A brief of history of Owen’s Mid-west/Mid-east


A beautiful day for a walk yesterday. The pigs are grazing the Owen’s valley field called “Mid-west” and “Mid-east” and busy turning up the ground as natural plows. The biennial grasses we planted several years ago are reverting to more of their annual habits, meaning they are going to seed sooner than we like and not as productive in the late summer. To renovate this field, we are inserting two years of pigs alternating with annual crops: we will be planting this as Sudan grass this summer and back to a cover crop next Winter, followed by pigs in late fall or early Spring of 2018. In Spring of 2018 we will be reverting this field back to a permanent pasture. After this, it will be at least 8 years before pigs again visit this field.

For this particular field, this has been our rotation:

2006-2009 Vegetable ground
2010 Planted to a biennial pasture. Hay/Sheep/Cow rotations
2014 overseeded with biennials (rye grass and red clover)
2011-2016 chicken and turkey grazing. Hay/Sheep/Cow rotations
2016-2018 pig grazing. Summer annual/Winter Cover.
2018 plant to a permanent pasture

In tune with farming

Note: This is a post from Shannon Walker, written in late summer but finally posted here on this blog.  Shannon was an intern for 6 months on our farm.
My name is Shannon Walker and my husband and I ventured onto the Deck Family Farm around 6 months ago. Driving from Los Angeles, newly married, and a recent college graduate, I was so excited, but also nervous for the commitment I was making, and the work I would be doing for the next 7 months. For so long I have been wondering at my passion. The tug on my heart for a life outside, a desire to work with animals, and the need to fulfill the potential of my body, my mind, and my heart, lead me to farming. Arriving in the wet winters of Oregon was challenging, but to use my intuition, my energy, and my intellect so readily and in such diverse ways was exhilarating. Still, even as the days are hot and dry, I so enjoy what I’m doing.

In March, only a week or two after we arrived, the farm was in the middle of lambing season. I immediately became part of the lamb crew, tending to the sheep, and caring for the lambs that couldn’t seem to brave the weather. Soon after this the whole farm became a nursery; from calves, to piglets, to chicks. And I have fallen in love with the lot of them. I have learned so much about tuning in to my intuition and about how to work different animals based on their energy, or even their personality. I’ve gotten a scope on the entire lifecycle of a farm in just one season.

Now, as we approach the fall, there is an excitement and an expectancy for what Deck Family Farm will experience this next winter and spring. Having lived a life that is seemingly unpredictable in many ways, and now having worked on a livestock farm that can feel the same way more often than not, there is a reassuring calm to always having the seasons come and go when we expect them, to keep the lifecycle of the farm moving forward in the same circular motion it’s already traveling in. Although my internship is coming to a close I’m feeling small tugs from the ties I now have to the rainy weather of the winter, the mud and the muck, the warm belly of a dairy cow as the sun comes up, and the bah’s of the slippery new born lambs looking for their mamas at night.

Being on Deck Family Farm has prepared me in so many more ways than I could have imagined it would for the coming journey of starting our own farm in Virginia. I’ve gotten a chance to fall in tune with the land and the animals here, to understand the immediacies and the long term goals of farming, to grow in comprehending the larger scope of a farm as well as the small intricate details of growing and farming livestock and grass. I’ve become skilled in fixing hoses to sorting beef. Yet there is so much more to learn.

I am so thankful for the many lamb kisses I’ve received (and for that last moment with Eve, my favorite foster lamb), the cow hugs, especially from Rosie, and the roosters and cows and sheep all calling their good mornings when the sun is coming up. I am even more thankful to the Deck’s, their hospitality not only as homeowners, but farmers, and teachers. I have never encountered a community of people more eager to pass on all they know, all they’ve experienced, and all of their learned-from mistakes to the younger generation than farmers. I am grateful for the community of the interns and all that we’ve learned together, and are still learning in this daunting but exciting feat to become farmers or work on farms. Although our generation is itching for even more change and even better tactics, we have so many good things to look back on and learn from those still farming, and those that have farmed before. Blessed, Deck Family Farm!

Learning English and Learning About Animals

20161024_1726451The following post was written by Julien Vallejo, an intern from Colombia who has been with Deck Family Farm for 5 months. Julien has been learning English and learning about animals on the farm. We encouraged Julien to write this post in Spanish. It is always a great experience meeting and working with young farmers from around the world!

