Sarah Willis
Spring Farrowing

It’s that time of year again.  Spring signifies new life, which is easily observed here on the farm.  Recently, I visited fellow Niman Ranch Farmers Paul and Andrea Brown, who farm with their children right here in Iowa.  They raise pigs for Niman Ranch – just part of their entire operation.   They rotate the pig’s pasture from year to year, incorporating livestock with their crop production to enrich the soil.Brown Farm

I often get asked what we use to take the place of farrowing crates.  I like to say we take our lead from nature.  Animals are already given the tools to reproduce and care for their own.  Farrowing in the pasture begins in the spring.  I know my dad’s goal was to have everything set up for the sows in the field by April 1.  Historically, hog farmers utilized A- frame houses as shelters for pigs raised on pasture.

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Sarah Willis
Winter Farm Tour

IMG_9235It was a cold dreary day in February when our good friends from La Quercia, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse, called me to see if they could bring three people from the Boston Area including; Chris Himmel, Chef Nick Deutmeyer, and Chef Eric Brennan, from Grill 23, Post 390 and Harvest Cambridge, on a Niman Ranch farm tour. Their guests were interested to learn more about where their pork comes from, how the pigs were raised and why that matters in the creation of La Quercia’s artisanal meats.

We took our guests to visit long time Niman Ranch farmers Marlin and Judy Mowry. They came outside to greet us wearing warm winter coveralls while their farm dogs playfully pranced around with excitement. They said most of their pets were rescued from various bad situations, and were now finding solace here in a loving and safe environment. You could see the pride they take in the care of all their animals. The Mowrys were thrilled to host the tour and explained to us that they chose to work with Niman Ranch because they felt the animal handling protocols fell in line with their own core personal values about treating all life with respect.

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Sarah Willis
Niman Ranch Hog Farmer Meetings

outside street photoJanuary and February are often focused on planning and preparation for the year ahead. Not only do we start working on annual Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation Dinner, which will be held in September, but it’s also time for the Niman Ranch hog farmer regional meetings. Our local Niman Ranch Field Agents organize regional get-togethers at the start of the year because it’s usually a slower time of the year for us-well, less field work anyway!

farmer meetingThe meetings are a time for learning and also a chance to connect with one another.  Farmers are served lunch featuring our own Niman Ranch Pork- from the animals we raised- while brushing up on a few things and exchanging helpful hints.

This year we heard from our veterinarian Dr. Kurt Van Holzen about the importance of vaccinations in keeping the herd healthy. He also talked about holistic measures like adding vinegar to watering tanks and oregano as a feed additive, these things help to boost their immune system and increase overall blood circulation.

russ and farmer

Russ and farmer John Gilbert

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Sarah Willis
Winter Hogs

pigsinsnowAs is true for many of you, the weather has been interfering with our regular activity schedule lately.  My daughter, now in 7th grade basketball, often waits to hear whether or not their games will have to be postponed.   I’ve had to pay extra attention to our chickens as the wind can blow the cover off their coop, or the water may freeze – so many things can go wrong!  I get many questions this time of year about how Niman Ranch pigs handle Iowa winters.

Niman Ranch farmers raise their pigs outdoors on pasture or in deeply bedded pens. The deeply bedded pens can be in old fashioned barns, hoop buildings or other traditional farm structures.  The pigs love to root through the bedding and find a nice soft place to lie down.   This deeply bedded system provides warmth during these frigid temperatures.  When the bedding gets soiled by the pigs the farmer applies clean bedding on top. This starts a composting process which generates heat, like an electric blanket for the pigs.  The pigs can go outside to eat and get a drink whenever they want or stay inside the deeply bedded barn or hoop building to keep warm.  Inside they have plenty of room to move around and behave naturally.   Our farmers take special care during these winter months in raising their livestock.

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Niman Ranch
Holiday Rib Roast Recipe

We love a Niman Ranch Rib Roast for the holidays, the tastiest centerpiece for your Christmas Dinner or New Years Eve celebration. This recipe was created by Niman Ranch Executive Chef Andrew Hunter. As with all our meats, the livestock are raised humanely and sustainably by family ranchers- this means no antibiotics- ever, and no added hormones- ever.

Happy Holidays!

Niman Ranch French Cut Bone-In Prime Rib Roast

1 Niman Ranch French Cut Bone-in Prime Rib Roast, approximately 6 pounds

6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 cup minced fresh garlic

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix together the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

Place the prime rib on a cutting board and massage it with the olive oil mixture. Cover with a tent of foil and set it aside for at least one hour to bring it to room temperature. This will help the meat cook faster and more evenly. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Place the prime rib on the rack in the roasting pan and place in the oven. Roast at 450°F for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350°F, and continue roasting for 50 minutes.

