Anyone who has driven across te state on Interstate 80 or Interstate 57 or 55 will attest to the fact that it’s only a rare occasion to pass by a farm and see livestock grazing in open fields or chickens roaming freely in a barn yard. However, a visit to Gunthorp Farms in LaGrange, Indiana, is an entirely different experience. As you pull in their drive, you will likely first spot the chickens roaming around in open fields, soon followed by turkeys and pigs all enjoying the sunny fall day. Later, we would also meet the ducks, pups and other farm animals at this vibrant, yet idyllic farm in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to Gunthorp Farms.
Owned and operated by Greg Gunthorp, the farm is radically different most US farms. There are no confinement hog or chicken buildings anywhere on the approximately 100-acre farm. The sows farrow on pasture in individual sheds. Gunthorp’s pigs have space to roam and wallow, a large pen, and access to trees, mud holes, and grasses. The farm also raises its own feed. The animals eat non-certified, but organically grown grains in addition to the feed acquired from grazing. Greg Gunthorp even started growing mulberry trees for the pigs, while most farmers would be cutting them out of the fencerows. According to Gunthorp, “mulberries are one of the most nutritionally complete foods for pigs and chickens. The pigs will sit under the trees waiting for the berries to drop.”
Sustainable Farming Practices and Technology
Gunthorp uses sustainable practices where practical; many of these include homemade technologies. Bringing properly pressurized water to pastured chickens provides a challenge. To solve the problem, Greg has above-ground, ½” black plastic pipe to water the chickens in their 28 acre pasture. This saves an extraordinary amount of time and labor that would be wasted hauling water daily.
Several years ago, he built a constructed wetland, modeled after natural wetlands, capable of reclaiming and cleaning one million gallons per year of wastewater from his processing plant before returning it to the water table. Greg also built solar water heaters to provide heat to the brooder house, where the chicks spend the first three weeks of life, and to heat the water for his processing plant.
Naturally, Gunthorp raises his animals without the use of hormones or genetically modified grains. He uses intensive grazing, rotating pastures using portable quonset huts, and electric netting fence for protection. He also uses on-farm composting and cover crops. Many of the practices are not really new, but, rather, remnants from past farming generations. Every animal on the farm lives outside naturally. No antibiotics. No growth hormones. Nothing that nature did not intend. Animals that are raised outdoors with access to their natural diets are not only happier – they taste better too. When they have the proper time to mature, live stress-free lives, and are treated humanely, it all correlates to a better end result.