I burst out laughing when Julie Miele told me how she got the cattle that started her ranch, Miele Farms.
She and her then-husband had bought a place out in the country. “He bought me some cows for my birthday,” she recounts.
I’ve heard a lot of stories about ranches, but Julie is the first person I ever met whose ranch started out with a gift.
It was the right gift. “It was the first time in my life I felt like I found something I was really good at,” she says of raising the cattle on her own ranch to her own standards.
Julie learned to raise cattle in a more commercial manner than she likes. Today she raises them on grass with no vaccines. The herd grazes a pasture and then moves to a new pasture when it’s time.
“We watch a lot of the growth cycles and the grass cycles. We don’t let them eat to the ground,” she explains. “For us, it’s all about watching the grass.” Her herd are grass fed and grass finished. “We want them to graze as much as possible.”
I wondered how she knows when they are ready to process and got an interesting answer.
“They’re done when they look done. We’re not a factory farm. It’s not an exact science. You have to be patient and flexible.”
“Who is ‘we’?”, I asked.
Julie and her children are the only people working this ranch. I sat back a moment in awe.
Miele Farms doesn’t just raise cattle. The family also raises pastured chicken, lamb and hogs.
The Mieles have three sows and a boar. They migrate down to the creek on her property to graze and play in the water. Even the 700 lb. boar plays in the creek, which must be quite a sight.
The other animals run and play on their pastures too. Sometimes the family will witness a calf playing with its mother.
“Nothing is better for me than seeing animals being happy and living out their lives. I feel very honored.”
Are you as struck as I was by Julie’s acceptance of the cycle of life? People often put some emotional distance between themselves and the animals that will be processed for food. Farming and ranching are vocations that put a person in direct contact with the mysteries of life and death, and it’s a bit much for most of us.
We name the laying hens, but not the meat birds. We watch the cattle in awe, but we try not to develop close relationships with them.
Julie somehow dispenses with all that. She gives the animals names, honoring the individuality of each one. It occurs to me that it takes pretty awesome strength to show that kind of humility. She doesn’t try to remake the cycle of life by pretending those animals are simply commodities or by pretending that being alive doesn’t require reliance on others.
“I know I have given them the best life possible. I know they’re happy and every day that they were here, they were happy,” she responds when I ask her how she does this.
Are you familiar with that part of the Bible where Rebecca asks about the babies who are already fighting in her womb, “If this is the case, why do I even exist?”
Julie answers that question every day. We exist because we have the power to spread the light of kindness, even in the dark places.
Note to the FTC: Julie tried to give me three broiler chickens to eat, but I thought that was too big of a gift. These are hand-raised, hand-processed pastured chickens and they were delicious! You’ll see some ads for Miele Farms in the Hungry Chicken Homestead newsletter as a trade.
copyright 2016 Hungry Chicken Homestead