Valley Bounty: The secret to this farm is happy animals: Crooked Trail Farm in Orange utilizes silvopasture sustainability practices

Black Finn sheep at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange.

Black Finn sheep at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange.

Sleepy pigs at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange.

Sleepy pigs at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange. PHOTO COURTESY CROOKED TRAIL FARM

Heritage mix breed pigs at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange.

Heritage mix breed pigs at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange. PHOTO COURTESY CROOKED TRAIL FARM

Crooked Trail Farm Co-Owners, Erica Goulding and Kelcie Hillard.

Crooked Trail Farm Co-Owners, Erica Goulding and Kelcie Hillard.

Mixed breed chickens at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange.

Mixed breed chickens at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange. PHOTO COURTESY CROOKED TRAIL FARM

“We try to take the best care of the animals as possible,” Crooked Trail Farm Co-Owner Erica Goulding says. “A healthy animal in its proper environment is best for them and for us.”

“We try to take the best care of the animals as possible,” Crooked Trail Farm Co-Owner Erica Goulding says. “A healthy animal in its proper environment is best for them and for us.” PHOTOS COURTESY CROOKED TRAIL FARM

White Katahdin sheep at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange.

White Katahdin sheep at Crooked Trail Farm in Orange.

By LISA GOODRICH

For the Recorder

Published: 10-27-2023 4:17 PM

Erica Goulding and Kelcie Hillard had a vision of sustainable farming rooted in humane practices for animal care. Together, the co-owners built Crooked Trail Farm approximately five years ago in Orange.

While neither grew up farming, the pair had a clear idea of the farm they wanted to create. Hillard brought experience in vegetable farming to the business. The relationship to the animals is central to Crooked Trail Farm. Goulding says, “We try to take the best care of the animals as possible. A healthy animal in its proper environment is best for them and for us.”

Hillard comments, “Here at Crooked Trail Farm, our main farm sustainability practices are thoughtful livestock rotation and making sure that we don’t try to grow more than our land can sustain. Our goal is to improve the land by growing healthy, happy animals on it.”

According to the U.S. Forest Service, “silvopasture” is the deliberate integration of trees and grazing livestock operations on the same land. Goulding explains that ensuring sufficient space for the pigs to have enough space to root and forage propelled the farmers to seek funding to expand their silvopasture this year. Hillard says, “We received an American Farm Trust grant this year to put up a perimeter fence around our four wooded acres. We have planned out a multi-year pig rotation in this area, using portable electric fence to section off parts for intensive rooting.”

Hillard continues, “Our goal is to decrease invasive species and brushy overgrowth, maintain healthy waterways, and select prime native trees to remain while we develop this land into functional silvopasture.” Goulding adds that they will graze sheep in that area as well.

The animals are free to enjoy the land, with the farmers feeding each species in optimal ways. Hillard explains, “In our open land, we use intensive grazing practices as well as pasture raised broiler chickens to increase our soil fertility.” Throughout the year, sheep feed on the pasture beginning in spring. Year-round, the farmers feed the pigs locally grown feed, and in the winter, they buy locally sourced hay for all the animals.

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The weather this year has impacted the hay and feed they buy for their livestock, both for cost and availability. Aside from animal feed, Goulding reflects the pair’s appreciation that the direct impact of weather on their farm has been minimal. “Raising livestock is more resilient than crops in a field. We are fortunate that we have not been directly affected by this year’s flooding.”

Goulding notes that the farm is situated on a hill that drains well. The farm is working with Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture’s (CISA’s) Climate Change Program to plan a rain catchment system to help them use water resources more effectively, both in dry spells and wet years.

Whether managing pastures and water, supply chains for animal feed, or selling high quality meat, Hillard explains that sustainability is the value that connects everything about their farm business. She says, “We feel that farming small and keeping things local as much as possible is a sustainability choice. The world can’t sustain mega farms and long supply chains; it needs people raising food on what they can get close at hand to feed the people nearby. To that end, we are keeping our operation small and sourcing our feed and supplies locally as much as we can.”

The farm has hens for laying eggs and sells them to the Wendell Country Store and Quabbin Harvest in Orange. The pair tried raising beef briefly, before deciding their pasture could not sustain it. A small portion of beef is available in their offerings this year. Quabbin Harvest carries their beef and lamb.

Crooked Trail Farm sells its meat frozen as part of a meat Community Supported Agriculture plan (CSA) that will be available in January. Sign-ups begin in November. Different meat bundles are available as well. To join a meat CSA or purchase a meat bundle from Crooked Trail Farm, see crookedtrailfarm.com or their Facebook page for more announcements and availability, or call 781-252-0058.

The meat shares contain beef, pork, chicken and lamb, and are available as small, for a couple, or large for a family. Pickups are biweekly from January through March. There will be a one-time pickup date for people who live far away, to pick up all six share distributions at once.

The team finds space for creativity, community and expression within their farm. Community and creativity unite in their animal husbandry classes for other farmers who are getting started. Hillard says, “We have offered workshops in the past on raising and processing one’s own livestock and hope to continue to do so in the future.”

Before farming, Goulding was a corporate trainer and loved teaching. “I love helping people develop skills they want to improve, and I believe it’s important to share the skills we have developed through farming and homesteading. Most of us didn’t grow up on a farm, so having someone support you while you’re getting started is immensely helpful,” she says.

Community remains important to farming. Goulding shares, “As we started, we didn’t know CISA was available, and didn’t expect that level of support. CISA has been a huge help by supplying information and support on things we didn’t know we needed. Through them, we’ve met a large network of capable and wonderful farmers who have been willing to help.”

Living according to their values while caretaking for animals and land fuels the team’s enthusiasm for their farm.

“Farming is something we wanted to do, and it is a joy. It’s wonderful to see the animals born then thrive,” Goulding says. “This lifestyle makes me feel happy.”

Lisa Goodrich is communications coordinator for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, (CISA). -Learn more about local farms, local food, and CSAs in our online guide at buylocalfood.org.