by Laura Rodley
High on a slope in Ashfield, MA is a contented herd of grazing cattle guarded by an eight year old jenny who doesn’t like dogs. Even so, the jenny shares guardianship duties with a well-mannered one and a half year old black and white English Shepherd named Emma. Emma shares herding duties with her owner, Janet Clark. Janet and her husband Norbert Salz, best known as Nort, have raised predominantly organic, grass-fed beef on their 70 acre Steady Lane Farm since purchasing it in 2001.
Fed no hormones or animal byproducts, their beef cuts are leaner than conventional, containing more Omega-3 oils and beta carotene. They supply Ashfield’s Elmer’s Store restaurant with brisket. Customers include River Valley Market among many others.
The farm had been a dairy farm for 150 years, formerly owned by Emory Howes, then Allen Lilly, another dairyman, consisting of land on two sides of busy Route 112. In the 1950s, Howes complained to road managers about issues getting his cows across the road, according to Janet. Supportive of farmers, they built a tunnel underneath the road wide enough for cows and tall enough for a man to walk through bending his head, connecting the two sides. Still utilized, it requires entry stone work due to recent flooding. “We have used it in the past. It takes some training. The older cows love it,” said Janet.
Twenty feeders currently graze across the road. Eighteen breeders, one calf, and yearling bull, Fred, graze on the other side of the highway.
Selling beef connects Janet and Nort to their neighbors and crosses ‘starting a farm’ off their wish list. Raised on an Illinois farm, he conducts his insurance industry business, Deep Customers Connection at home. Retired from her state job at Toxic Use Reduction Institute in Lowell, Janet utilizes her degree in Natural Resources Planning, from University of Massachusetts forestry department.
They both “had the sense if I can do this, I should do it. We need more farms. One of the things I wanted to do was figure out how to do it in a way that attracted more farmers. It’s such a wonderful place, wonderful animals, wonderful customers,” said Janet.
Cattle are rotated pasture to pasture on 35 acres a couple times a week, with outside access year round, reducing waste management, enriching soil and utilizing less fossil fuels; winter area manure is spread on hayfields, treated for smooth bedstraw five years ago.
Eating grass keeps cattle’s digestive tracks full of essential digestive microbes, resulting in fewer diseases requiring antibiotics. Having no apparent issues, giving tetanus shots, and performing castrations themselves, they required no veterinarians.
A veterinarian would have mentioned selenium. “Dairy farmers all know this, that there’s no selenium in New England soil. Had great success in 10 years, but in the 11th year, cows did not cycle and did not breed,” said Janet, resulting in only one spring calf this year.
Within two weeks of supplementing Grazer’s Choice selenium and kelp, the cows came into heat.
Grass-fed beef takes 24 to 26 months to be ‘finished,’ longer than 18 months grain-fed. Winter feeders get second cutting hay, higher in protein, producing more even marbling in meat. Breeders get first cutting, good for horses, except for the last couple weeks of spring to avoid fat cows during calving.
Their bull Fred is part Hereford, Angus, Murray Grey, and Belted Galloway.
“It’s work. We’re never going to get rich; just breaking even here. We’ve provided work for other farmers who do equipment work for us, hay that we don’t make. We’ve enhanced, helped the farming community by being farmers and hope we can keep going for a long time.”
For more information go to www.steadylanefarm.com
by Laura Rodley