Our Story

All Grass Farms (formerly Barrington Natural Farms) is a diversified family farm located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, just 45 miles from the highrise office buildings of the Loop.

Cliff McConville became interested in growing more of his own food in 2010 after watching the documentary Food Inc. and reading Omnivore's Dilemma, among other books documenting the deteriorating quality of conventional food and the toxic system raising it. At the time Cliff worked as an insurance executive in downtown Chicago. 

In 2011, Cliff gave up his daily commute to downtown Chicago and began working out of a home office. With an extra 3 hours per day not spent commuting, he purchased four Angus beef calves and 25 Cornish Cross broilers and began rotational grazing on the 8.5 acres in the back yard. Eight Chester White pigs soon were roaming the woods near the house. 

The first farm website was officially launched in January 2012, and demand for pastured eggs, chicken, pork, and beef quickly outstripped the production capacity of the backyard. We were fortunate to find 40 acres of vacant farmland available just 5 minutes away, owned by a real estate developer. Dubbed "the Ranch", this land had formerly been a part of a larger organic beef farm, so it was already setup for grazing with fencing, an old cow shed, and a well. The Ranch became home to our small herd of grass fed beef, and the 20 acres of overgrown woodlands on the property were soon occupied by our happy hogs. 

After receiving numerous requests for raw milk from grass-fed cows, we setup a small milking operation in the barn on the home property in spring 2012 and began producing raw milk from two Guernsey cows. Requests for the raw milk grew rapidly, and within two years the back yard was occupied by nine Guernseys. We started looking for a new home for the milking operation in summer 2013, and after many meetings and hearings, we finally agreed to a long term lease for 150 acres of pastureland and a historic dairy barn located at the Brunner Family Forest Preserve on IL Rt. 31, just 10 minutes from our house. 

The beautiful Brunner Barn, build in 1905, has not been used for dairy operations since the 1960s, so we had a lot of work to do in the summer and fall of 2015 to get it ready to move the dairy cows over for the winter. Once the barn renovations were complete, work began on the farm store attached to the Brunner Barn and it opened for business in May 2016.

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Our Farming Practices

We strive to raise our animals and grow our produce using the most natural, humane, and environmentally sustainable farming practices possible. For the animals, "natural" means raising them in an environment they are accustomed to from hundreds or thousands of years of evolution, eating what nature intended them to eat, and allowing them to express their animal instincts. For garden produce, we use heirloom and organic varieties of plants that are acclimated to our climate and soils, so they can thrive without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

We compost all of the wood shavings/bedding from the brooder coop and winter chicken housing, as well as the dairy cows lounging area in the barn yard and spread it on the gardens and pastures in the spring and fall. This natural fertilizer and organic compounds enhance soil structure, build organic matter and prepare it for the spring growing season.

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Farming Practices for Pastured Pork

We currently raise 120-150 heritage Berkshire, Hampshire and Duroc hogs per year outdoors on 15 acres of meadowland and wooded areas of the pasture. They are typically raised in small batches of about 30 pigs each, with the first batch ready for processing in late May.

Origins

We purchase purebred Berkshire, Hampshire and Duroc piglets at about 2 months old from a local Illinois farmer that farrows and raises his pigs on pasture in a natural manner with no antibiotics or growth hormones. He lets the piglets suckle until they are weaned at approximately 8 weeks of age. Once we bring them back to our farm we put them in a fenced pasture pen for 1-2 weeks to teach them to respect the electric fencing.

Growing on Pasture

Once they are trained on the electric fence, we can move them to a much larger pasture or wooded area, typically an acre or two with trees for shade.  Here they are allowed to forage for natural foods, like roots, shrubs, grasses, weeds, insects, grubs, tubers...they will eat pretty much anything one foot above or below the soil surface. 

We supplement their pasture forage with a certified organic grain mix from Cashton Farm Supply, as well as any extra raw milk, cracked eggs and surplus garden vegetables we have available.

To keep them healthy, we also include raw apple cider vinegar in their water, which aids their digestive system, keeps them free of parasites, and is a natural insect repellent. 

We move the pigs to fresh area every week when they have foraged most of the good stuff out of their paddock.

Shelter

The pigs have several portable shelters that we move with them to each new paddock.   These shelters are 24' long and 16' wide, when they are young as many as 20 pigs will pile into each shelter and snuggle up together on cool nights.  As they grow older they will separate into the different shelters. 

On warm summer nights they will usually sleep in the cool grass, under the bushes, or in any available mudholes.  In the late fall and early winter we will put some dry straw in the shelters to help keep them warm.

