An Interview with Rabbit Ridge Farms
At Bell Urban Farm, we source food from more than 100 producers across Arkansas. One of our producers, Rabbit Ridge Farms, provides us with pork, chicken, and beef products at the Farmstand.
We recently sat down with our friends, Alan and Angela Mahan, to learn more about their farming operation.
What is the mission of Rabbit Ridge Farms?
“We create community through food and agriculture,” said Angela.
Where is the farm located?
"We are located in the community of Rabbit Ridge. We are about 7 miles from Bee Branch, about 5 miles from Damascus, and 7 miles from Center Ridge,” described Angela.
“Rabbit Ridge is an actual geographical location, rather than being a farm that raises and sells rabbits,” added Alan.
What are you known for?
“We would like people to know us for our transparency… People can come to the farm to meet us and see how we raise our animals. Even someone who lives on the west coast can see pictures and videos we share about our farm, so they trust us to produce something that we then ship to their house,” said Angela.
Alan added, “we try to provide a place that we can teach people where their food actually comes from. So we do a lot of training with everyone from young kids in elementary school to older adults. We are also building memories for people. People choose to celebrate good times at the farm, and the milestones in their lives, which is very humbling and makes us very proud. We bring a lot of people to the farm, and in return, many people bring us into their homes. That may be with bacon or sausage on Christmas morning or a prime rib to celebrate an anniversary. That is something that we are known for and that we are proud of.”
When did you start farming?
“We established Rabbit Ridge Farms together in 2014, but we both started farming a while back,” said Angela.
Alan, when did you start farming?
“I grew up on a dairy farm adjacent to the farm we are on now. We had the dairy farm until I was a senior in high school. In 1996, I bought my first beef cattle. It evolved into a large commercial cow/calf herd, but in 2014 we decided to completely change our mission on how we were farming. We shifted from the commercial side, to regenerative practices and selling directly to the consumer. We are trying to build the soil back and leave Rabbit Ridge better than how we found it, and we do that with animal impact on grass. Whether it is a cow, chicken, or pig, it is all about animal impact and restoring the organic material in the soil,” said Alan.
What about you Angela - how did you get into farming?
“I grew up on a row-crop farm in northeast Arkansas. My father farms corn, soybeans, and cotton and continued farming until 2011. In 2013, Alan and I married and made the shift towards creating Rabbit Ridge Farms. We have four children together, and we laugh that Rabbit Ridge is our fifth baby. We decided we both wanted to do things differently than we had before. That is when we decided to focus on regenerative agricultural practices that are not just sustaining the earth, but make it better,” said Angela.
Is your farm family-owned?
“Yes, we are definitely family-owned, and all of our children have participated in the past. If our children weren’t doing good things and doing well in their life, then we couldn’t do what we do. So, while they can’t be there Monday through Friday 8:00 - 5:00, they may actually be there at an event, working, or they may not and may be good contributing members of society so we can do what we do,” Angela remarked.
What do you grow on your farm?
“We grow cattle, hogs, and chickens, and we grow them all on pasture,” said Alan.
How does raising cattle, hogs, and chickens affect your pasture?
“Everything from a squirrel to a deer, to any of the animals that live in the woods, benefit from the animal rotations rather than taking away the things that they need environmentally to thrive. Whether it be the hogs, cattle, or chickens, the animals behave as they were intended in their natural environment. The chickens are scratching and pecking the soil, and by the way, in one day, they are leaving enough fertilizer for an entire year in that area. They are tilling the soil and planting seeds - it creates the lushest green pastures that you have ever seen. The pastures are better after the animals leave than they were before,” Alan remarked.
What breed are your hogs?
“We focus on three different breeds, and how we cross-breed those breeds has been really effective. We use the Hampshire, Yorkshire, and Duroc breeds. We buy our boars from an actual seed-stock producer, somebody that produces the type of boar we are looking for. So we are looking for hogs that can thrive outside, that can have good maternal instincts to take care of their young, like providing them enough milk, and in order to create that, it starts with a boar from a guy in Alabama named Albert Harway, and he has to breed these hogs for years,” explained Alan.
What breed are your chickens?
“Our chickens are a Cornish Cross. I find it to be the only viable chicken that you can get enough feed conversion. When I say feed conversion, I mean how many pounds of feed it takes to finish the chicken. There are some people that grow a heritage chicken, but it takes 3 to 4 weeks longer to be butchered, which is just not economically feasible. The Cornish Cross is a fantastic chicken. We just put it out in an environment where it can flourish. We get those chicks when they are a day old from an independent producer in Arkansas, Natural Dam. It is basically the same genetics that they are growing commercially; we are just growing them in a different manner,” said Alan.
What breed of cattle do you have?
“We primarily use Angus-cross cattle. Currently, we are using bulls from a local breeder, Phillip DeSalvo, owner of Big D Ranch. I am really big on buying seed stock from someone who grows seed stock because they are passionate about it. They have so many ways of measuring the performance of a bull or boar before it goes into production. You can see into what the expected progeny will be because they keep the statistics on their stock. The bulls we are getting from Big D Ranch are called Ultra Blacks. The cross is Angus and Brangus, two great breeds,” said Alan.
How do you raise your cattle, and what do they eat?
"Cattle, intensively graze an area and then moving on to another pasture. Leaving the parasite chain, leaving the flies behind, and letting the land have a chance to heal. Similar to the way the buffalo would have crossed the plains,” said Alan.
Alan added, “We have a cow/calf operation, and we are raising the calves from the mother cow, and then we are grass-finishing those calves.”
And, your chickens? What is their life like?
“The chickens arrive at a day old, and then we brood them until they are about three weeks. They go on pasture for an additional five weeks. Our chickens have a diet that is designed originally for chickens. Chickens like to scratch, peck, eat worms and eat crickets. And we also supplement our chickens with additional feed. The chickens eat so many different varieties of plants and animals out on the pasture, and that creates a different type of meat,” Alan said.
How do you raise your hogs?
“We have a farrow-to-finish operation. We literally have a herd of sows and boars, and we are creating our own pigs on the farm rather than bringing in somebody else’s pigs and raising them. Everything that is born on the farm stays on the farm for its entire life,” Alan described.
What do hogs like to eat?
“Our hogs are probably eating 30 different species of plants and animals out there. They are disturbing the soil, replanting a soil bed, and leaving so much fertilization. The acorns, the hickory nuts, all of these things the hogs are processing, and in turn, we are rotating the pastures on these animals, and the animals are leaving lush replanted material in those areas that are coming back strong for the wildlife,” Alan explained.
You mentioned pasture-raised - are your hogs forest-raised too?
"Yup! The woods are the ideal place for hogs. That is where they really thrive,” exclaimed Alan.
Do you use antibiotics?
“If there is an animal that becomes sick, yes, we use them, but we don’t put that into our food chain,” said Alan.
Where are your animals processed?
“This is one of the things we tell people all the time. Really what makes our food different is not only what they eat and are exposed to, but a lot of it has to do with processing,” said Alan.
“Our hogs and cattle, all red meat, goes to Cyprus Valley in Pottsville, which is a USDA inspected facility. That is the requirement for anybody selling meat directly to another person. That meat, by law, has to be inspected by a trained USDA Inspector to make sure the animal is healthy before it is processed. Anybody that sells retail has to be USDA inspected,” described Alan.
Alan added, “The chickens are processed at a place in Clinton, called Natural State Processing, that does a complete organic processing. Our chickens are air-chilled. They are not soaked in chlorine. It makes for a really clean, tasty chicken.”
Where can people purchase your products?
“Right now, and we have no other plans, the only retail place you can buy our products is Bell Urban Farm,” said Alan.
“And they can also come to the farm or buy online!” Angela added.
Are there any restaurants that use your products?
“The Root Cafe and Mockingbird Bar and Tacos,” said Angela.
Alan added, “Table 28 and Hillcrest Artisan Market.”
Do the meat products you sell have antibiotics in them?
“We guarantee that our meat is antibiotic-free,” said Alan.
Does your farm have any certifications?
Angela explained, “We are proud to be certified Arkansas Grown and Arkansas Made. We are also a member of Homegrown by Heroes; Alan is a Veteran. We have no plans to acquire any further certifications mainly because it is so expensive. We just can’t justify the expense which is why we prefer to be completely transparent. We are a farm you can actually visit and see how we raise our animals. So as far as officially certifications such as certified organic or certified pasture-raised, we choose not to.”
Does your farm offer other opportunities besides the food you grow, like classes, workshops, or dinners?
Angela and Alan shared, “We host breakfasts and dinners, classes, and workshops. We offer tours and lodging. We have a really great set-up for corporate groups and even private parties.”
How can people learn more about Rabbit Ridge?
Stay tuned for more interviews to learn who produces the local food we offer at Bell Urban Farm!