A few weeks ago some friends and I took an unusual tour. A grassroots mom and pop sort of tour of a farm where rare and heritage breed pigs, geese, hens, cows and sheep pasture on organic grasses. I wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled into the dusty drive of the Wood farmstead just south of Cypress River, Manitoba. We were met by all shapes and varieties of clucking chickens, pecking the ground between the cars and fluttering from the branches of the low bushes. Then out walked Lisa Clouston and Greg Wood.
Lisa and Greg offer personally guided treks of their off-beat farm on weekends. They aren’t your usual farmers in that they raise old fashioned animals the old fashioned way (for the most part). And the tours are fantastic- there is a lot to see and learn!
We saw heritage breed pigs, wallowing in the mud, digging through the straw and nursing very very new piglets.
We saw skiddish alpacas who nickered at us and stood in a tight knit group like nervous tourists. And we walked through a hen igloo made of hay bales, strapped sticks and wooden laying boxes. Lisa and Greg are walking talking encyclopedias when it comes to farming and raising livestock. Their animals are healthy and happy and there is a real sense of joy about the place. It is rustic, earthy and definitely grounded. I had a lot of questions for Lisa and Greg. Here are some of their answers:
How did you get started farming?
Greg grew up on this farm, and so did his father. I was born and raised on a very old fashioned farm near the Oak Hammock Marsh. My father (not my Grandfather) didn’t buy a tractor until his last work horse died. My parents had both come from long lines of farm people. They raised cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, and had huge gardens, etc. Both Greg and I grew up on farms that were self-sustaining. We froze or canned veggies, and raised and butchered meat, and had enough dairy cows for milk and a bit extra to sell, had chickens, lots of garden veggies, etc.
Why did you chose to raise heritage breeds of animals rather than just doing what everyone else does?
We chose to raise heritage breeds because they have strong genetics. The breeds used in factory barns have had their genetics played with in order to produce pigs that grow faster, or chickens that grow bigger breasts, or cows that bulk up faster. As the genetics are changed, their immunity to disease goes down, their ability to retain natural instincts are interrupted, and the methods of housing the animals make them really susceptible to all kind of defects. To make matters worse, they usually live in disease rich environments [and require copious amounts of anti-biotics]. We use heritage breeds because they are generally much hardy in both winter and summer.
For example, we bought some “rescue piglets” from a factory barn that was going to gas all the piglets when the pork market crashed. Those little “pink” piglets got sunburned because they didn’t know enough to get into the shade. They looked sickly, they got really cold in the winter and did not do well on natural food at all. The heritage breed piglets of the same age did great. They knew when to go in the shade in the summer and they tunneled under the straw in the winter. They are disease resistant, they have mothering skills and instincts, have more hair on their bodies for protection, grow naturally on natural food, and taste great. They do take longer to grow to market size, but we also do not feed them any growth hormones or growth enhancers at all. Nor do we give them medicated feed (antibiotics) because they do not need them if they are living in a natural, out door environment. The mothers build nests prior to giving birth, they are protective, they share piglets after the first week or two, and are smart, capable animals.
The cattle that we have are South Devons, which are known as “gentle giants.” They are good mothers, give a lot of milk, and in fact are considered a dual purpose breed in England (good for beef and milk). They marble great on grass alone, so they do not have to be fed grain to get them ready for market. They are a perfect fit for grass rotations like we have, and they are naturally gentle, which was important for me with my kids working with the cattle. Again, they do take a little longer to “finish” because we do not give them any chemical growth hormones or anything like that. It is all natural. The animals grow at their own rate.
The chickens are mostly heritage, and it is incredible what a difference that makes. We also have some regular breeds for laying eggs, and they are unbelievably flighty! They have tiny skinny little bodies that produce eggs and they do not do much else. The heritage breeds are dual purpose, so are good for eggs and meat. They do not lay as many eggs in general, but they lay eggs all winter in cold temperatures, they know enough to want to sit on eggs, they know how to breed, they are disease resistant and they come in all sorts of beautiful colours. I really enjoy our beautiful chickens. I have several chickens sitting on eggs right now because they just wanted to! If they want to do that, then I am OK with it. Not one chicken from the over bred bunch has tried to sit on eggs in the last 5 years. I think that is sad. I do not think we have the right to try to genetically modify anything. I think that is the height of disrespect to do that.