Living Environment

In nature, hogs are omnivores and they will eat almost anything available from the 12 inches below the soil surface to 18 inches above it.  We try to offer our hogs a similar diet, supplemented with certified organic, GMO-Free feeds to ensure they have enough to eat.  

Processing

We use several family-owned, local processing facilities which are inspected by the USDA.  They can process each hog according to our specific directions, so that if a customer prefers extra thick bacon or pork chops, we can accomodate them.

If you order a half or whole hog, you will be instructed to contact the processor with your cutting instructions shortly before we take the pigs in for processing. We will forward on some guidelines to help you decide what options are available.  When your order is ready, we will pick it up directly from the processor and pay them the processing fee, usually about $300 per half hog.  We will then bill you for the remainder of the pork based on the hanging weight of your portion.

Pork and beef processor we use is This Old Farm in Colfax, Indiana and Nordik Meats in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Both processors have a very tasty nitrate-free curing solution for hams and bacons that our customers prefer as well as a lot of value added options for your meat. Their packaging has a good look and lasts for a very long time in the freezer (No freezer burn!). Nordik Meats and This Old Farm also uses natural ingredients for their sausages - free of GMO's, Msg and corn.

Farming Practices for Raw Milk

We raise only purebred Guernsey cows for milk, as they have been bred for hundreds of years to produce the highest quality milk on a pasture-based diet. 

Guernsey milk from grass-fed cows has a much higher butterfat and protein content than store-bought milk, which makes it ideal for producing rich, great tasting milk, yogurt, butter, cheese, ice cream and kefir. 

The unique qualities of Guernsey milk have always been highly sought after due to recognized health benefits.  In fact, the unique golden color of Guernsey milk comes from an unusually high content of beta carotene passed through to their milk.  The more grass they eat, the more golden their milk.

Guernsey milk is richer in proteins, butterfat, and flavor than store-bought milk products, including pasteurized white milk.  When you drink Guernsey milk, you get:

  • 12% more protein
  • 33% more vitamin D
  • 25% more vitamin A
  • 30% more cream
  • 15% more calcium

In addition, over 90% of Guernsey cows produce the A2 Beta Casein protein in their milk, whereas 98% of the commercial pasteurized milk sold in the U.S. comes from A1 cows (mostly Holsteins).  While we have not genetically tested our individual cows for A2 milk, we have confirmed that all of their sires were A2/A2, and all of our calves are sired by A2/A2 bulls. 

Research conducted by Dr. Keith Woodford and highlighted in his book The Devil in the Milk shows a direct correlation between a population's exposure to A1 cow's milk and the incidence of autoimmune disease, heart disease, type 1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia.  To learn more about A1 vs. A2 milk and the potential health implications, please read this excellent article summarizing Dr. Woodfords findings.

Our Guernsey cows spend their day outdoors on pasture year round.  In the winter when there is minimal forage to eat, the majority of their diet is high quality, our own - certified organic hay and/or locally-grown non-GMO alfalfa and timothy grass hay.  We also supplement their pasture forage and hay with a small amount of certified organic, soy-free dairy ration from Cashton Farm Supply at milking time.  They also have free-choice access to organic kelp, sea salt, and other trace mineral supplements in their winter shelter. 

The only health aid we provide is raw apple cider vinegar, which we place in their drinking water every day.  This improves their digestive system functions, reduces internal parasites, staves off infections, and even keeps the flies away.  It's good for people too!

At milking time in the morning, we call the girls in from the pasture and bring them to our historic dairy barn, where we have some hay available to snack on while we milk them four at a time in the new milking parlor we built inside the historic Brunner Barn. We carefully clean each teat with anti-microbial teat wipes.  Unlike most other farms, we then hand-strip a few ounces of milk from each quarter into a testing cup, where we can visually inspect the milk for any discoloration or signs of mastitis, then we place a small amount of CMT (California Mastitis Test) reagent into each cup and see if there is a reaction.  If there is, we know that the somatic cell count in that quarter may indicate an infection and we can withhold the infected quarter's milk from our tank and consider any treatment options.  We are one of only a handful of farms in the state that test each cow's milk prior to milking.

After we test their milk, we then dip each teat in a 1% iodine teat dip, finally wiping them clean with a fresh paper towel before attaching the milking machine. Careful cleaning of the teats is critical in any raw milk operation.

The milk travels from the cows to our chillling tank in a few minutes through our stainless steel pipeline system, where it passes through a disposable paper filter to our MilkPlan chiller tank, which cools the milk from 101 degrees Fahrenheit to approximately 36 degrees F in about 20-30 minutes.  The bulk tank also has an automatic stirrer which agitates the milk every 15 minutes to keep the cream from separating and settling at the top. Our regular milk customers then fill their jars/containers directly from the bulk tank when they come for their weekly pickup.

