Back in the late 1970s, when I was a cub reporter in sparsely populated Franklin County, Maine, I was struck by how often I would see farm animals being raised in backyards: a few chickens here, a goat or two there, the occasional cow. An acquaintance of mine even published an article about his little menagerie, titled "Sheep in the Parlor." These weren't 4-H projects or political statements; they were just a practical way for people to provide their own eggs or milk or meat, an alternative to driving to a distant grocery store during the Carter-era energy shortage. Great idea, I'd think to myself. Why aren't more people doing it?
Now, finally, they are. Worried about health, food safety, the humane treatment of animals or simply seeking better taste, Americans are looking for ways to get closer to the source of their meat. More people want to know that their beef comes from cattle that have been fed grass (making the meat lower in "bad" fats and higher in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids) rather than animal by-products (a source of mad cow disease) and corn. And they want assurances that their poultry roamed outdoors instead of living in cramped cages. Since labels like cage-free and organic may not always mean what they imply, consumers are searching for other ways to determine the pedigree of their beef, pork and chicken—by moving to houses built on working ranches, buying directly from farmers and, yes, even raising the animals themselves.
Stephanie Martin is one such person. "I got to milk a cow once when I was five years old, and I've been waiting ever since to get involved again," she said, explaining how she and her husband, Brett, came to be building a house at Maytag Mountain Ranch, in south-central Colorado.