This story by Joan Cusick originally appeared on Civil Eats

At Long Dream Farm in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Abrahams allow their heritage breed cattle to live out their lives and serve as partners in food production.

Abrahams. Photo Credit: Joan Cusick, Civil Eats

Andrew Abrahams is explaining how Long Dream Farm works—by treating animals like partners in food production—when he notices a cow nuzzling the gate to the milking room. “So, here’s Emily,” he says. “She’s very smart. She’s going to try to get this gate open, and she’s pretty capable of doing it.”

In the end, Emily doesn’t manage to open the gate. But knowing each cow is just one part of the philosophy behind this no-slaughter farm that puts the highest emphasis on animal welfare.

“I can’t conceive of not knowing the names of all the cattle, knowing their histories. It’s important to understand who their friends are, who they’re related to… I wouldn’t want to do this if I couldn’t be completely hands-on, because I think there’s so much value originating from that.”

Abrahams says

Andrew Abrahams and his wife, Krista, established Long Dream in 2011 on a 90-acre home farm, plus hundreds of acres of grazing land, in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada foothills. The farm is home to 190 heritage-breed cattle, plus chickens, donkeys, emus, guinea fowl, horses, pigs, seven working dogs, and one alpaca.

At most dairies, farmers are not on a first-name basis with their cows. One farm can have hundreds or thousands of cows that eat in indoor stalls or crowded feedlots. These operations push cows hard to increase milk production, which often translates into twice-a-day milkings, hormone injections, and too-frequent pregnancies, with calves separated from their mothers just hours after birth. After three or four years, when a cow’s milk production starts to decrease, she is sold and slaughtered for hamburger meat.


Cattle like “Captain” have their names printed on ear tags, but the Abrahams family knows all of the animals on sight. Photo Credits: Joan Cusick, Civil Eats

But Long Dream and other independent farms are beginning to challenge traditional dairy practices by prioritizing animal welfare over high-volume milk production. Under the Abrahams’ care, the cattle at Long Dream live mostly outdoors in large, fenced areas and have daily access to acres of hillside pasture. Rotational grazing provides abundant feed, which the farm supplements with hay, alfalfa, sprouted barley, and small amounts of grain and minerals. They breed cows every two years or less, and calves stay with their mothers for at least nine months. Meanwhile, chickens have free range of the farm during the day and sleep in airy coops at night as farm dogs patrol for predators.

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