Recomiendo a las personas provenientes de latinoamerica la granja “Deck Family Farm” a todos los estudiantes agricolas o zootecnistas, o aquellas personas que estan interesadas en aprender o hacer su practica estudiantil con todo lo relacionado en produccion animal. La granja ubicada en Oregon ofrece un mayor conocimiento por medio de la practica en diferentes clases de animales “aves ponedoras y de carne, cerdos, ganaderia lechera y de carne” los cuales seran de gran utilidad para todas las personas interesadas en adquirir nuevos conocimientos, no solo en el area de produccion animal sino tambien poder practicar el idioma ingles. El ambiente laboral es amigable rodeado con la familia dueña de la granja mas el personal que se haya trabajando como, supervisores y otros practicantes provenientes de Estados Unidos u otras partes del mundo, haciendo de la granja un entorno agradable e interesante.

At: Julian Vallejo.

Sunrise #102 — Post by Geoffrey Van

img_4501new life in minutes
death in familiar stillness
family supper

 

rain abstain; sustain
rivers warm in summer last
wind in blood-lost breath

 

we question god hands
walking meat in chore absence
ah, humility

 

changes in grassseed
silver cylinder alight
i too need to feed

 

how many baskets?
five-gal buckets days go by
to buy more fly strips

Working in Agriculture and being a foodie — post by Victoria Ruffin

victoria

Victoria working the Deck Family Farm Farmer’s Market booth in Eugene

Born in New Jersey and raised in North Carolina, I found Deck Family Farm looking for work after my stent serving with the Peace Corps. What luck finding this gem tucked within the Willamette Valley! I had two years experience working on organic vegetable farms prior to Deck, but never worked with animals. I was enlightened by the work. The tenacity it takes to run and work an organic animal farm is immeasurable, but incredibly rewarding. I enjoyed learning and understanding the animals on the farm. Knowing where and how my meat and dairy are raised is a learned value that I will uphold. Food is nourishment for our bodies what we put into them should be treated with respect and care. Deck Family Farm serves as a great source of wealth in my life. The communal aspect required my active engagement allowing me to let down my guard, enabling me to tap into a reservoir of openness within myself. Its rare to work within a community that fosters open communication, knowledge, work, and play! Countless days passed where I would reflect and the morning felt like another day, but there in lyes the beauty! There is so much to be done in a day why waste time romanticizing what life can be and just live it! Deck Family Farm is a great place to enjoy working in an idyllic environment (hello 320 acres of forested wonderment!) while learning about organic farming and yourself. Ok, this post is supposed to be about me but I had to gush for a minute. While here I worked with all the animals, milked, performed administrative duties, and worked markets. I was fortunate enough to gain experience in several aspects of the farm. Markets were my favorite! Traveling to Portland or Eugene to sell our product at market is beyond fun! Sampling may be the best part. You get to cook, eat, and share Deck products all in one go! Another activity I enjoyed were the educational farm “walk-abouts”.  Weekly we choose a topic and get a lesson on the subject paired with a venture out into the field to put what we learned to practice. These tours sometimes took us off farm and we gained access to different restaurants, businesses, and farms in the Willamette Valley. Working in Agriculture and being a foodie I loved being able to see and learn about the different business structures in the Lane County food system. This area is one of the best for Agriculture. The County is uber supportive (not literally, no Uber here #justsayin) of slow food, local food, organic food. So if you enjoy good food, good music, and good people, try Deck.

Pathway for Personal Growth — post by Peter Nagy

My name is Peter Nagy, and I am in my last weeks of a 6-month internship at Deck Family Farm. I will look back at my time here fondly – the people, animals and landscapes I have been so closely intertwined with over the past half year will always stay with me. It’s been a transitional time, and not without its trials and tribulations, but the community I have found here has helped me make every passing difficulty a step on the pathway of personal growth. I came to Deck Family Farm in April of 2016. I had been working for several years in property management and was disenchanted with my job and to a degree city life in general. I wanted to try a fresh start in something totally different, and after a couple years of exploring local agriculture and permaculture, I decided to take the plunge.

