How is our Farm Chemical Free?

How is our Farm Chemical Free?

We produce our grass fed beef without using any chemicals (pesticides – herbicides or insecticides) on the animals, in the animals or on the pastures that they graze. We do this because we believe those methods are a band-aid solution that is ultimately destined to fail, and more importantly, we want to eat food that is chemical free – remember, we eat the same beef that our wonderful customers also eat.

An exciting thing has happened here on the farm very recently and it sits so well with how we produce our beef.

We have a particularly nasty weed called Tiger Pear in some of our hill country and it makes prickly pear look like a fluffy little rabbit. It has inch long spikes with a barb on the end! I have been scratching my head pretty hard about how to best deal with it because it spreads easily, simply by catching on the animals’ coat (or in people…OUCH!!), and is then knocked off elsewhere, where it takes root and grows from there. The conventional approach for control is to turn to pesticides, however because we choose not to use chemicals (pesticides), we had begun bagging plants (with tongs) to place on a heap to burn. This is very slow and laborious and if any little segment of plant is left behind, it’s a bit of a waste of time.

While checking on some cows in our hill paddocks recently, I noticed something exciting – many plants were looking sick or completely dead! Closer inspection revealed the cochineal bug, which is a tiny parasitic insect that kills prickly pear and tiger pear (species specific). It has totally wiped out 100% of plants in a large area already and in a very short time. My understanding is that the cochineal bug was one of the reasons that tiger pear was first introduced to Australia – to enable the production of red dye. (The bugs produce carminic acid which is used to make the the cochineal dye). Here’s an interesting fact – cochineal is still actually used for red dye in foods, cosmetics and textiles and is making a comeback due to it being a natural dye. You can see the red in the above image, along with a web like structure that the insects produce.


Cochineal – mature females grow to large sacs of carminic acid.


Tiger Pear plant infested with Cochineal.


Tiger Pear following infestation.

In nature, populations of plants (and probably everything) will expand until the conditions no longer suit that plant and those populations then subsequently subside. Infestations of cochineal are just one of those examples of conditions no longer suiting the tiger pear plant, however with that would come the natural escape of some plants that are not exposed to the insect and therefore survive, which over time would allow that population to again expand due to the then reduced population of cochineal (due to the host plant population decrease) – and so on and so forth.

Kirrily and I have been spending some time collecting segments from the infested plants (with BBQ tongs!) and spreading them to plants that aren’t yet affected, in an effort to infect as many plants as we can and over a wide area to try and encourage nature along a little more than at it’s own pace and ensure a much higher rate of mortality.

When a situation might seem like it is hopeless and out of our control, there also just might be a way around it that isn’t fulfilling someone else’s dreams – i.e. the chemical company rep! This is just one of the ways that we control weeds and keep our farm & grass fed beef chemical free.