We do not use any routine antibiotics, chemical dewormers, or hormones (including bovine growth hormone rBGH) in our beef or dairy cattle.  In situations where one of the dairy cows develops a severe infection in their udder (mastitis) or when an animal's life is in danger, we may judiciously use antibiotics if there are no other homeopathic/holistic treatments available. In cases where we do use antibiotics we will withhold their milk from the tank for a minimum of 4 days.

When the dairy cows have calves, we allow the calf to nurse from it's mama and stay with her (or a nurse cow) until they are at least 6 months old so they have 24 hour access to the highest quality food designed by nature (their mama's milk) and also learn to graze and develop their digestive systems for a life on pasture.

Farming Practices for Meat Chickens

We are planning on raising 13-15 batches of broilers in 2024, each batch is approximately 500 chickens depending on customer order quantity.  For meat birds we have  exclusively been raising Color Yield Ranger chickens the last two years, a modern red hybrid breed descended from the French "Label Rouge" chickens.

We have chosen to raise this type of meat chicken as they are very hardy, excellent foragers, and grow more slowly than the traditional white cornish cross bird you find in the supermarkets.  Because they grow more slowly they will have more flavor, we typically take them in for processing at 10 - 11 weeks, vs 6-7 weeks for the supermarket chickens. They have a smaller breast than the cornish cross and more dark meat.

First Few Weeks

The life span of a modern broiler is short, only 10-11 weeks in a pasture setting for the Color Yield Rangers and just about six weeks in an industrial confinement cornish cross.

In our pasture setting, we order the chicks from Freedom Ranger hatchery in Pennsylvania, have them directly deliver on the truck and then place them in the brooder greenhouses, where the first week we keep the temperature at 90 degrees. Each brooder box is approximately 12x8'. After about 3 days we open up the draft guard so the chicks can have the run of the entire brooder.  Depending on the weather and the growth of their feathers, we will move the chicks to the pasture when they are 2 - 3 weeks old.

Growing on Pasture

Once moved to pasture, the chickens will live outdoors for the remainder of their lives.  They will have around-the-clock access to fresh growing green grass, clovers, alfalfa, weeds, and bugs to eat at all times. To ensure they are safe while on pasture, the chickens are housed inside a floorless 20'x36' portable greenhouse while on pasture, which is moved daily to fresh grass.  The shelter has roll up sides to control temperature during the spring and fall, and to protect the chickens during adverse weather events.  During the summer we generally remove the end walls for better air flow and also put a shade cloth on top of the shelter.

Feed

in 2024, we will have batches of broilers that are fed locally grown, certified-organic, soy/corn-free, non-GMO feed mix provided by Cashton Farm Supply in Cashton, Wisconsin, which buys its organic grains and feedstocks from local Illinois and Wisconsin farmers.  We will also have batches of broilers that are fed locally produced, certified organic feed.
Our chickens free choice their feed out of range feeders that are filled up two times per day. Their organic feed mixture also includes Fertrell Nutribalancer, and organic mineral/probiotic supplement that keeps them healthy, along with granite grit which helps them digest the forage they collect from the pastures.  We estimate 20% - 30% of their total diet consists of pasture forage - bluegrass, timothy grass, fescue, white clover, alfalfa, plus insects and seeds. 

​Environment and Handling

Between the brooder and their daily life on pasture, the chickens are free to express all of their natural instincts, including roosting, foraging, and dust bathing, which altogether makes for a low-stress natural living environment.

Processing

We currently process all of our broiler chickens, hens, and turkeys at Twin Cities Pack in Beloit, Wisconsin. Twin Cities is a small, family-owned processing facility that is USDA inspected. They will process whole chickens as well as cut-up chickens, and provide us with birds back that are vacuum sealed and fresh or frozen, depending on customer preference. 

Farming Practices for Laying Hens

We currently maintain a flock of approximately 2000 laying hens to meet growing no corn and no soy egg demand.  We raise Red Star chickens for our layers. These birds all lay large nutritious brown eggs.  The life span of a commercial Leghorn laying hen raised in a small cage with 5 or 6 other hens is usually less than a year.  We keep our "girls" for two full years, even though they lay fewer eggs in the second year, they are larger eggs. 

Growing on Pasture

We order certified organic "pullets" (young hens that are 16-20 weeks old, just starting out with egg production) from Wisconsin grower. The layers will live on the pasture during the spring, summer, and fall months.  They will have around-the-clock access to fresh growing green grass, herbs, clovers, alfalfa, weeds, and bugs to eat at all times. To ensure they are safe from predators while on pasture, we confine the layers to a large 1-2 acre paddock surrounded by several sections of portable electrified poultry netting, which we move around the pasture as necessary, according to grass height and manure concentration.  The netting keeps the coyotes and foxes out. The layers are usually smart and fast enough to avoid the hawks and owl but there are still some that get eaten - so 4 years ago we introduced a livestock guardian dog to the family. Baraboo (a Bulgarian Karakachan) has been an integral part of our team keeping an eye on intruders. 

Shelter

During the growing season, the laying hens stay in a portable 24 x 32 "egg mobile" - where we move them in April and they stay through mid-November.  The Egg Mobile is surrounded by about 2 acres of fresh pasture circled by electric fencing to keep predators out.  They are free to range inside the electic fencing. They will come out of the shelter at daybreak to forage, and then a dusk they will go back into the shelter and spend the night off the ground on several roosts.  They have nest boxes to lay their eggs and occasionally we have to gather a "broody" girl out of a nest box to get the eggs. We move their shelter to new acreage every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Once snow arrives, we move all the laying hens into one of our greenhouses or the barn, where they will spend the winter months.  The greenhouse has a white PVC cover so it warms up in the day and provides plenty of light.  We use a deep bedding system with wood chips, straw, and hay to keep them warm and to help manage the manure build up.  The hens have access to a fenced paddock on warm days, but usually they don't like to walk on the snow or ice.

Feed

We feed the layers a locally grown, certified-organic, soy and corn free, non-GMO feed mixture provided by Cashton Farm Supply, which buys its organic grains and feedstocks from local Illinois and Wisconsin farmers.  We feed the layers free choice out of range feeders that are filled up twice per day, morning and evening.  Their organic feed mixture also includes Fertrell Nutribalancer, and organic mineral/probiotic supplement that keeps them healthy, along with granite grit and calcium grit which helps them digest the forage the collect from the pastures and produce strong eggs.  We estimate 30% - 50% of their total diet consists of pasture forage - bluegrass, timothy grass, fescue, white clover, alfalfa, seeds, plus insects and worms.  In winter we also provide the hens with green hay and certified organic "scratch grains"  - a mixture of whole oats, whole wheat, whole barley and field peas, which provides them with extra energy and encourages their natural scratching instincts in the composted bedding.

Environment and Handling

During their daily life on pasture, the chickens are free to express all of their natural instincts, including roosting, foraging, and dust bathing, which altogether makes for a low-stress environment. When we walk among them, we do so slowly in an effort not to excite or frighten them as little as possible. When we need to handle any of them, we try to catch them quickly and without too much stress.

Egg Collection

The hens usually lay their eggs in the late morning or early afternoon, so we usually collect eggs from the nest boxes late in the afternoon.  We then package them and store them unwashed in the refrigerator until customers come to pick them up.  We usually do not wash the eggs as that destroys the natural anti-bacterial barrier (the cuticle or bloom) on the eggs.   We recommend that customers leave them unwashed until they are ready to use them.

Processing

When the laying hens reach two years of age, we either sell them or process them with the broilers.  The meat from these mature hens is not as tender as the young broilers, but it is very flavorful and we highly recommed these be used as "stewing hens" - perfect for making chicken soup, dumplings, chicken stock for other recipes, or any other slow cooked chicken dish.

Farming Practices for 100% Grass-fed Beef

Origins

At the present time we do not maintain our own beef breeding herd but our goal is to one day raise our own beef mommas and their calves.
We purchase weaned 6-8 month old calves from same IL farmer that we buy heritage piglets from in the late fall or early spring, and then bring them to our farm in IL or WI to "finish" on our pastures over the next year, ready for processing at approximately 22 - 28 months of age (feedlot beef fattened on corn is usually processed at 18 months). We have extremely high standards for 100% grass fed beef - no hormones, no antibiotics, raised on pasture 100% of their lives.

Growing on Pasture

We rotate the beef herd to fresh pasture twice per day on total of 300 acres in IL and WI - moving them to a new temporary paddock using portable electric fencing from April through December.  That gives each paddock approximately 90 days to regrow and rejuvenate before it is ready to be grazed again.  Often we will move the flock of laying hens to the paddocks 3 - 4 days after the cattle have grazed it, as they enjoy picking apart the manure for insects and spreading the cowpat around more evenly. 

Feed

During the spring, summer, and fall the cattle eat only fresh pasture forage, with our fields consisting primarily of bluegrass, ryegrass, timothy grass, meadow fescue, red and white clover, and a number of healthy forbs and other legumes.  Since we don't use any herbicides, we do have a few "weeds" in the pastures, but they are often very tasty and nutritious for the cattle - dandelions, burdock, plantain, white clover, to name a few.  The cattle will also eat some of the tree branches and leaves they can reach for extra roughage (mulberries are their favorite)

We also provide the cattle with a free choice organic mineral/herb supplement which is 1/3 Advanced Biological Concepts certified organic vitamin, mineral and herb mix, 1/3 Thorvin icelandic kelp, and 1/3 sea salt.  They don't eat much of this supplement in the spring and summer as our pastures provide most of the minerals they need, but in winter when they are eating mostly hay they will get more of their minerals from these supplements.  We don't feed the beef cattle any grains - no corn, no soybeans, no milo - cattle are herbivores and their digestive systems are designed to eat grasses not grains.   In the winter, once the stockpiled forage is all gone, we feed the cattle high-quality certified organic grass and alfalfa hay until the fields are ready for grazing in the spring. We make most of our own organic hay at WI farm or purchase it from local organic farmers.

Shelter

The beef cattle are very hardy and don't require shelter in the warmer months.  However most of our pastures have trees in each paddock area, so during the heat of the day or during heavy rainstorms they will get under the trees for shade or shelter. During the winter months, they usually will stay in the open cow shed during the storms, cold snaps or mud season, otherwise they are hardy enough to overwinter on one of our designated winter "sacrificed area" fields. These fields usually are chosen on yearly basis, are least productive and need more animal impact with manure, urine and hay deposits. Cow manure and composted hay will give boost of feed to beneficial microbes in the soils during spring, summer and fall.

If our cattle spends time in the cow shed, we use a deep bedding system in the shelter.  Rather than clean the barn out every day, we simply add additional straw, wood chips and pine shavings to the existing bedding, which absorbs the manure and urine and builds up into a very nice compost by spring.  As this active compost pile builds over the winter, it also provides heat and a comfortable, dry lounging area for the cattle.  In the spring we turn the pigs into the barn to root through and aerate the compost, then we spread it on our fields and gardens.

Living Environment

In nature, herbivores such as deer, elk, buffalo, and wild cattle are herd animals, and they are constantly on the move, grazing and then moving on to the next field or meadow for fresh pasture.  We try to replicate that natural behavior as closely as possible in raising our beef cattle.  Our cattle are never penned or confined, and essentially spend their entire lives on our farm on pasture.

Processing

We use several local custom processing facilities which are inspected by the USDA.  They humanely process each animal according to our specific directions, so that if a customer prefers extra thick steaks and lots of roasts, we can accomodate them, or if they prefer no roasts but lots of ground meat, we can request that as well for all half or whole orders.  They will also dry age the beef for up to 14 days for extra tender steaks. 

If you order a half, or whole beef, you will be instructed to contact the processor with your cutting instructions shortly after we take the beeves in for harvesting.  We will forward on some guidelines to help you decide what options are available.  When your order is ready, you will pick it up directly from the processor and pay them the processing fee, usually about $400 per half.  We will then bill you for the remainder of the beef based on the hanging weight of your portion.​

Our Influences

We are constantly learning from others about new ways to raise our animals in a natural environment, improve the fertility of our pastures and gardens, and become better stewards of the land. Here are some of the authors, books, and periodicals we have turned to for new ideas, guidance, and inspiration:

Joel Salatin, PolyFace Farms

Joel is a pioneer in the field of grass-farming and sustainable agriculture, and without his unconventional thinking and prolific writings, we probably would not be farming today. Buy his books from the Polyface website using the link above.

Jo Robinson

Jo Robinson, an investigative journalist and New York Times best-selling writer, is the author of the book,Pasture Perfect, and the principal researcher and writer for the eatwild.com web site. Jo has spent the last nine years researching the many benefits of raising animals on pasture.

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan is the author of The Omnivore's Dilemna, a NY Times Bestselling book which explores the state of America's industrialized food system and the ecological and health challenges we all face if we don't make changes to the way we eat. 

Gene Logsdon

In All Flesh Is Grass: The Pleasures and Promises of Pasture Farming, Gene Logsdon explains that well-managed pastures are nutritious and palatable—virtual salads for livestock. Leafy pastures also hold the soil, increase biodiversity, and create lovely landscapes. Grass farming may be the solution for a stressed agricultural system based on an industrial model and propped up by federal subsidies.

Weston A. Price Foundation

The Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated non-industrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price's research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats. Learn more about their important work on their website.