Voices shouting “Come Cow!” echo each day at Hopewell Farms GA in North Hall, as Phil Bonelli, his kids and two dogs move their herd of beef cows from one area of the large pasture to another.
Instead of keeping them in one space at all times, Bonelli said he practices regenerative agriculture. Using electric fencing, he moves the lines each day, sectioning off a new acre of grass and weeds for the cows to graze on. Through this method, Bonelli said the livestock won’t touch the same portion of the 43 acres of land until around a month’s time.
“In nature there would be herds of animals and predators around them to keep them bunched together,” he said. “They eat and move along. We’re replicating that.”
As a part of regenerative agriculture, Bonelli said this practice helps improve soil health, gives the cattle fresh food and keeps them out of their own waste. He also refrains from feeding the livestock anything other than grass and doesn’t use chemical pesticides on the property.
“Everything we do is to make the land healthier and make animals healthier, which will make people healthier,” Bonelli said.
The Bonelli family moved to the farm off Hopewell Church Road around two years ago, which came with several beef cows from the previous owner. Bonelli said he and his wife, Lindsay, were quickly taken with the livestock and considered the idea of starting their own regenerative beef farm.
“I started to learn about how grass-fed beef is good for you and the environment,” he said. “I ended up getting passionate about it and diving in. The more I learn about it and do it, the more passionate I get.”
Through his own research, Bonelli, who works full-time as the senior vice president of Regions Commercial Banking, said he learned how to raise grass-fed beef cows. By the end of 2020, he said he finally got into the groove of the farmer and rancher life, tending to the land before and after work, as well as weekends.
“I started to feel like I know what I’m doing pretty well, and I can keep the cows healthy and alive,” he said. “And now, I’m starting to dig into the finer points of how to finish a cow on grass.”
The term “finishing” refers to the point when a cow is ready to be eaten. Bonelli said the livestock are raised on the farm, and will reach around 2 years old and 900-1,000 pounds before they’re sizable enough for processing.
With grass-fed cattle, he said this process can take a bit longer compared to those who raise cows on grain and corn. However, he said it’s worth the wait.
“Imagine, these guys are eating the Mediterranean diet versus if you were to eat Snickers and waffles exclusively for three months,” Bonelli said, comparing grass-fed cows to livestock that eat feed.
He added that people can see and taste the difference in the grass-fed beef.
“It has a richer taste, and it almost tastes healthier to me,” he said. “It’s definitely leaner. The fat isn’t as white, it’s got some yellow because of the things in the grass.”
By September, Bonelli said he will begin selling meat from two of his beef cows in the 40-cattle herd, which includes black angus, Hereford and a mix between the two breeds. By next year, the business will begin ramping up as most of the cows become fully grown.
He intends to sell the beef at $10 per pound. The cows will be processed at The Steel Buffalo Butchery in Dawsonville, which is a United States Department of Agriculture approved facility.
In addition to moving the cows on the land, the Bonelli family regularly relocates its portable chicken house. As the birds are transported to different areas of the pasture, they naturally fertilize the land. The farm also keeps two goats that are both tasked with clearing invasive plants that grow on the property.
“We don’t have to spray herbicides to get rid of these weeds,”Bonelli said. “They fertilize as they go.”
Bonelli’s four kids, ages 3 to 9, all help out on the farm with various responsibilities. Libby, who is 5 years old, said she enjoys calling the cows into their fresh patches of pasture each morning. Despite being significantly smaller than the cattle, they listen to her.
“They know that they’re getting moved,” she said. “They want to eat more grass.”
Through selling grass-fed beef at Hopewell Farms GA, which is located on Hopewell Church Road, Bonelli said he hopes to show the community that not all beef farms are stinky places that harm the earth.
“I would want people to know that ‘Hey, you can be working with nature and letting animals be what they’re supposed to be in a way that builds up the land and helps the environment,’” he said. “It’s a great way to do farming, and you can get food that’s better for you and better for the environment. And, it’s fun.”
For more information about Hopewell Farms GA, visit its Facebook page.