Multi-Species Rotational Grazing at a Family Farmstead
Green Bow Farm, Ellensburg, WA
April 27, 2015
Christina Miller and Matthew Cox, farmer/owners of Green Bow Farm in Ellensburg, welcomed sixteen fellow farmers and agricultural professionals to learn about multi-species rotational grazing and farm marketing. In attendance as agricultural experts to speak to the theme was Frank Hendrix (WSU Extension – Animal Sciences, Irrigated Pastures, Range and Riparian Management), Tip Hudson (WSU Extension – Rangeland & Livestock Specialist), and Mark Crowley (Kittitas County Conservation District).
Located northwest of Ellensburg, Christina and Matthew moved to their property in 2011 and quickly began experimenting with raising different types of animals. They grow chickens (layers and broilers), Icelandic sheep (fiber and lamb), beef cattle (Scottish highlanders and sometimes Jersey steers), turkeys (for Thanksgiving sales), and ducks. All of these livestock are pasture-based and they are often kept in the same pasture – Green Bow has a total of three that they rotate the animals through.
When Christina and Matthew first started, they did not expect to raise animals for fiber. They really like the Icelandic breed of sheep as they are a versatile and hardy breed. The sheep not only provides a lovely fiber, but they produce tasty lamb and milk (the latter of which Green Bow has not ventured into except for personal use). They have someone come to the farm and shear the sheep twice a year. Green Bow washes and dries the raw fleece and then sends it to a mill in North Carolina to spin into yarn. They sell the yarn un-dyed (Icelandic’s have beautiful colors) and also sell raw fleece and lambskins. As far as management, Icelandic sheep like goats in that they don’t operate with a strong herd mentality, which can make them difficult to round up. They are excellent birthers (often producing triplets) and Matthew and Christina have yet needed to intervene during a lambing. These sheep browse for broadleaves and other forbs in pasture making them and a good companion to the cows which prefer the grasses. Ecologically and socially they have found their sheep and cows to be a great match.
The cows Green Bow raises are Scottish Highlanders and they currently have five in their breeding herd. Matthew shared that they may be smaller, with lower hanging weights but the meat has a great taste. All of Green Bow’s animals are 100% grass-fed and finished. Matthew uses apple cider vinegar in their stock water to help control parasites in all the livestock (at a rate of one tablespoon per gallon). The vinegar helps with liver flukes which are extremely detrimental to the cows. The ducks also help reduce liver flukes by eating snails which play host to an integral part of a liver fluke’s life cycle.
Green Bow has three pastures that they rotate the animals through. When they first purchased the farm, the pastures were in pretty bad shape. Matthew began irrigating the fields which led to drastic improvements (the farm site only receives 9 inches of annual rainfall). Green Bow also produces their own compost, which they use to make compost tea to spray in their pastures by injecting it into their irrigation system. They utilized a couple different NRCS-EQIP grants and small grants through the conservation district to help build fences and purchase their irrigation system.
As far as marketing, Green Bow sells at the Ellensburg Farmers Market and the West Seattle Farmers Market. They also recently began a meat CSA. Matthew explained that the CSA model is nice because they receive money upfront, which helps them to manage their cash flow a bit easier. They also lean on social media to advertise their farm and product offerings. Christina enjoys posting pictures of the farm and sharing recipes with their customers through these platforms. It has been important to both Christina and Matthew to educate their customers on their products (for example, it has helped them sell the unusual cuts of meat) and on the importance of supporting small farms. As a result of this education, Green Bow has built a knowledge base for their sustainable products and, in turn, a loyal following. They also sell their fiber products through their online store and a website called Woolful.com. Both Matthew and Christina have found it laborious to manage their online sales as it takes time to manage transactions as well as the website itself. They much prefer the connections they have built with their consumers through their CSA and at the farmers market.
Green Bow believes in utilizing and selling as many products as they can out of one venture – an idea that has served them well so far. In the future, they would like to grow herbs to make value-added spice rubs and other products to complement their meats. Since Matthew and Christina don’t have any employees or interns, their expansions are mindful of what they can handle while still maintaining their family life. All-in-all this family farmstead was a great example of a passion for food and animals translating into a sustainable livelihood.
Summary by Angela Anegon.
This Farm Walk is supported in part by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2012-49400-19575. For more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov.