Amanda and Michael Parris raise Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed by AGW beef cattle at A & M Farms in Hillsville, Virginia. “Michael and I have both lived on farms our entire life,” says Amanda. “Michael went to Virginia Tech where he was an animal and poultry science major. He’s now a fire chief for the state of Virginia, and I am an equine dentist by profession. Growing up, both of our families used conventional methods of farming—just because that’s the way it had always been done—but when we started farming together, we began to research what our other opportunities were.” Amanda and Michael are joined on the farm by their two children, Autumn and Larkin, along with Amanda’s mother, the “backbone of the farm,” Kathy Surratt.
Amanda and Michael purchased the 100-acre farm in 2011. “We have around 70 acres on the home farm, as well as an 18-acre piece of land at my mom’s place that we use as a weaning and transitional area. Our farm had a lot of unimproved land that also pushed us to take on a ‘how can we do this sustainably and creatively’ attitude. It’s been rewarding over time, as we can evaluate what has worked from year to year,” says Amanda.
Amanda and Michael manage a herd of Certified Grassfed by AGW beef cattle, the first—and only—food label in the U.S. and Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, and raised entirely outdoors on pasture or range. “Our herd consists of approximately 54 bred heifers, and we have 12 in our marketing program that would be finishers who haven’t been harvested, along with Charlie, our bull,” says Amanda. “The Hereford breed is the breed we want to embrace. We have a Hereford bull, along with a primary Angus cow and heifer group, so we crossbreed right now and are transitioning out of Angus toward Hereford.”
The cattle at A & M Farms are rotationally managed, grazing one section of pasture before being moved to fresh fields. This type of management allows grass to recover before cows return to graze again; it also keeps the soil naturally fertilized and minimizes the potential build-up of internal parasites, thereby avoiding reliance on chemical treatments.
For Amanda and Michael, the most important aspect of their animal husbandry practices lies in caring for the land: “We really believe in nurturing land because the land will make the animals healthier. We put much of our focus on that,” Amanda explains. “For us, it’s about how we can be better grass farmers. Over time, we’ve learned a lot about the soil and we’re interested in feeding microbes and increasing organic matter so that we create the healthiest, highest quality product we can. When we have extra resources, we focus on getting healthier land and healthier cows. It’s amazing how you can eliminate so many challenges by focusing on the health of the land.”
Amanda and Michael chose to pursue Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed by AGW certifications as a way to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. “We want to separate our product from a conventional product, and when we went grassfed, we tried to make sure there was a level of transparency for our customers. The Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed by AGW certifications both stood out from the crowd.”
Heading into the future, Amanda and Michael’s long-term farming goal is to be sustainable. “If I had to rank our goals, first is to be sustainable because we’re putting a lot of time, energy, effort and income into the farm. Second is for the farm to provide an extra layer of income. And third, to revolutionize the way people handle beef on the East Coast. We’re looking into forming an alliance of growers who can market as a group. Helping other producers is also at the heart of what we do.”
Animal Welfare Approved and Certified Grassfed by AGW beef from A & M Farms is available through online order (shipping available up the East Coast) and also for pick up on-farm by appointment. Additionally, A & M Farms beef is also available at multiple farmers’ markets and outlets in the Hillsville area. Check the AWA directory for details. For more information, visit www.aandmfarmsbeef.com, the farm’s Facebook page and Twitter feed or contact Amanda and Michael Parris at email@example.com and 276-733-6968.