Gilcrest Natural Farm started selling to the public in the 2007 growing season at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market and added the Davidson Farmers Market in 2010. Why do we farm? The short answer is joy. The long answer would involve long discussions about food quality, sustainability, job satisfaction, and the education of the next generation. Our family supplies the majority of the labor on the farm - Gil and Amy also have off-farm jobs. Over the years our boys have participated in all sorts of chores and activities. It's the kind of education you can't get in a classroom. From time to time we will hire a contractor to help us with things we do not have the equipment or expertise to do ourselves.
We love our farm because it’s peaceful…well, most of the time. I call it the animal spa. Living in natural surroundings and in collaboration with nature creates the balance we’ve been striving for forever to achieve Long term, we close our eyes and picture content, pasture-raised animals, bountiful and sustainably raised vegetables and fruits, and someday we’ve got to get those pecan trees planted.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many head of cattle do you have?
At any given time we have between 6 and 18 cattle on our pasture. It varies with the season, age of cattle, and customer demand.
Where do you get your animals?
What age are they when you get them? We obtain our cattle from local farmers. We certify their methods to meet our standards (a 30 point checklist). We will purchase an animal at the post-weaning and then bring them to our farm to finish raising them.
How do you raise these animals?
How much access to pasture do these animals get? We raise our beef in a sustainable manner- rotating pastures, using only natural methods to seed and fertilize the pasture, and monitoring their growth and welfare. The animals are on pasture 24/7.
Do you “finish” cattle on a feedlot?
For how long? Ish, no way.
How many acres of pasture do you have for your cattle? Our cattle graze 30 acres of pasture and woodlands. We practice rotational grazing on our four pastures. Cattle are rotated pasture to pasture depending upon the amount of forage available, weather patterns, and the health and condition of the pasture’s soil.
What do your cattle eat?
Our cattle’s diet is pasture based. The grasses on our pasture and hay make up 95% of their diet. We also give our cattle limited grain each day, an average of two pounds per animal per day. We give them some grain for four reasons: 1) it enables us time to check each animal’s health each day as they are eating, 2) it creates a fine marbling in the meat that provides great flavor and ease in cooking, 3) some people detect a “gamey flavor” in strictly grass fed meat and this amount of grain negates that taste, 4) it serves as a delivery system for diatomaceous earth – a natural de-wormer and fly control. Our pasture grasses include fescue, orchard, Bermuda, red and white clover and the inevitable weeds. By giving the cattle a “salad bowl” of choices they are able to balance their diet and produce flavorful meat. By feeding a small amount of grain consistently their rumen and digestive system is able to handle this and we do not compromise their health and believe we enhance the end product.
What, if any, hormones or antibiotics are the beef cattle given?
We do not give our cattle any hormones or antibiotics. That said, if an animal needed antibiotics to save its life we would administer them. This animal would then be sold at auction and not become part of our salable inventory.
What are the ages of your cattle sent for slaughter?
Ideally our cattle are 18-24 months old when they are ready for slaughter and weigh between 1,000-1,200 lbs.
How frequently during the year do you slaughter beef?
In order to keep our supply fresh and offer a variety of cuts, we slaughter one to two times per month.
Where are your cattle slaughtered and packaged?
Our cattle are slaughtered at Cruse Meats in Concord, NC.
Why did you choose that slaughterhouse?
We choose our processors for several reasons: We receive a consistent, quality product. We see the same workers there each time we visit – low turnover contributes to well trained staff. The processor maintains a good working relationship with their NCDA/USDA inspectors and encourages us to interact with them. Any questions or issues we have are readily answered and addressed – they realize they are part of our end product and respect their role in our success.
Who/what company owns the slaughterhouse?
Cruse Meats is family owned and operated.
What cuts of meat are included in your ground beef?
Our ground beef consists of parts of the chuck, sirloin, shank, and shoulder.
What type of testing is done on your meat and at what points in the processing does this occur?
The NCDA/USDA tests each carcass and performs random tests looking for bacteria, toxins, and residue from the animal and in the processing plant. From the USDA website: the FSIS conducts tests for chemicals—including antibiotics, sulfonamides, and various other drugs, pesticides and environmental chemicals—in meat, poultry and egg products destined for human consumption. FSIS also conducts studies to determine presence of contaminants such as dioxin.
How many animals do you raise?
In a season we will raise 2,500 – 3,000 broilers. We have about 100-150 laying hens of various ages and three well behaved roosters, Harvey, Scooter, and Disco.
Where do you get these animals?
What age are they when you get them? We get our day old poultry from a hatchery in Pennsylvania. They arrive at our local post office and the workers are always glad I show up at 6am to get them. Peep, peep from 500+ chicks can be loud!
How do you raise these animals?
How much access to pasture do these animals get? We raise our broilers on pasture and our laying hens are free-range. Each group has five acres of pasture dedicated to them. When we have heritage broilers, these birds also are allowed to free range. We find the older, “true” breeds have better instincts that protect them from predators.
What are these animals fed?
What supplements do you use? Each group is fed chicken feed formulated for their growing stage in addition to their pasture diet of grasses and bugs. As chicks, a vitamin supplement is used the first week to supplement the nutritional content of their feed. The layers also receive crushed oyster shell to ensure proper calcium intake.
When are these animals given antibiotics?
When are hormones, steroids, or growth promoters given to these animals?
Are the laying hens force molted?
Never. Molting is a natural process that we do not interfere with or manipulate.
How long do the layers stay in your flock?
Layers are kept three years, however we have a few pet chickens that will be with us as long as they wish.
What practices do you use to control pests, disease and weeds on your farm?
We use organic methods (we are not certified organic) that include trap crops, companion planting, crop rotation, compost and mulch, organic fertilizers, and we remove plenty of weeds and bugs by hand. (The chickens are happy to help with bug disposal!)
What do you use to rejuvenate soil to keep it healthy and fertile?
In times of drought soil fertility is a special challenge. We use compost and aged manure along with crop rotation, cover crops, and rest periods.
What are your thoughts about growing organically?
We find growing organically a welcome challenge. We are stewards of our land and want to preserve its viability for generations to come. We specialize in heirloom vegetables and search for varieties that are suited to our climate in order to give them the best chance to succeed. We prefer the taste and nutritional content of organically grown foods and hope our customers do too.