Frequently Asked Questions

OUR FARMS AND RANCHES

What is important about preserving independent family farms and ranches?
What makes a farm or ranch sustainable?
Why doesn't Niman Ranch produce only grass fed beef?
Why are Niman Ranch cattle fed only vegetarian feeds?
Why doesn't Niman Ranch market certified organic meat?
Does Niman Ranch use genetically modified (GMO) feeds or animals?

OUR LIVESTOCK

How can Niman Ranch be certain of the lineage of its animals?
Why does Niman Ranch ban the use of antibiotics in its animal feeds?
Why does Niman Ranch ban the use of growth hormones for its livestock?
How can you be sure that all Niman Ranch farmers and ranchers are adhering to your protocols?
How and where does Niman Ranch slaughter its livestock?

OUR PRODUCTS

Niman Ranch labels its meat natural - what does natural meat mean?
How long does your meat keep in the refrigerator and how long does it keep if I freeze it upon receiving it?
Can I buy Berkshire or Kurobuta pork from you?
Why do you call your hot dogs Fearless Franks?
What is the Difference between Cured and Uncured?
What can I do to get Niman Ranch products in my local stores and restaurants?
How can I be sure companies claiming to be selling your product are in fact providing it to me?
Does Niman Ranch donate meat?


OUR FARMS AND RANCHES

What is important about preserving independent family farms and ranches?

Niman Ranch is proud to support more than 650 sustainable U.S. family farms and ranches. We believe that saving America's family farmers and ranchers is vital to our nation's future. People who own the land they're working and living on have a greater stake in protecting the long term health of their land and the welfare of their animals than absentee industrial operators.

In the case of pork, raising hogs in the U.S. has shifted from small and medium family farms to large factory-style contract farms. This trend is illustrated by a few key facts. In 1950, the number of hog farms in the U.S. was approximately 3 million. In 1998, there were fewer than 100,000 hog farms, but the number of hogs produced was about the same.

The number of cattle ranches has also dwindled in recent years and, combined with soaring land prices, this way of life is rapidly disappearing. Most cattle ranchers today must sell their calves to large companies and have no influence over how they're treated or where they end up once they leave their ranches. This industrial livestock system is breaking the traditional connections between farmer, animals, land, and surrounding community. Industrial farming operations rely on hourly laborers, often brought in from outside the community, which ultimately drives full-time, professional farmers out of business. The proliferation of these industrial-style operations has eroded much of the beauty of our rural landscapes, and displaced countless farmers and ranchers whose families have worked the land for generations.

By working with family farms and ranches, we are helping to strengthen rural America and reverse the destructive trend of industrial agriculture. In addition to providing a market for livestock, the Niman Ranch network provides a mechanism for farmers and ranchers to communicate and learn from one another about best practices for their animals and land. We are inspired by and proud of the families that are part of Niman Ranch - many of whom are second generation partners in our network. Family farmers and ranchers are the keepers of traditional farming knowledge, information that is vital to protect and pass on to future generations.

What makes a farm or ranch sustainable?

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.

Environmental stewardship is one of the principles underlying everything we do to produce the best meat. Niman Ranch farmers and ranchers raise far fewer animals than industrial-style operations, so do not need to liquefy waste and store it in cesspools. Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to use manure from their animals as a beneficial by-product, fertilizing their fields or those of their neighbors. Our ranchers raise sheep and cattle in harmony with the grass seasons, and their grazing is a vital part of protecting grasslands and keeping open space in this country.

By raising animals in modest numbers and using traditional farming methods, Niman Ranch farmers and ranchers preserve the integrity of the land and waters for themselves, their families and their communities.

Why doesn't Niman Ranch produce only grass fed beef?

Contemplating grass fed beef might conjure up pastoral images, but in fact much of the cattle marketed today as "grass fed" spend their time in feedlots or feed yards being fed 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, spending an entire grazing season with their mothers. We finish our beef cattle on grain because doing so produces the best quality, which is always our objective. Niman Ranch cattle go to slaughter in peak condition, when they have stored the maximum amount of intramuscular fat that results in superbly flavorful and tender beef.

Why are Niman Ranch cattle fed only vegetarian feeds?

Cows in nature eat only plants - they're strict herbivores. Cows' digestive systems are unequipped to ward off disease from infected animal tissue. For this and other reasons, we have mandated 100% vegetarian feed for all Niman Ranch cattle. We have never allowed the use of any meat, meat by-products, fish meal, feather meal, blood meal, urea or any other animal flesh. As a safety measure, to ensure feed suppliers are providing only 100% vegetarian feeds to our ranchers, we conduct random testing on feed supplies at least once a month.

Why doesn't Niman Ranch market certified organic meat?

Niman Ranch strongly supports organic farming principles. Many of our farmers and ranchers have organic farms or organic pastures and use organic feeds. However, for our meat to be certified organic, all the feed that we give our livestock would have to be certified organic. This would raise the cost of production of our meat by as much as 50%, depending on the grain market. There is currently a shortage of organic grain in this country, making feeding only organic feeds particularly difficult. We believe a better use of those limited organic grains would be direct human consumption.

More and more of the organic grains and soy currently available in the U.S. are actually imported from distant lands, mostly Brazil and other Latin American countries. We do not support importing feeds from distant foreign countries, believing instead that any feeds given our animals should, to the greatest extent possible, be grown by our farmers themselves or local farmers. Sometimes this means organic and sometimes it doesn't. But it always means healthy, sustainable farming.

Does Niman Ranch use genetically modified (GMO) feeds or animals?

Unfortunately, use of GMOs is now prevalent in the U.S., and cross-contamination of non-GMO fields due to wind drift from genetically modified crops does sometimes occur. Consequently, 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 LIVESTOCK

How can Niman Ranch be certain of the lineage of its animals?

Our meat comes from our network of farms and ranches. Our farmers and ranchers select traditional breeds that produce healthy animals and have been proven to produce superior quality meat. All Niman Ranch livestock can be traced from birth. All are born, raised and processed in the United States.

Why does Niman Ranch ban the use of antibiotics in its animal feeds?

Niman Ranch strives to produce the finest tasting meat in the world using natural, traditional methods that respect animals' natures and innate behaviors. When animals are raised this way by skilled livestock people, the vast majority of them stay healthy and there is no need to load their daily feed with drugs. Moreover, there are significant concerns to both human and animal health from the use of antibiotics in animal feeds.

It's a sad fact that nowadays most conventionally raised livestock are daily given feed laced with antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease. These animals reach market weight faster and require less feed, so it's cheaper to raise them. These continual low doses of antibiotics added to their feed or water (known as "sub-therapeutic antibiotics") allow them to survive the crowded and stressful conditions that make the animals in the susceptible to disease.

Other ?natural? brands give their animals antibiotics, but then withdraw them from antibiotics for a period of time and claim they are ?natural.? At Niman Ranch, the animals are never, ever given antibiotics in our program.

Niman Ranch focuses on good animal husbandry and the connection between animals and humans, not the fastest growth rate or maximum economic returns. In the rare instance that an individual animal becomes sick and requires treatment with antibiotics, it is treated and removed from the Niman Ranch program. That animal is then sold into the conventional livestock market.

Why does Niman Ranch ban the use of growth hormones for its livestock?

In the United States, federal regulations ban the use of growth-promoting hormones for hogs, but not for cattle and sheep. It's estimated that over 90% of conventional cattle operations now use growth hormones to increase the rate of lean muscle and promote water retention in their animals. Niman Ranch opposes using growth hormones and bans their use for all livestock. Growth hormones, which are outlawed in much of Europe, raise a number of environmental, animal health and human health concerns. 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, and is a big factor in the superior flavor of Niman Ranch meat.

How can you be sure that all Niman Ranch farmers and ranchers are adhering to your protocols?

We take several steps to ensure full compliance with our animal husbandry protocols.

First of all, the ranchers and farmers who want to join our program tend to be true believers who share our vision and values. They are already raising livestock traditionally and humanely, and generally need only make small adjustments to meet our protocols.

Before being accepted into our program, all farmers and ranchers sign an affidavit agreeing to follow our strict protocols. When reviewing applications, any aspect that does not meet our protocols must be corrected before we accept any animals from the farm or ranch. We require them to provide documentation of everything they have used as feed for their animals. If any of their feeds violate our standards, we do not accept their animals.

Niman Ranch officials visit the ranches in our network, and our pork field agents, located throughout the country, regularly visit and inspect network hog farms. We perform random ranch audits at every ranch and conduct random monthly feed audits.

How and where does Niman Ranch slaughter its livestock?

The care with which we raise our animals extends to the way they are slaughtered. For both ethical and practical reasons, we provide a humane end for all of our animals. Our farmers' and ranchers' animals receive a stress-free and painless death as the culmination of the compassionate care they are given during their lives.

How animals are slaughtered has practical consequences as well. If livestock become anxious and stressed at the slaughterhouse they will produce excess adrenaline and deplete sugar supplies within the muscles, which can make meat tough and affect flavor and quality. Relaxed livestock produce superior meat.

Niman Ranch has inspected and carefully vetted the facilities used for slaughter. Our animals are slaughtered quickly and painlessly at modern facilities that ensure a wholesome and safe product.


OUR PRODUCTS

Niman Ranch labels its meat natural - what does natural meat mean?

It depends on who uses the term. Unfortunately, through misuse by food companies the word natural has been confusing for some consumers. The USDA defines natural meat simply as meat that is minimally processed, without artificial ingredients. That's what allows pork raised in huge factory farms to be promoted as "Natural Pork" by big agribusiness companies. We believe that few consumers would consider pork raised on a factory farm and fed antibiotic-laden feed to be natural.

In keeping with what we think consumers expect and deserve, Niman Ranch defines natural to mean much more than the basic USDA requirement. For us, the word natural defines the way that we raise and care for our livestock. It means each animal was raised on 100% vegetarian feed and was never given antibiotics or growth hormones. Equally important, we believe that for meat to be called natural it must come from animals that were given a life that allowed them to engage in natural behaviors. From our perspective, a pig raised in a factory-style confinement building can never be called "natural" regardless of what kind of feed it's given.

Our definition of natural reflects our desire to recognize the innate need of all animals to express themselves naturally, and our customers' trust in us to deliver a wholesome, exceptional quality product that can be proudly served to family and friends.


How long does your meat keep in the refrigerator and how long does it keep if I freeze it upon receiving it?

Our meat cuts can be kept in the refrigerator for at least 5-7 days in their original vacuum sealed packaging, but ground and stew meat and bones should only be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Our meat also keeps well in the freezer and can be frozen for up to 6 months in its original unopened package. For best results, defrost frozen meat in the refrigerator. Never refreeze meat that has been previously frozen, to uphold optimal quality.

Can I buy Berkshire or Kurobuta pork from you?

Kurobuta means "black pig" in Japanese and actually refers specifically to the Berkshire breed. Kurobuta pork in the United States may be raised in factory-style operations, so purchasing it does not guarantee the pork has been humanely raised.

The Berkshire breed is a large part of many of our farmers' stock, but we don't dictate that they raise solely one breed. Our farmers, who have been growing hogs for generations, have an expertise in breeding that transcends the trends of the moment. Ultimately, Niman Ranch hogs are selected based on eating quality and the care with which they are raised.

Why do you call your hot dogs Fearless Franks?

Hot dogs don't always have a good reputation, but not all hot dogs are created equal - one bite of a great tasting Fearless Frank and you know it's no ordinary hot dog. You can enjoy our Franks confident you are getting the superior quality you expect from Niman Ranch, from meat that is free of antibiotics and added hormones and is fully traceable. We offer cured and uncured Franks and Fearless Uncured Franks for Kids made without antibiotics, hormones and nitrites.

What is the Difference between Cured and Uncured?

Niman Ranch offers both cured and uncured meat products. What's the difference?

Cured products contain sodium nitrite and/or sodium nitrate, which are used to cure and preserve meat. Nitrates occur naturally in many foods; in fact, you might be surprised to discover that nitrates occur naturally in all plants. The amount of nitrates and nitrites you ingest when eating cured products is negligible and does not pose any health risk. Some consumers prefer cured meats, while others prefer to avoid sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite, so Niman Ranch offers both alternatives in our product line.

The idea to cure meat began with a need to keep meat from spoiling. Salt, and saltpeter, the natural form of potassium nitrate, have been used as preservatives for centuries. During modern times, pink salt has become the preferred medium for curing and preserving meats, because it contains a standardized amount of sodium nitrite and is easy to control in processing. Use of nitrites and nitrates in the production of cured meats is now carefully regulated, with concentration not to exceed 200 parts per million in finished products. Their use is invaluable in inhibiting growth of microorganisms such as botulism. Additionally, nitrates and nitrites help meat to retain its pink color and add depth and complexity of flavor, contributing characteristic aroma and flavor notes that make bacon, ham and other cured meats taste so good.

In the United States, meat products are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA defines uncured to indicate products that have not been preserved by adding sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate or a salt cure. So when you see uncured on the label, the label is informing you that the product does not contain added sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite.

Despite USDA regulations, it's probably more accurate to say that our uncured products are naturally cured. Instead of adding nitrate or nitrite chemicals, we use celery juice, a source of naturally occurring nitrates. During processing, the nitrates in celery juice are consumed by lacto bacteria--anaerobic organisms similar to the friendly bacteria in yogurt--that like a salty environment. Over time during the natural curing process, the nitrate in celery juice is consumed by the lacto bacteria and converted first to nitrite, then to nitrous oxide, a gas that dissipates into the atmosphere. The amount of natural nitrates remaining in the finished product depends on whether and when the meat is cooked, as cooking halts the dissipation process. Like cured products, natural curing inhibits bacteria, helps prevent meat from going off-color, and deepens flavor.

Whether you choose cured or uncured Niman Ranch products, you can be sure you are receiving the best in quality.

What can I do to get Niman Ranch products in my local stores and restaurants?

Ask your local grocery store, restaurant or butcher to stock Niman Ranch products, and then ask again. Let them know that you care about having the option of purchasing meat that is top-tier in quality, has full traceability, and is raised humanely, sustainably and traditionally without antibiotics or added hormones.

How can I be sure companies claiming to be selling your product are in fact providing it to me?

If at any point you're not sure whether a product is truly ours, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Does Niman Ranch donate meat?

In the past, Niman Ranch has been pleased to make donations to a variety of local foods banks, including The Alameda County Community Food Bank and the San Mateo and Santa Clara County Second Harvest Food Banks. In addition, over the years we've made donations to a number of charitable organizations. It has been our way of giving back to a community that has helped us to be successful.

Due to logistical reasons we are unable to accommodate community donation/charitable sale requests at this time.