While David Riley worked in the power industry for 35 years, he never quite forgot his brief exposure to farm life in the Whispering Pines area of North Carolina in his youth. So when their children finally flew the nest, he asked his wife, Melanie, if she would be willing to pack up their life in South Carolina and move to North Carolina to start a farm. While her first reaction was skepticism (and a deep concern for his sanity), she was eventually bitten by the same farm bug, and the couple moved to start a new life on Riley’s Ranch, a 75-acre family farm near Pinehurst, nestled in the beautiful Sandhills of North Carolina. “If I’m honest,” Melanie admits, “I’ve probably now eclipsed David’s zeal for this wonderful, exasperating, rewarding, and challenging lifestyle!”
David always envisioned a farm where they would raise traditional breeds on pasture with the utmost respect. The livestock on Riley’s Ranch roam freely, with access to fresh spring water on coastal Bermuda grass pastures and woodlands full of oaks that drop thousands of acorns. Their AWA-certified Large Black hogs, Tamworth hogs, and mixed-breed laying hens were chosen for their superior foraging and ability to thrive in a pasture-based system. They plan to add a small herd of Shorthorn cattle as well. Their animals are rotationally grazed through fresh pastures and woodlands, giving them the best forage possible while enriching the ranch’s soil. Antibiotics and other unnecessary additives are never added to the animal’s feed, and Melanie and David strive to minimalize any land or water contamination and soil erosion on their farm by avoiding the use of pesticides and by using strategic fencing around ponds.
One of the key differences between the animal husbandry practices used at Riley’s Ranch and in industrial confinement systems is that animals are permitted to perform their natural behaviors. “Simply put, chickens, cows, and pigs are not allowed to be themselves in those operations, and are forced to live in unnatural conditions that require the daily use of antibiotics to ensure the animals survive,” Melanie asserts. “Here at Riley’s Ranch, our pigs have a happy life and get to be pigs! Our chickens can be happy chickens, scratching and pecking to their heart’s content, just as God intended!”
Melanie and David applied for certification with Animal Welfare Approved as a way to let their customers know without a shadow of a doubt that they practice what they preach: “We don't just 'say’ we love and care for our animals and treat them with the highest respect for their health and wellbeing. We actually have proof of this with the AWA label,” says David. “AWA is the most highly regarded food label when it comes to animal welfare, pasture-based farming, and sustainability. That is what Riley's Ranch is all about.”
Raising animals in a manner that acknowledges their natural behaviors and needs, outdoors on pasture, produces meat that is not only healthier, but is what many older folks say meat “used to taste like.” “With a balanced diet of fresh pasture, natural grains, sweet potatoes and acorns, coupled with whey from a neighboring farm, Riley’s Ranch hogs are ready to go head to head with the world famous European hams any time!” says David proudly. In addition to the superior taste of slower-growing, pasture-raised hogs, studies show that their meat has two to four times more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from commercially raised animals. Of all the fats, omega-3s are the most heart-friendly, hence their motto: “Riley’s Ranch hogs: olive trees on four hooves!”
Moving to North Carolina to start the farm has allowed Melanie and David to provide a sustainable and healthy lifestyle for their family, while helping to preserve the rare breeds they are privileged to work with. In addition, they are able to offer wholesome, pasture-raised meat and eggs to conscientious consumers and chefs in their community. They welcome individual families or small groups of students for farm tours to meet the hogs, piglets and chickens and to help Melanie gather eggs.
Registered Large Black Hog piglets are available from the farm at eight weeks of age. Riley’s Ranch pastured pork and heritage eggs can be bought at Sandhills Farmers’ Green Market in Pinehurst, NC, and to select local restaurants in the area. For more information about the farm, or to make an appointment for a tour, visit www.RileysRanch.com or call (910) 947-5512.