We Go Beyond Natural
What does the term “natural” mean?
Defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) the term natural means: “minimally processed – no artificial ingredients”. This definition only refers to the processing of finished goods (the meat you purchase at the grocery store or restaurant). It does not address sustainable agriculture practices or how the animals are raised. USDA natural allows the use of antibiotics and artificial hormones as long as use is discontinued before creating the finished product to prevent traces of the drugs from appearing in the meat. Unfortunately this term is misleading and creates a lot of confusion. For example, under the USDA’s natural definition, pork raised in huge factory farms can be promoted as “natural pork” even though the hogs are raised inside in confinement and fed antibiotic-laden feed for most of their lives. To us this is anything but natural. We believe that to be truly natural you must go beyond the USDA’s definition, which is why we follow the Never-Ever Natural protocols.
What does Never-Ever Natural mean?
Never-Ever Natural means that our animals are NEVER given antibiotics or artificial hormones. Ever. Plus our animals are fed a 100% vegetarian diet.
Our definition also means that every independent farmer and rancher who raises livestock for us practices sustainable agriculture. This means they not only take care of the land, but also allow livestock to engage in their natural behaviors, such as living outdoors and interacting with their litter mates. From years of experience, we know that it’s imperative to go above and beyond natural. Compare the differences:
Do animals need antibiotics?
When animals live in stressful, unsanitary conditions, they get sick. However, our animals are raised using traditional methods that respect their innate behaviors rather than in crowded, unsanitary or stressful settings. This makes the need for antibiotics to treat sick animals very minimal.
The continual low-dose use of antibiotics (known as “sub-therapeutic antibiotics”) allows livestock to survive the stressful conditions that would normally make an animal sick. It also help them reach market weight faster with less feed. We believe that the regular use of antibiotics creates significant health concerns for both animals and humans, so our animals never receive antibiotics – ever.
What if one of your animals get sick?
If one of our animals gets sick and cannot get well without antibiotics, our animal welfare protocols allow for the animal to be treated. If that’s the case the animal will be removed from our program and is never sold as Niman Ranch meat. Luckily, this rarely occurs.
What’s the problem with using growth hormones?
Growth hormones, which are outlawed in much of Europe, raise a number of environmental and human concerns. In the United States, federal regulations ban the use of growth-promoting hormones for hogs, but not for cattle or sheep. Conventional cattle operations use hormones to artificially stimulate faster weight gain by increasing the growth of lean muscle and causing water retention. Our farmers and ranchers believe that animals should be allowed to mature naturally. Allowing them to do so produces meat that contains less water than conventionally produced meat. This is a big factor in the superior flavor of Niman Ranch meat.
Why is a 100% vegetarian diet important?
This ties into our dedication to raise our animals as nature intended. Cows and sheep are strict herbivores – plant eaters. Since they only eat plants, their digestive and immune systems are unequipped to handle disease from infected animal tissue that may result from feed containing animal by-products. To ensure suppliers are providing only 100% vegetarian feeds to our ranchers, we conduct random testing on feed at least once a month.
How can I be sure that all Niman Ranch farmers and ranchers adhere to your protocols?
We take our protocols very seriously. To ensure that our partners are in full compliance we follow a 3-step process:
- All of our farmers and ranchers routinely complete affidavits agreeing to follow all of our protocols.
- We personally inspect each farm before it is accepted into our program to make sure it meets our standards.
- Our field agents, based across the country, regularly visit and inspect our farms and ranches.
It’s pretty telling that we have more field agents than we have sales people.
Being second or third generation farmers that understand the importance of traditional farming our partners share our values. Most of our farmers and ranchers already raise animals humanely and need only make small adjustments to meet our protocols.
You mention no confinement, is that what a gestation crate is used for?
Yes, gestation crates are used in confinement hog farming. Also known as a sow stall, they are metal enclosures, approximately 7 foot by 2 foot. The female pig is confined to this crate, in which she cannot turn around, for virtually her entire life of repeated impregnation. Renowned animal wellness scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, who provided her guidance in the creation of our protocols says:
“We’ve got to treat animals right and gestation stalls have got to go. Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.”
At Niman Ranch we never, ever use gestation crates or stalls.
Does Niman Ranch use genetically modified (GMO) feeds?
Unfortunately the use of GMOs is now prevalent in the U.S. Cross-contamination of non-GMO fields due to wind drift from genetically modified crops does sometimes occur. While we make every effort to keep GMO material out of our feeds, we cannot guarantee that our feeds are 100% free of GMOs.
Our Farms & Ranches
What do you mean when you say Niman Ranch raises livestock 'traditionally?'
Traditional farming is a way of raising livestock as nature intended – outdoors or in deeply bedded pens, allowing the animals to express their natural instinctive behaviors such as rooting and roaming freely. These methods are used by small family farmers to preserve land and resources for the future, and to take the extra care by humanely raising their animals.
