Will and Waltina Hanna raise Certified Grassfed by A Greener World (AGW) sheep and Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pigs at Hanna Family Ranch in Bentonville, Arkansas. Both Will and Waltina grew up in an agricultural area in California, and were involved in 4H as children. While the connection with their agricultural roots diverged when they began their careers, after 20 years they’ve returned to the farming lifestyle.
Hanna Family Ranch consists of 35 acres of mixed pasture and woodlands, as well as two large and thriving ponds. “We work to maintain and improve the pastures so they are healthy, and we spend a lot of time to protect and ensure the wellbeing of the woods and pond environments,” Waltina explains. “The animals have access to around 30 acres of grazing and range out of the total 35 acres.”
The flock of 30 sheep at Hanna Family Ranch is Certified Grassfed by AGW. This is the only certification and food label in the U.S. and Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, raised entirely outdoors on pasture or range, and managed according to the highest welfare and environmental standards on an independent family farm.
Will and Waltina raise Katahdin cross sheep—a hairless breed that is a particularly good fit for their ranch. “We are moving through our breeding program to get to a more Katahdin line,” Will explains. “Right now I’ve got a couple woolies in the mix somewhere, so we’re trying to get to a pure Katahdin. We’ve found they tend to be a better meat sheep and they’re typically good mothers that frequently have twins. We find that the more we get the flock into that Katahdin line, the better success we get.”
The grassfed sheep at Hanna Family Ranch are rotationally managed, grazing one section of pasture before being moved to fresh fields. This type of management allows grass to recover before sheep return to graze again; it also keeps the soil properly fertilized and minimizes the build-up of internal parasites, thereby avoiding reliance on chemical treatments. Will and Waltina test the sheep quarterly for parasitic worms. They have found that while Katahdins are not immune, they’re less susceptible to worms. “We’ve found that the more Katahdin breed in the sheep, especially the ewes, the less frequently we find parasites. We think it’s a breed characteristic, showing better natural resistance.”
Waltina and Will also manage around 40 Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pigs at the ranch. The Hannas focus on raising two traditional breeds on the farm: Large Blacks and Berkshires. “These traditional breeds are a good fit for our farm because they are designed to live and thrive in an outdoor, pasture-based environment,” Will explains. “These pigs are truly pasture-raised and can access one of the ponds, where they can wallow and maintain body temp, and so stay comfortable in the summer months.”
“The pork you’ll find in most stores typically comes from a fast-growing hybrid pig, raised indoors in confinement operations, and they’re specifically bred for that system. Like many other traditional breeds, our Large Blacks and Berkshires are best-suited to live in the woods and on pastures, which is their natural environment. While they might be slower growing, these breeds are known to produce the best tasting, highest-quality pork that we’re trying to achieve.”
For Waltina and Will, producing a pork product that is raised naturally on pasture without growth promoters or subtherapeutic antibiotics is extremely important: “We’re providing a healthy product for our customers while simultaneously offering an excellent quality of life for the animal,” says Will. “It’s so important to us that our pigs get to live like pigs were intended to live.”
Pasture-based management is also very good at maintaining the woodlands and pastures at Hanna Family Ranch. “These pigs are great for my woods, and they help me to ensure the pasture and woods stay healthy,” says Will. “They go through woods and they eat certain things, root up certain things like weeds, scrub and pest insects and larvae. Sometimes people use prescribed burns to ensure the health of the woods, but I’ve found our pigs’ rooting does the very same thing at a much lower environmental impact. It’s a win-win.”
Pursuing Certified Grassfed by AGW and Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW certification arose from the Hanna’s desire to raise animals in a way that benefits the animals, while providing a better quality product for their customers. They also make the most of the free technical support offered to farmers in the program: “We don’t pretend to know everything, and we are constantly learning, and need resources to help us,” says Will. “With AGW, we have a resource pool when we have questions. The answers we receive are from people who have experience raising animals on pasture, based on a set of criteria that is all about the health of the animal and the environment.”
Will and Waltina’s long-term plans include growing the farm and increasing production. “Our customer base is growing, so we’re going to develop more pastures and add more fencing so that we can create paddocks and rotate pastures more easily. By doing that, I can increase the number of pigs that I have.”
While Will and Waltina’s main focus and source of employment is the farm, the farming lifestyle gives them the opportunity to take part in another important focus of their life: volunteering. The couple volunteer at a local children’s shelter, often hosting visits and tours at the farm for children and other friends, family and even area chefs. Will and Waltina love having visitors out to the farm: “Our lives have been blessed and we just want to share,” they explain. “The more we share and educate and teach people about the farm, the better it is for everyone.”
The Hannas belong to a variety of farming organizations such as Arkansas Grown program and Homegrown by Heroes (Will is a Vietnam veteran). Hanna Family Ranch is also a woman-owned business, and they use the farm as a platform to encourage women to get into agriculture.
Certiifed Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pork and Certified Grassfed by AGW lamb from Hanna Family Ranch is available at several restaurants around Arkansas and directly from the farm. Check the product directory for details. For current pricing and product listings, as well as contact information, visit www.hannafamilyranch.com. For more information about Hanna Family Ranch, visit their Facebook page and contact Will and Waltina at email@example.com or 479-586-8010.