We aspire to create a homestead that works in harmony with nature to provide the majority of our family’s food while also generating enough income to make a decent living. We’re still learning and experimenting, guided by four main principles.
We plan to raise French breeds of livestock that are threatened with extinction. Although these are hardy animals who make delicious products, they've fallen out of favor over time because they're generalists instead of specialists. For example, their meat may be tasty but there may not be much of it, their milk may be incredibly creamy but half the quantity of the more prominent breeds, or they take too long to grow.
As farmers struggle to make a living, there is strong financial incentive to raise heavy meat breeds and strong milk producers. Many unavoidable expenses are per-animal, like identification and mandatory annual testing, and it can be difficult to cover those expenses - much less make a profit - with a low yield of meat or milk.
So why bother with these rare breeds? Because they're well-rounded, dependable animals who thrive in regenerative systems and contribute to the biodiversity of Europe. Their varied attributes allow farmers to choose breeds that are perfect for their individual operations. Smaller animals can still be pastured on small farms, most are hardy enough to live outdoors year-round, they can thrive on local forage, and they can generally give birth without assistance. Why? These things have not been bred out of them in an effort to produce more meat, more milk, faster growth. They simply do what they've always done, and they do it really well.
Low Carbon Footprint
We practice regenerative farming, which combats global warming by drawing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in the soil. Unlike conventional agriculture (and especially factory farming), regenerative agriculture improves the resources it uses rather than depleting them. We value working with nature rather than against it, focusing on biological diversity, prioritizing perennial plants over annuals, and relying primarily on internal rather than external resources. We preserve natural habitat to ensure wildlife can thrive on our homestead. And we’re predator-friendly, understanding that all animals do what’s in their best interest and are just trying to survive.
We use a quad instead of a tractor to avoid soil compaction and diesel. We also opt for battery-operated versions of tools when possible, such our chainsaw, strimmer, and wood chipper.
But our most significant practice in this regard is deciding not to cut, store, or feed hay. We carefully manage the use of our fields and the movement of our animals to ensure there is always forage available on the farm in the form of grass, forbs, bushes, and/or trees. And since there's an abattoir in Bessines-sur-Gartempe, our beef and lamb products will travel fewer than 5km from farm to table.
Ark of Taste
The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods from around the world that are facing extinction. Members of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity travel the world to find products that are prized for their taste, may not exist in another generation or two without immediate action, and can be grown or raised without harming the environment. We consider all three of those great reasons to raise a particular breed or grow a particular variety of fruit or vegetable.
So as we’re planning our garden and deciding which trees to plant where, we’re doing so from the perspective of creating a homestead filled with food many have never tasted, but would love if they tried.
We're working toward creating a herd of Bretonne Pie Noir cattle, which are prized for both their meat and rich milk. As France's smallest cow, they're perfect for families who like the idea of getting a year's worth of beef from a single animal, or who would like to raise a couple cows of their own on a few acres. We plan to offer whole carcasses (about 100kg of beef) and sell live animals to smallholders who are interested in the breed.
Cul Noir pigs are another planned addition. They take much longer to grow than breeds used in industrial agriculture (18 months vs 6 months) and fare well on terrain like ours, with lots of oak and chestnut trees. Their meat is supposed to be red, firm, tender, and well-marbled, and about half of their weight is lard. There's an association here in France specifically for the sale of Cul Noir products, so I'm hoping to work with them. We may also be able to sell whole carcasses (about 50kg of pork) or sell live animals to smallholders with interest in the breed. I expect every once in a while we'll keep one for ourselves and when we do, I'm hoping Wendy will use the lard to make soap for both our family and the shop. I've heard that 100% lard soap is really moisturizing.
It took me a long time to decide which breed of sheep to raise, but I finally settled on Ouessant - the smallest sheep in the world. They're mostly used for eco-grazing operations because they only weigh somewhere between 11kg - 20kg when fully grown. So I'm still not certain how this breed can be profitable for our farm, but I love that it's famous for both its wool and meat. Wendy is an avid knitter and I like the idea that our sheep could provide high-quality yarn in a variety of colors without using dyes. And I suppose if someone wants somewhere between 2kg - 10kg of meat, Ouessants are a good size to meet their lamb, hogget, or mutton needs.