The value of sustainable farming can be understood by examining the alternative: factory farming. Factory-style hog farms house thousands of animals in crowded confinement buildings. Farm managers typically store liquefied waste in huge pits called waste lagoons that can be one story deep and acres wide. Even under the best circumstances, these lagoons are enormous sources of pollution–including antibiotics, bacteria, and nitrogen–that leaches to groundwater, contaminates air, and can spill and run off to surface waters.
At Niman Ranch we’re different and we’re proud of it.
What is sustainability?
We define sustainability as using agricultural methods to take care of the needs we have today without compromising the needs of tomorrow, from an environmental, economic and people perspective. We operate in a way that preserves resources and supports our independent family farmers today and for future generations. We rate our success of this system on the economic health of our farmers and ranchers. Environmental stewardship is one of the principles underlying everything we do to produce the best meat.
Why is it important to preserve independent family farms and ranches?
If family farms disappear, our rural communities and food supply will suffer. The livelihood of the family depends on the viability of the farm, and the stability of the farm’s local community depends on the success of its local businesses – including farms. Plus, family farms pass along agricultural legacies using traditional farming methods to humanely raise animals. It’s imperative to preserve this structure in order to support our family farmers and their communities while providing great tasting meat from well-cared for, healthy animals. It’s beneficial for our farmers, our communities, our animals and you.
Where is Niman Ranch? Where are your animals raised?
Niman Ranch is not just one ranch; we are a community network of more than 700 independent family farmers and ranchers throughout 28 states, primarily in the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. These regions provide the ideal environment for raising animals, as they’re capable of producing abundant grasses and grain. This is advantageous because proximity to where feed is produced limits our carbon footprint, as it limits the transportation of feed.
Why doesn't Niman Ranch produce grass fed beef?
When thinking about grass-fed beef, you may imagine pastoral settings, but in fact much of the cattle marketed today as “grass-fed” spend some of their life in feedlots or feed yards eating large amounts of hay, rice bran, almond hulls, and other assorted feeds that the USDA allows to be called “grass.” Our cattle are raised on pasture and spend an entire grazing season with their mothers. We finish our beef on grain because doing so consistently produces the best quality meat.
How can Niman Ranch guarantee the lineage of its animals?
Our farmers and ranchers select breeds that produce healthy animals and have been proven to produce superior quality meat. All of our livestock can be traced from birth and are born, raised, and processed in the United States.
What's the difference between cured and uncured meats?
Curing is a process to preserve meat products using nitrates, which are naturally occurring in many foods including all plants. Uncured products go through a natural curing process utilizing celery juice or powder, which is a source of natural nitrates, rather than using added chemical nitrates or nitrites. Our uncured products do not contain added chemical nitrites or nitrates.
Are your products certified organic?
No. While we strongly support organic farming principles and many of our farmers meet organic standards, the certification process is too costly for us to require all 725 family farmers and ranchers to obtain. Additionally, organic animal feed is expensive, as there are consistent shortages. Only about 5% of the corn and soybean grown in the U.S. are organic and most of that is used for human consumption, rather than feeding animals. We’ve decided to put our priority on the humane care of our animals, the economic health of our farmers, and the preservation of our land.
Are your products gluten-free?
Yes, all Niman Ranch franks, sausages, bacon, hams and fresh meats are 100% gluten-free.
Why do Niman Ranch products taste better?
The exceptional flavor of our products is a result of raising breeds selected for superior marbling, high quality diet and our traditional farming protocols. Since our animals are never fed antibiotics or growth hormones they mature naturally without excess water weight. You can taste the difference.
Why are Niman Ranch products more expensive than other brands?
Our focus is on quality – everything else is secondary. Our traditional farming methods are more labor-intensive, and more land is needed for animals to be Raised With Care – the Niman Ranch way. Even though it is more expensive to raise animals according to our strict protocols, we believe the results are worth it.
Where can I purchase Niman Ranch products?
Niman Ranch products are available at fine grocers nationwide. Many chefs and restaurants also use our superior tasting meat in their establishments. Visit the Chefs & Distributors
page to find a location close to you!
How can I get Niman Ranch products in my local stores and restaurants?
Ask your local grocery store, restaurant or butcher to stock and use Niman Ranch products. These establishments value the desires and requests of their customers. Don’t be shy – let them know that you care about high quality meat raised humanely, sustainably and traditionally without antibiotics or added hormones.
What is dry aged beef?
Much like fine wine and cheese, the flavor of beef deepens when it is aged. Our dry aged beef is kept in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for a minimum of 21 days. At the end of the aging period, the outer layer of the meat is trimmed to reveal a concentrated and tender piece of meat inside. Because of the moisture loss and the trimming, the beef can lose up to half of its weight, making it more expensive per pound than its counterparts that have not been dry aged.