It is estimated that there were 1 billion cattle and 767 million pigs worldwide in 2019. And there were 996 million chickens in 2018. The number of chickens alone is three times larger than the global human population. Animal source foods like meat, eggs, milk, yoghurt, and cheese comprise an important part of our daily diets, and the consumption is expected to continue to grow.
Industrial-scale farming systems enable mass production of cheap animal foods at low cost. However, poorly managed livestock systems have raised various environmental and health concerns. Factory farms, in which 99 percent of farmed animals in the United States are estimated to live, produce tremendous amounts of animal waste that can contain contaminants such as plant nutrients, pathogens, antibiotics, and other chemicals.
But many innovative livestock farmers around the world are driving change by moving away from conventional farming. Instead of raising animals in confinement systems, the farmers provide animals with access to the outdoors and facilities to express their natural behaviors—for pigs to root and for chickens to peck. On pasture-based farms, animals are raised on grassland all year round, and the paddocks are rotated to prevent overgrazing. Farmers who produce 100 percent grass-fed beef raise and finish their cattle on grassland, letting the ruminants eat what they are designed to eat for their entire life.
According Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist and rancher, mimicking nature using livestock is the only option for us to reverse desertification and climate change. According to Savory and other proponents of regenerative agriculture, carefully planned rotational cattle grazing can allow grassland to rest and grow, and this process accelerates the storage of atmospheric carbon into the soil and plants.
Many farmers on this list have switched from industrial to sustainable livestock production systems showing they can protect the environment, promote animal welfare, and improve incomes. And the farmers also try to go beyond their own farms to spread the innovations and empower other farmers, community members, and consumers.
To celebrate their work, Food Tank highlights 28 innovative livestock farmers who are shaping the future of livestock production.
1. Aloha House (Philippines): Keith Mikkelson
Keith Mikkelson is the Executive Director of Aloha House, a ranch and an organic farm in Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan in the Philippines. The food produced on the farm caters to the local community and Aloha Orphanage housed on the farm. Mikkelson raises cattle, goats, hogs, and chickens on his small-scale, diverse farm in the tropics, and these animals are part of the natural farming process. Mikkelson makes use of animal power, manure, and other animal byproducts to grow vegetables, make fertilizers, and turn other wastes like forage crop residues into useful materials including biochar. He has shared his knowledge and experiences in livestock-farm integration, feed production, and cost-saving strategies through his writings and lectures.
2. Bean Hollow Grassfed (United States): Betsy Dietel and Mike Sands
Bean Hollow Grassfed is a family owned farm in Flint Hill, Virginia. Mike Sands and Betsy Dietel operate the farm, and their son Will Sands and his spouse Giada Bertonelli joined the team in 2018. The farm works to bolster biodiversity on the farm. The farm puts their cattle and sheep together to work symbiotically. These two species prefer to graze on different vegetation and can work together to control diseases and parasites. Multi-species grazing can also increase productivity and improve pasture. The farm does not sell its products online to promote local food purchase. The family encourages people to visit the farm in person to pick up the food and learn how it is produced.
3. Belcampo (United States): Anya Fernald
Anya Fernald is the Co-founder and CEO of Belcampo Meat Co, an organic and animal welfare certified farm in Northern California. Belcampo grows cattle, pigs, broilers, and layers, and the farm has built its own alternative meat supply chain from the farm to retail shops and restaurants. This vertically integrated chain can enhance transparency and traceability. Animals are butchered and processed on a small scale at the Belcampo’s whole animal butchery designed by Temple Grandin, an American animal behavior and welfare expert. In addition, at the Belcampo’s retail shop, customers are given opportunities to talk to their butchers and learn about the meat they are purchasing. Through this process, Belcampo is trying to link customers to butchers.
4. Big Picture Beef (United States): Ridge Shinn
Ridge Shinn launched Big Picture Beef in 2016 in Hardwick, Massachusetts to provide the Northeast United States with locally grown 100 percent grass-fed beef. Shinn partners with local family farms to assist them to produce beef sustainably and ensure a more stable income through expanded sales channels. The partner farmers raise their cattle according to the Big Picture Beef’s protocol. Then, the farmers transfer their stocks to the Big Picture Beef’s finishing farms where graziers fatten the cattle for market using regenerative grazing techniques. It ensures that the cattle have never eaten corn and grains at a conventional feedlot.
5. Brown’s Ranch (United States): Gabe Brown
Gabe Brown raises cattle, sheep, hogs, and broiler and layer chickens at his Brown’s Ranch in Bismarck, North Dakota. Brown uses different cropping strategies and no-till farming techniques to protect and improve the quality of soil. He has unified cash crops, cover crops, and his cattle in an integrated crop-livestock system. Various cover crops and cash crop residues after harvest serve to feed cattle, which are managed according to Allan Savory’s Holistic Management principles. In turn, the cattle improve soil health through grazing and manure. Brown has written a book on regenerative agriculture and is a partner of Understanding Ag, a regenerative agricultural consulting firm.
