and and makes the meat healthier as well, with more omegas,” he said.
Another aspect of pasture raising that keeps his chickens healthy is sunlight, DaSilva said. “Compared to birds grown in confinement that never see daylight, pasture-raised chickens have exposure to sunlight and have more vitamin D,” he said. He also noted that pasture-raised is different from “free-range” and “cage-free” – labels that can often be misleading.
The DaSilvas’ birds are guarded vigorously by Portuguese cattle dogs Flore and Faial. “They’ve been bred for centuries to protect and guard the animals,” DaSilva said. “They have a natural instinct to bond with the flock.”
The dogs help ward off predators, mainly of the aerial variety. “The electrified fence keeps out land predators like coyotes and raccoons,” DaSilva said, “But hawks won’t even come down just because of the dogs’ presence.”
Flore has been raised with the chickens since she was 12 weeks old, and Faial will be guarding the turkeys when they arrive on the farm, DaSilva said.
You can expect to see DaSilva Farm eggs, all chicken cuts, whole chickens, chicken sausage, and pot pies for sale at the farm stand in mid-June. They also plan on doing Thanksgiving turkeys later this year.
Nearby the chickens are Cloverbud Ranch’s two young mascots – yak calves named Swagman and Rhody. Beck hopes to train them to pull a cart, and eventually plans to comb them out and have yak fiber available for Cloverbud members. “Their parentage is from the top yak fiber herd in the country out in Montana,” he said.
The yaks, which came from a farm in New York, are both under a year old and differ in their markings. “Swagman is Imperial – white and black blotching. Rhody is a royal, which is black with a gray nose,” explained Beck. “They’re really thrifty, really hearty animals that can thrive on half the grass that a cow requires.”
Building a Community Around Sustainable Agriculture
Beck said Cloverbud partners are primarily focused on building a community of friends and neighbors who care about sustainable agriculture and top quality food. Cloverbud Ranch is offering three types of RanchShares which, in addition to supplying local families with high-quality, locally-grown food, will also grant access to cookouts, social events and supervised tours of the farm.