The sheep are called Clun Forest. We chose them because they are hardy, smart, good mothers, quick on their feet, disease resistant, compact, strong and tasty. We had a few ewes for fleece, and they shivered in the shelter under heat lamps while the Cluns chose to stay outside in snow storms and sat like little mounds of snow quite comfortably. They give birth easily, and usually only have one or 2 lambs, which they can easily feed.
We also have rare Breed turkeys and ducks, just because we think they are beautiful and interesting. Again, their natural instincts are still there, so they are pure, old fashioned turkeys and ducks! The turkey gobbler (Tyler) struts his stuff and protects his hens, and the hens lay their eggs and want to hatch them out. Same with the ducks – they care for their young, and it is all in balance. I love their interesting shapes and colours.
How difficult is it to raise Heritage Breed Animals?
It is really easy to find heritage and rare breeds. There are little pockets of people who do the research and raise heritage breeds the old fashioned way all over the place now. I think there is a quiet movement of people doing this more and more now. More and more people want to eat clean, healthy meat from animals that have been raised humanely and naturally with no chemicals now. We can not keep up with our orders for pork. We easily could have sold 200 to 400 piglets this year alone. It is incredible. The same thing is starting to happen with chickens as well. Cattle is a little slower, but the grass fed market is picking up lots of speed now due to more education about the benefits of grass fed rather than grain or corn fed beef.
So just so that we are absolutely clear, tell me again why Heritage Breeds the BEST?
The factors that make heritage breeds better were mentioned above – their natural instincts are still intact, they are disease resistant, are hardy living outside in the state they were meant to live in, they are good mothers, they can give birth with less interference, they breed easily, and basically behave the way they are supposed to behave! They can come in very beautiful colours as well.
So lets say you like the idea of Heritage animals but don’t own a farm. Can you still access the natural bounty these animals produce?
People can purchase heritage breed meat and eggs by calling us, or by joining a Food buying club [or in Manitoba] with the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative. We do monthly deliveries to Winnipeg. Right now there are 4 buying clubs – South Osborne, University of Manitoba, West Central and at the Unitarian Church. There is talk about 2 more developing – one in West Kildonan and one on Route 90. There is a small number of people in the Brandon area that are interested in starting a buying club as well. Other than that, Crampton’s Market in Winnipeg on the corner of Waverly and Bishop Grandin has incredibly great, organic, natural and heritage meats, fruits, berries, veggies and other things to choose from. It is a great place to purchase food of all kinds.
Why did you start doing Farm Tours?
Simply because so many people were asking if they could come and see our farm! We have a variety of animals and birds, in an old fashioned yard. I think that is the attraction. It is just a plain old farm. We also get a boost of pride from showing off our creatures!
How can people book a tour?
People just need to contact us and make sure we are going to be at home. We [also] have started bus tours for seniors’ groups through Central Plains Tourism.
Lisa Clouston and Greg Wood
Spring Creek farm
Cypress River, MB R0K 0P0
or Cypress Meats,
Cypress River, MB, R0K 0P0
Greg’s cell #: 526-5156
We are working on a website, but we are kind of scared to make it live! We are going to be getting WWOOFers soon to help with chores, etc so we should be able to have more time for tours etc!
A few last words about the business of Heritage Breeds
W are affiliated with the Harvest Moon Society and the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative. They are an amazing organization. They have an incredible amount of projects going on, and are always developing towards perma-culture, sustainability, local economy and other rural development. They have many more answers than I do about other organizations doing similar work. I am not aware of any other groups doing what they are in Manitoba. Almost all of the farmers in the HMLFI raise heritage breeds to fill the demand for food buying clubs and private sales. Once you start looking around in the little quiet pockets, you will find lots of heritage breeds out there! But we are all at the point where heritage and rare breed breeding stock is still very expensive. We have to travel far and wide to purchase un-related males and females to breed our existing herds/groups to. In a few years, as more producers get into this, the easier and more affordable it will be. The more people, the better, as long as we all take good care of the stock and not let it get overbred or interbred so it destroys the lines.