6. Central Grazing Company (United States): ReGina Cruse and Jacqueline Smith
In 2015, ReGina Cruse and Jacqueline Smith founded the Central Grazing Company in Lawrence, Kansas to grow sheep on pasture for meat and leather. Smith started to produce leather items, when she learned about the complexity of the leather supply chain, which involves multiple rounds of selling and buying until products finally reach consumers. The farm collaborates closely with local businesses to process hides in order to support local economies and build a more traceable supply chain. Cruse and Smith guarantee fair pricing to their partners including smallholder farmers, which provides financial incentives to keep up their work.
7. Centre Songhai (Benin): Godfrey Nzamujo
Centre Songhai was founded by Godfrey Nzamujo in 1985 in Proto-Novo, Benin. It is a zero-waste farm which integrates plant, animal, and fish production components. The farm recycles all by-products or wastes produced from one production component to use it in another component. For example, livestock manure is converted into compost for plant production and biogas for cooking and lighting. The Centre also trains young people to make them capable of implementing the Songhai model throughout the African continent for food security and sustainable development. The Songhai model has been replicated in many African countries, including Nigeria and Uganda amongst others.
8. Chew’s Agriculture (Singapore): Edvin Lim
Edvin Lim is the director of Chew’s Agriculture in Singapore, one of the first Southeast Asian egg producers that joined the Certified Humane program in 2019. In 2014, Chew’s started investing in the facility and techniques required to raise laying hens in a more livable environment in which they can express their natural behaviors. To establish a more sustainable farming operation, Chew’s will provide poultry waste to an engineering services provider called Acropower for electricity generation. In return, Acropower will provide cheaper electricity to the farm. In addition, Chew’s has gained a sustainability-linked loan from DBS, an initiative by the Singaporean multinational bank to encourage enterprises to implement sustainable business practices. The farm will adhere to the Humane Farm Animal Care standards to secure lower interest rates; in addition, the farm plans to use the loan to build a new, more spacious cage-free facility.
9. Ecofarms (Brazil): Bruno Andrade
Ecofarms is operated by Bruno Andrade in Brazil, one of three ranchers who created Pecuaria Neutra to promote the production of greenhouse gas neutral livestock. He is the fourth generation of rancher in his family, but he has shifted to a more sustainable livestock production. The beef he produces is branded as Gran Beef, and it is certified by Rainforest Alliance, which has a set of sustainable livestock production standards. Working with Pecuaria Neutra’s Neutral Livestock Project, Andrade works to preserve the woodland that covers more than 40 percent of his farm and plant more trees.
10. Enonkishu Conservancy (Kenya): Lippa and Tarquin Wood
Based on principles of Holistic Management, Enonkishu Conservancy in Kenya strives to manage the Kenyan rangeland more sustainably and find a balance among livestock production, wildlife conservation, and Maasai communities’ livelihood and heritage. The Woods founded Mara Training Centre to provide training for the community to develop various skills in sustainable rangeland management, soil and water regeneration, and value chain development.
11. Fazenda Triqueda (Brazil): Leonardo Resende
Leonardo Resende operates Fazenda Triquesda in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Resende raises Brangus in a silvopasture, which integrates livestock with forests to offset greenhouse gas emissions from cattle and to preserve water and soil. Resende co-founded Pecuaria Neutra and implemented the Neutral Livestock Project to promote regenerative livestock management practices and silvopastoral livestock production systems. The organization’s certification programs examine soil health and greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, particularly enteric methane.
12. Fordhall Farm (United Kingdom): Ben Hollins
Fordhall Farm is a community-owned farm operated by a tenant farmer Ben Hollins in Shropshire, England. More than 8,000 members—landlords—purchased through the Fordhall Community Land Initiative, which Hollins initiated alongside his sister Charlotte Hollins to prevent the farm from being sold for development. Hollins rears cattle, sheep, and pigs on the farm. They raise cattle and sheep using a permaculture-based outdoor grazing system called foggage farming that was developed by his father. In this system, animals live in the pasture all year round, including the winter season. In addition, Fordhall’s Care Farming and Growing Confidence programs offer vulnerable youth and adults bountiful opportunities including livestock feeding and husbandry to develop their social skills, confidence, and a feeling of belonging to the community.
13. Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch (United States): Frank Reese
Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Kansas raises heritage chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. The breeds raised by Reese, such as Plymouth Barred Rock and Cornish, were once common but have now given way to more commercial breeds. Reese has been working to save such breeds from extinction by raising them according to the American Livestock Conservancy standards and bringing them back to today’s marketplace.
14. Keggfarms (India): Vinod Kapur
Keggfarms Pvt. Ltd. in Gurgaon, India is a poultry breeding farm as well as a social enterprise founded by Vinod Kapur. Kapur’s goal is to help poor rural communities by increasing household income, providing nutrition security, and empowering the women who take care of the chickens. Keggfarms developed a hybrid breed called Kuroiler, which can be consumed for both eggs and meat. Kuroiler is characterized by higher productivity and adaptability to the rural Indian environment; therefore, this breed requires less labour and resources to raise. Kapur has also established a distribution model pertinent to the rural areas so they can efficiently supply Kuroiler breeding stock throughout Indian villages.
15. Koddfarms Homestead (Nigeria)
Koddfarms is a farm in a wooded area in Ogun, Nigeria that rears cattle, pigs, and chickens; it is also a Savory Hub. The farm is dedicated to producing organic food and regenerating land through holistic management. Animals on the farm are naturally bred and raised in an open, chemical-free environment full of greenery. Koddfarms Training Center teaches soil and water regeneration to livestock producers and works for community development and empowerment.
16. Markegard Family Grass-fed (United States): Doniga Markegard
Markegard Family Grass-fed is a family farm located in California that produces grass-fed beef and lamb, pastured pork, and dairy products. In addition to practicing regenerative farming and holistic grazing, Doniga Markegard, co-owner of the farm, takes action to support farmers’ movements for policy and advocacy. The farm is also one of Holistic Management International’s learning sites for farmers, providing courses with renowned experts on permaculture, keyline design for watershed stewardship, and raw milk production.
17. Niman Ranch Pork Company (United States): Paul Willis
Paul Willis, a fourth-generation hog farmer from Thornton, Iowa, is dedicated to preserving traditional hog farming, improving animal welfare, and practicing land stewardship. Willis established Niman Ranch Pork Company, a pork production division of Niman Ranch, after meeting Bill Niman, a cattle rancher and the founder of Niman Ranch, in 1995. Willis started buying hogs from family farmers who were being squeezed from the commodity market by factory farms to make family farming more viable. Willis worked together with animal welfare experts to write a detailed protocol for the farmers to follow. Confining hogs is forbidden, and the hogs should be raised without using antibiotics and growth promoting hormones. He also incentivizes the farmers to improve the eating quality of the pork they produce.
18. Polyface Farm (United States): Joel Salatin
Joel Salatin and his family raise cattle, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and turkeys at Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. Salatin moves cattle with the help of electric fencing to prevent overgrazing, allowing the grass to go through its lifecycle while the cattle are away. After the cattle, he moves chickens to different paddocks daily using mobile chicken coops, which provide the birds with shelter. Each animal has a role in the ecosystem of his farm. For instance, pigs like to root with their nose, which Salatin calls the pigness of the pig, and he relies on that instinct to aerate the mixture of deep bedding and cattle manure and urine so that aerobic microbes produce a compost pile. Salatin readily shares his knowledge and experience with others through his writing and public speaking, and his practices have been replicated by numerous farmers.
19. Ridgedale Farm (Sweden): Yohanna Amselem and Richard Perkins
Ridgedale Farm in Västra Ämtervik, Sweden is operated by Richard Perkins and Yohanna Amselem. The farm produces pasture-raised chicken eggs and meat from cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys. Perkins and Amselem sell their products through REKO-Ring, a new distribution model popular in Northern European countries that directly connects farmers and consumers using Facebook groups. The farm also offers online courses as well as on-farm training jointly with co-teachers and guest speakers. Included is an upcoming class with Joel Salatin this year. Farmers and other interested individuals can learn about permaculture, regenerative farming, agroforestry systems, pasture-based livestock, holistic management, and the farm’s poultry slaughter facility. Perkins is also an author of a book on regenerative agriculture.
20. Savory Institute (United States): Allan Savory
Allan Savory is an ecologist and livestock farmer from Zimbabwe, who serves as the co-founder and president of the Savory Institute located in Boulder, Colorado. He has developed and promoted Holistic Management, a planning process to help farmers take care of soil health and make better decisions on when and where their cattle should graze on their land. Such planned grazing allows plants to recover and restart their lifecycle after having been exposed to cattle. The Savory Institute and leading scientists have also collaboratively developed Ecological Outcome Verification (EOV), an evaluation scheme that informs farmers if their regenerative practices have actually resulted in the intended outcomes, namely the improved health of the soil and the ecosystem. The organization further utilizes the scheme to more directly connect regenerative farmers with brands and retailers through their Land-to-Market initiative.
21. Southern Blue Regenerative (Australia): Glen and Lucinda Chapman
In addition to raising sheep and cattle at Southern Blue Regenerative in New South Wales, Australia, Glen and Lucinda Chapman are dedicated to providing farmers with educational opportunities and helping them improve their own farm operations. Glen Chapman is an Accredited Savory Institute Holistic Management Educator and offers workshops and training programs on various topics including holistic planned grazing, soil health, biodynamic farming, and management skills. For individuals interested in learning about regenerative farming practices outside Australia, he runs international tours in the United States and Central and South America to visit farms and agricultural organizations such as the Polyface Farm and Rodale Institute.
22. Stepney City Farm (United Kingdom)
Stepney City Farm is an urban farm in East London, England. The farm started as a community farm called Stepping Stones Farm in 1979, and a charity has since taken over. One of the past projects implemented on the farm is The Pig Idea, where campaigners gathered unused food waste from London to feed eight pigs to demonstrate that food waste could be used as feed for pigs for environmental and financial sustainability. While the farm is a learning place for students and adults, it also runs a well-being program for seniors over 60 where they get to interact with animals like rabbits, goats, and sheep. Meat from pigs, goats, and sheep are also sold once a year at the farm.
23. The Calf at Foot Dairy (United Kingdom): Fiona Provan
Fiona Provan is the founder of The Calf at Foot Dairy in Suffolk, England. Provan puts each dairy cow’s health and well-being as the first priority. In the conventional dairy industry, calves are taken away soon after birth to maximize the amount of milk provided for human consumption. Alternatively, Provan allows her dairy cows to stay with their calves until the calf reaches 9 to 10 months old so that they can naturally wean.
24. The Way We Were Farm (India): Sanjay Bhalla
Sanjay Bhalla founded The Way We Were Farm in Noida, near New Delhi, India. Bhalla produces A2 milk (A1 and A2 milk contain different types of beta-casein milk protein) from Gir cows, a traditional desi cow breed in India. Bhalla endeavors to increase both public awareness and the consumption of A2 milk and hopes to promote the continued growth of traditional cattle breeds in India. Bhalla also merges cattle rearing with organic farming on his farm, thus mimicking the traditional ways of farming.
25. TK Ranch (Canada): Dylan and Colleen Biggs
TK Ranch has been producing grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture-raised heritage pork and poultry meat in the Northern Fescue Grasslands, an endangered ecosystem in Alberta, Canada, for more than 60 years. Due to its location, the farm is dedicated to preserving the prairie and providing habitats for wildlife in the area, while establishing a sustainable model for agriculture. In addition, the farm is well recognized for its low stress animal handling techniques for better herd management. Dylan Biggs has taught the techniques and other best practices through seminars and clinics to help others improve their communication and handling skills.
26. Tona Farm (India)
Tona Organic Farm in Tona Village in West Bengal, India was established in 2003 as an initiative of Bio-Diverse Farming Pvt. Ltd and is co-owned by farmers from the village. The farm is committed to providing organic food, including meat products free of antibiotics, at affordable prices while creating a healthy farm ecosystem. Zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100 percent waste recycling are among the goals that the farm works to achieve. Animal waste is converted into fertilizer for plants, and medicinal herbs are used to feed the animals. In addition, by offering industrial training and consultancy to village farmers, the farm aims to lead the community to self-reliance.
27. Walden Farm (China): Qiang Lin
Walden Farm is situated on the top of a hill in Northern Sichuan, China. Founded based on Taoism, they see farming as how they build a harmonious relationship with nature. Pigs, chickens, and goats have access to the forest where the goat has the role of maintaining the forest. Furthermore, the farm transforms pig waste into biogas using an anaerobic digester and uses it as cooking gas in the farm’s kitchen.
28. White Oak Pastures (United States): Will Harris
White Oak Pastures is a zero-waste farm located in Bluffton, Georgia and a Savory Hub committed to regenerating grasslands with help from properly managed livestock. Will Harris raised cattle conventionally using hormones, pesticides, and herbicides, but he made a dramatic shift to his farm in 1995 to grow cattle, goat, sheep, hogs, and chickens more naturally. At the White Oak Pastures’ on-farm abattoirs— designed by Temple Grandin—animals are processed slowly and every part of the animal is used after slaughtering, including blood, bone, viscera, and fat. On-farm slaughter prevents animals from experiencing unnecessary stress during transport. Moreover, the farm is open for interested farmers and consumers who want to see how it uses the holistic planned grazing model and learn how to make useful items like candles and soaps using animal parts.