Cofrin Park

Cofrin Park
Cofrin Nature Park

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Touring Tracy Lee Farms

Do you wonder about all those cows you drive by on the highway? I do. I’ve always wanted to visit a small farm, and chose Tracy Lee Farms, LLC, in North Central Florida, which was participating in a farm tour. 
Several pigs, over 100 head of cattle, over 300 chickens, horses and 2 donkeys share approximately 200 acres of lush farmland. Although not officially certified organic, Tracy Lee Farms uses organic practices throughout the farm and feeds only USDA certified organic feed. She invites people to come to her farm and see their farm operations first hand. 
At Tracy's side, I learned what it means to love and care for farm animals. I learned respect for the land and the intricate processes that go into preserving that land. I witnessed the dedication, independent spirit and integrity Tracy brings to her vocation. As I crisscrossed the farm, I felt an ever increasing appreciation for the food I eat, and a greater awareness of how it's produced. Thank you, Tracy.
I had watched the documentary Food Inc., so I knew of feed lots and industrial farming. Not a pretty story: scores of miserable-looking and scared-sounding cows corralled for fattening and slaughter. That movie motivated me to go organic and local in the meat department. Not an easy task. The chain grocery stores occasionally have a smattering of organic meats. The Farmer’s Market is a better bet, however many small farms continue to use less expensive commercial feed (GMO soy and corn.) Worse yet, the food industry has begun diluting what "organic" means.
My quest brought me to the local co-op, where I recently purchased some Tracy Lee Farms meat. The taste and texture of Tracy's meat far surpassed any grocery-store product. That experience prompted me to discover more about where my food comes from; especially since an animal is giving up its life to satisfy my occasional meat-eating ways. Off to the farm adventure I go.
When I arrived at Tracy Lee Farms, a wounded baby pig, greeted me like a puppy. She was convalescing in the house in order to keep her wound clean. Tracy had already formed an attachment to her and so did we. The piglet, a registered Berkshire “heritage breed,” will be the next breeding hog. The Berkshire, a rare breed originating from the county of Berkshire, England, yields more tender, juicy and flavorful pork.
After meeting the piglet, we “tip-toed through the tulips” of decomposing “fertilizer,” aka pig-poo, and stepped over a thin, electrified wire, the main type of fence they use to contain the animals. I did not test the “fence,” but the animals seemed to know to stay away from it.  Looked to me like they could just hop over it, especially the cows, but apparently they do not.
The enormous hog and her brood stole my heart. I cannot explain why I have such a fascination with farm animals. They are beautiful.

I played with one of the cows, like you do with a dog, giving it the "challenge" posture, and he scampered away; turned, and then carefully followed me.
Two donkeys share the cows’ calving pasture in order to provide protection against rogue coyotes. Coyotes stalking calves at twilight--their hunt fiercely foiled by an innocent looking donkey? Wish I'd seen that show.
Once the calves mature, they live with the other juveniles on a different pasture where they can take care of themselves without donkey supervision. They hang out, form quilting clubs, practice yoga…they even take their vitamins and minerals from a segregated trough that provides the nutrients missing from the grasses on which they graze.
Tracy Lee Farms tests their grasses in order to determine the proper mineral supplementation. Tracy explained that several pastures grow different grasses and clover for the cows' dining delight. On our visit, the cows were still on the “winter” rye grass pasture. They consume about one and a quarter acres of grass in 24 hours. That’s a lot of salad.
Tracy manages the daily tasks of moving cows and chicken pens by herself! Her husband, Michael, is on hand when he is not working his other job. I thought she must saddle up like a cowboy to move the herd, but that’s not how they do it: They create an opening to the next pasture, "and the cows come a runnin'."
Ever pass an industrial farm in your car and feel nauseated by the burning stench that followed you for miles? Tracy’s farm, although not a perfume parlor, smelled charmingly like a really clean farm or zoo. I didn’t even notice much of an odor at first. The farm smelled better than some people with whom I’ve crossed paths. I used to love the smell of horses and barns when I took riding lessons—the aromas at Tracy Lee Farms happily liberated that fond memory for me. 
Michael hauls us around on a flatbed with his tractor for several miles.
As we headed for the barn on the flatbed trailer, we passed three black steer/cows in the front yard pasture sun-bathing right next to some perfectly good shade. Tracy told us the breed came from Africa and preferred direct sun to shade. Since farming in the sunshine state has its heat-related challenges, Tracy Lee Farms is considering expanding the African-breed for their farm. Seems there’s always something new down on the farm.
The farm tour ended too soon. I could watch those animals all day long, and understand why Tracy devotes her life to her farm. It’s immediate. It’s sacred. It’s spectacular.
I left the farm feeling exhilarated yet exhausted. Think you work hard on that computer all day? Need to work out? Spend some quality time farming.
To see a video montage of the farm tour click on the YouTube link below: