Visiting Thelma & Louise
We recently took a road trip about 90 minutes north to Hawthorne, FL to visit Tracy Lee Farms. As a general rule of thumb, we like to pay a visit to our suppliers a couple times every year to learn more about their operation and bring your questions to the farmers. It's important to know the people who produce your food. And we want to introduce you to someone doing things the right way.
You can find Tracy Lee's livestock in many of our boxes, most notably The Beef Box, The Burger Box, The Keto Box and The Butcher CSA Box. We'll always ship our boxes with QR codes that you can scan with your smartphone for a window into the farms that we sourced product from to put your box together. We currently have FREE nationwide shipping on all of our boxes.
On our last visit, we learned that Tracy employed a few farm animals that helped her out with critter control. Thelma & Louise, two cattle dogs, work to keep predatory birds away from Tracy's chickens. And Donka, the pregnant donkey, worked to keep coyotes off the farm. On this trip we got to meet the new donkey foal and catch up with Thelma & Louise.
We were surprised to learn that the donkey's hatred for coyotes runs so strong that even the farm dogs are at risk of being attacked. Tracy has to keep them separated, with the dogs usually watching over chickens, and the donkeys watching over the cattle.
Tracy has yet to name the new donkey and is open to your suggestions. The donkeys followed us around the farm, partly making sure that we were behaving around the cows, partly because they were seeking forehead scratches and ear massages.
Tracy now has four donkeys on the farm. They take their job seriously. The big jack, or male donkey, got a little restless just because he could smell that a dog had taken a ride in the back of our truck.
Thelma & Louise had the day off. All of Tracy's chickens at the moment are tiny chicks that require heat lamps and are kept in an open-air trailer. They'll be put to pasture soon.
In the mean time, the dogs worked to impress us by running in circles and posing for the camera.
Thelma & Louise work to keep predatory birds away from the chicken flock. We saw Red Tailed Hawks swirling in the sky while we were on the farm. The dogs instinctively know the difference between the birds.
Tracy has a couple of dogs that watch over her house. She pointed out that she doesn't socialize them. The working dogs are there to do just that - work. There will be no loafing about with the house dogs.
The farm had received twelve inches of rain the week before we arrived. Tracy had pointed out some areas where she was concerned about erosion. She said she was planting peas, which have the two-fold benefit of replenishing her soil with nutrients and giving her Berkshire pigs one of their favorite protein-rich treats. Berkshire pigs are a rare breed prized for their fat content, marbling and taste. And the fat of the Berkshire will take on flavor characteristics according to its diet.
The Berkshire is one of the oldest breeds in England, and the first to have its pedigree recorded in herd books when Cromwell's troops were quartered in Reading and wrote that the local pork was renowned for it's quality of bacon and ham. The Japanese call Berkshire pork, "Kurabuta", and it is the porcine equivalent to "Kobe" beef.
The Berkshire breed was brought to the USA in 1823. It enjoyed popularity until the industrial revolution. During WW2, the demand for lean bacon from white-skinned pigs pushed the Berkshire to the side.
All of the pigs at Tracy Lee Farms are raised on pasture. She rotates them around, alternating with the cattle and chickens, so that there is always green grass. They have access to shade and plenty of room to run about and express their pigness.
Tracy raises quite a few different breeds of cattle and experiments with crossing breeds to bring out the most suitable characteristics for Florida farming. She's got Angus, Brahma, Mashona and a few other breeds that all mingle about together.
The last cow that we bought from Tracy was Brangus, a combination of Brahma and Angus. It has a bold beefy flavor that makes the best burgers ever. We asked a lot of questions about Tracy's approach to cattle farming. She doesn't use any fertilizers. She supplements the animals diets by plating various crops that are nutrient dense. They never see any GMO corn or soy. There are no antibiotics. No pesticides, fungicides, herbicides. Just cows roaming about wide open spaces grazing on what they choose. They hang out under the oak canopies during the heat of day to cool off.
Tracy also has Florida Cracker cattle, a breed brought here by early Spanish settlers. Florida Cracker cattle are a species on the Slow Food Movement's Ark Of Taste, a catalog of threatened and endangered species. The small frame of the animal doesn't line up well with the industrialized agriculture system in the US, so the breed has been pushed aside. We chose a Florida Cracker cow for our next purchase. By bringing attention to this special breed and encouraging farmers to raise them, we can save the species from extinction.
It's important to seek out ethical farmers like Tracy that operate with transparency. Her animals are so docile that it almost feels like a petting zoo. One of the new Berkshire mommas was, understandably, a little protective of her piglets. We gave her all the space that she needed. The rest of the animals were curious to our presence. Many came over to visit with us, looking for back scratches and neck rubs. Tracy Lee Farms is a window into what farming used to be in this country, and shining example of what it can be again.