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Niman Ranch
Kay Cornelius- CoVRHA Novice Champion Award Winner!

Kat CorneliusMany of our Niman Ranch employees are active in the livestock industry outside of work- whether volunteering with the local FFA or raising livestock themselves. Kay Cornelius, Midwest and Southwest Business Director, is one of those employees. This summer she participated in the Colorado Versatility Ranch Horse shows and was the novice champion.

Versatility Ranch Horse is not just one event, but a series of five separate events, “I like to think of it as a decathlon for a ranch horse/rider team” she says.

  • Working Ranch Horse (Reining and Boxing a Cow)
  • Cutting
  • Trail
  • Ranch Riding
  • Conformation

Each of these events is designed to show off a certain skill – or set of skills – which would be necessary for a horse and rider to do their jobs on a working ranch.  Kay competed in each event and the scores from all of the events are totaled to determine an overall Versatility Ranch Horse champion.

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Niman Ranch
Thankful for Our Veteran Families

sonia_kendrick_AMP8982_15x10_300 (2)Recently, I was invited to speak at the Farmer Veteran Coalition’s Empowering Women Veterans Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.   The Farmer Veteran Coalition, founded by Michael O’Gorman, is a veteran outreach organization offering employment and farm education programs for veterans.   Niman Ranch has been working with the organization to provide opportunities for veterans to join the Niman Ranch community of family farmers.

It’s an understatement to tell you how honored I was to speak at the Empowering Women Veteran’s Conference on Agriculture, Business and Well-being.   I was so impressed with this group.  Many of the attendees were actual veterans themselves, while others were spouses of veterans, including several who were married to persons who died in service to our country.   All of the attendees continue their tradition of serving to make the world a better place, this time through farming.

rockwell1I met a fellow Iowan named Sonia Kendrick. She served in Afghanistan and is now working to solve the issue of hunger here in Iowa.  Kendrick told me she couldn’t believe the vast number of people going hungry here in the state of Iowa – over 340,000 people each night according to the USDA – with so much bounty around us. She pointed out that much of what is grown in our state is exported or not meant for human consumption.

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Niman Ranch
Sheep Industry News: Niman Ranch Commitment to Quality- reprint

We have a committed and dedicated group of lamb ranchers who raise animals for Niman Ranch. The article below was recently published in Sheep Industry News, it gives the history of our lamb program and they gave us permission to share with you.

Niman Ranch: Commitment to Quality

By AMY TRINIDAD, Sheep Industry News Editor

lamb low-r
(Nov. 1, 2013) Niman Ranch may be most well-known for its pork products; however, it was in the 1990s that Niman Ranch started offering lamb to complement their beef line due in part to the dedicated work of Al Medvitz and Jeannie McCormack of California. Today, fewer than a dozen sheep ranching families from a variety of regions produce the lamb the company sells nationwide.

After many years of living in an urban setting, Medvitz and McCormack moved back to McCormack’s family ranch in Rio Vista, Calif., in 1987. Soon thereafter, the number of lamb buyers available to bid on the ranch’s lambs dwindled down to one and McCormack felt like she wasn’t getting a fair price, so she took matters into her own hands. With the help of her mother’s Christmas card list, she marketed boxed lamb and soon enough their direct market business took off.

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Sarah Willis
Fall Harvest

IMG_4057Autumn is here and as I was trying a new recipe with my mother for apple cake, our conversation turned towards the changing landscape.

IMG_4060We are in the midst of harvest season.  Much of the corn and soybeans which surrounds us is being combined (a large machine which harvests crops) out of the fields.  No more “corn corners”- a term those of us in rural areas use to identify intersections in the country where the visibility has decreased significantly due to the height of the corn. The landscape has opened up again and we can see far and wide.

My mother pointed out that we didn’t have as many “corn corners” this year, because quite a bit of the farmland around Northern Iowa didn’t get planted.  This was mainly due to the unusual snow and flooding we experienced in May- prime planting time.  Many farmers were frustrated because they couldn’t get into the fields early enough to plant the traditional crops of corn and soybeans, because the soil was so wet.

But some farmers were able to plant a cover crop to prevent erosion, helping to sustain the health of the land and also to produce something off the land.  For the most part, these are the farmers who own their land and have a vested interest in its sustainability over time.

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Niman Ranch
Meet Farmer: Scott Sibbel

As the U.S. family farm disappears, we are proud of our young independent family farmers who raise livestock for Niman Ranch. They are committed to raising hogs sustainably and humanely while continuing the traditional farming practices handed down by their parents and grandparents. Meet Scott, a young farmer following the family tradition.

Young Iowa Farmers: Scott Sibbel from Leave It Better on Vimeo.

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