Our family of Jerseys can be found lounging by the Tin Barn or grazing the upper pasture with our flock of sheep. They may be smaller than their spotted sisters the Holsteins, but their milk “creams” the competition—Jerseys produce milk with the highest butterfat content, making them a preferred breed for butter and cheese producers. Although a highly regarded breed in the dairy world, Jerseys still only make up less than 10% of the dairy population in the US—nearly 90% of our country’s dairy cows are Holsteins. Like many dairies, we use artificial insemination rather than a bull when it’s time for breeding, and when we’re in calf season we milk twice daily using a milking machine. Depending on how far along they are in their lactation cycle, Jerseys cows can produce up to 4 gallons of milk a day. As you may know, our cows (along with the sheep and goats) are ruminants, meaning that they belong to a family of animal species that have specialized, 4-compartment stomachs that allow them to digest the grasses that make up the majority of their diet. In the summer and fall we feed our cows dried grasses such as alfalfa and oat hay, but rain in the late winter and spring brings fresh grass to the Tin Barn pasture and allows us to graze the cows. While the cows enjoy the grass they also help us to take care of our pasture by dropping nutrient-rich manure and turning up any hard soil with their hooves, which increases the pasture’s ability to retain water. Want to learn more about these amazing animals? Sign up for a Cow Wow to meet our Jerseys and try your hand at milking.
It’s hard to miss our does' long ears, a nod to the Nubian goat genetics in their background. Unlike other ruminants on the farm, goats prefer to eat the leaves and shoots of woody shrubs and trees, and have evolved to be superb browsers—some goat breeds are even known to climb trees to snag a meal! Their expert browsing abilities make them an ideal species for land management and fire-risk reduction projects. Did you know that goats were one of the first livestock species to be domesticated by humans over 10,000 years ago? Their hardiness, intelligence, and social demeanor have made them one of the most ubiquitous livestock species in the world, and both goat meat and goat milk are still the most commonly consumed products in their respective categories today. We breed our does in the winter with the assistance of a buck borrowed from another local farm. The arrival of goat kids in the spring means fresh milk for the staff and an opportunity for folks to practice their hand-milking skills through special community programming.
Our sows are primarily of Berkshire and Old Spot genetics, and we often cross other breeds into our piglets. The sows in the Orchard provide visitors with an opportunity to interact with these intelligent and charismatic creatures, and they serve as breeding stock for our pork operation. Once weaned, our piglets are moved out to pasture. Their manure and ability to aerate the soil with their strong snouts helps us to improve the quality of our pastures. As you may know, the pig’s superpower is its strong and highly sensitive snout, which they can use to turn up soil and manipulate objects in search of fungus and other tasty morsels hiding in the ground. Despite their reputation for being messy, pigs are actually the cleanest animals on the farm, taking care to keep their waste areas separate from their eating and sleeping areas. Like humans, pigs are monogastric (“single-stomached”) and omnivorous, allowing them to fill a special niche as consumers of old milk, eggs, and vegetables from the farm, and bread from local bakeries that might otherwise go to waste. We sell our pork at the Los Altos Farmers’ Market on Thursday evenings May through September and on-site barn sales—come check us out!
We keep a flock of Katahdin, Horned Dorset, Romedale, Suffolk, Tunis, and Jacob ewes and welcome new lambs in the spring. You can find our ewes and lambs in the Tin Barn or out grazing on one of our two pastures. Our Katahdins—which have short-haired coats rather than wool—are often mistaken for goats, while our Horned Dorsets—with their large, curved horns—are often mistaken for rams. Perhaps our most visually striking ewes are our California Variegated Mutants (CVMs), a variant of the Romedale breed. These beauties have rich, dark brown wool and unique facial markings that make them hard to miss. In addition to their important role in our educational programming, our sheep also provide us with wool and grass-fed lamb, both of which we sell at the Los Altos Farmers’ Market and on-site barn sales. The reproductive cycle of sheep is well suited to California’s wet/dry seasons. Lush pasture in the winter provides our gestating ewes with high quality food, and the grass is still green and high in energy in the spring when the lambs are born. By summertime our sheep’s energy needs are far less demanding, making it possible for us to maintain them on dry grass through the fall. Their compatibility with the seasonal changes of California’s grasslands made them popular with ranchers in the 1800s—an estimated 6 million sheep roamed the state in 1876! Although their numbers have decreased since, California remains the second highest producer of sheep in the US today. Our Hampshire ram, Gerald, is one of the few male animals we keep here on the farm. In meat operations, Hampshire rams are commonly used as terminal sires, as they produce hardy lambs with a high feed conversion ratio (meaning they put on weight easily). You can find Gerald hanging out by the White Barn during his down time—don’t forget to stop by and say hi on your way to see the goats!
We have over 200 laying hens here on the farm; you can find them in our pastures or keeping company with the pigs in the orchard. Our free-range orchard flock features a diverse array of chicken breeds: glossy black sex-links, cream-colored amber-links, tufted Ameraucanas, and delicately scalloped Silver-Laced Wyandottes. Our pastured flocks are solely Isa Browns, a rust-red, high-production layer that provide the bulk of our egg supply. You can purchase Hidden Villa eggs at the Los Altos Farmers’ Market in the summer, or through our year-round egg-purchasing program. In addition to our laying flock, we also care for Cornish Crosses, a common breed of meat chicken. These chickens are raised on pasture and moved twice a day to fresh grass with the help of a chicken tractor (a rolling, open-bottomed coop). While the chickens enjoy the fresh grass, they also systematically fertilize the pasture with the manure they drop between moves. By harnessing the awesome power of their manure in this way, we’re able to boost soil fertility in our pastures and grow thick, healthy grass for our sheep and cows with minimal input. When they’re ready, we slaughter our birds humanely on the farm and sell fresh, organically-fed chicken to the community.