It wasn’t always easy, but it was always rewarding. After living by myself and working a 9-5 for years on end I was suddenly living with a dozen strangers (soon to become family), in an industry and setting that was largely alien (soon to become a place of solace), doing work that was often dirty, smelly, and physically rigorous (still better air quality than the city, and free gym!). It was a sea change, and one that I’m unendingly glad for. It has reframed my views on a host of societal issues, given me a new appreciation for how tight knit a community can become after working and living together in such proximity and with such stakes at hand.

The Decks do a wonderful job of welcoming and integrating new folks into their extended farm family. They provide more than an introduction to farming – team building, homesteading and stewardship of the land are all hallmarks of their vocation here. Their mission, to provide healthful and humanely raised meats to the greater Willamette Valley community and beyond, has provided a great example of a present and mindful business. Their dedication to the animals, the land and the people who live and work here as well as those that comprise their customer base, is nothing short of inspirational. I feel lucky to have seen their operation so closely over the past 6 months and look forward to continuing my relationship with the farm and all the folks I’ve met here.

Feeds and Feeding at Deck Family Farm

At Deck Family Farm, our task is raising animals on pasture: building soil fertility by practicing rotational grazing and cycling nutrients inRJMilledGrain
an efficient manner.  We also have a milling program, driven by a 2 ton mixer mill, where we combine a blend of ingredients for those animal groups that cannot break down plant fibers.  Simply put: where beef cows and sheep can get 100% of their nutrients from grass and silage, pigs and chickens can only get up to 20% of their nutrition from grass (and then, only in the best of times).  We ask alot of our dairy herd and also feed grain to our dairy, 5 lbs of grain per day per cow.  We mill over 10 tons of feed per month.  We source grain as much as possible from the Willamette Valley and supplement only when necessary from outside of Oregon, for example: organic corn or peas grown in Washington.

About GMO and animal feed
turkeys1When a feed is certified organic, then by definition the feed is non-GMO.  When a feed is not certified organic there is no way in guaranteeing that it is non-GMO.  So, for example, Deck Family Farm layers have been certified organic since 2012 and thus have been GMO-free since 2012.   As our dairy, broilers, and pigs are not certified organic we haven’t been able to say that they are “GMO-free”.  However, we have recently (in January, 2016) switched all of our milled corn to certified organic and now say that our feed for our dairy and our pigs, as well as our layers is GMO-free.  Wheat, barley, and peas are not grown as GMO crops.

Many operations in one farm

Why not feed all of our animals, corn-free, soy-free, organic, locally sourced grain?  This would be a laudable goal and many folks ask us about this.  The answer comes down to price.  Everything is possible given time and money, but simply we cannot make the cost calculations work as a corn-free, soy-free, organic, locally sourced feed will be at least double the cost of an equivalent feed, not to mention the hit on energy and protein from removing soy and corn.   The end result is roughly double the cost of production, not to mention competing against obscenely cheap pork on the commodity market (but who wants to eat that!).   The feeds and certifications for our farm products we have today are the result of years of introspection, sweat, number-crunching, while maintaining a consistently high quality product.  We encourage you to refer to our Feeds and Certifications page when you have questions about our various products.

 

Intensive grazing and weed management

Curly-dock-768x1024Chickens on pasture are great: lots of sunshine and bugs for the hens, they deposit their manure on the pasture, and it couldn’t be a starker contrast than their industrial counterparts that live in dark, smelly, and noisy indoor facilities.  However, one side effect from grazing laying hens on pasture are the bare patches where the chickens take their afternoon dirt baths.  These bare patches are invitations for weeds, so we re-seed them. However, in some cases we’re left with a mix of grass and clover species we want, along with some weeds that we don’t want.  For instance, the photo above shows dock, which is a typical weed we see in our pastures following grazing with chickens.

While dock is a nutritious plant, it is not as palatable as our typical forage grasses.  In a situation where cows are set-stocked, or left in one large spot for a long period of time, the cows will ignore the plant while it takes over much of the pasture.  We manage dock by increasing the stocking density of our beef herd.  Increase stocking densities of grazing cows is a practice many grazers practice with a goal of forcing cows to eat a broader range of available plants in a given area, along with directing the flow of nutrients from the cow itself: in short, we want to force them to eat the dock along with the good stuff.  We found that at a stocking density of at least 80,000 lbs to the acre, the cows will strip the leaves off most of the dock plants.    The photo below shows our cows in the pasture with most of the dock grazed down on the right (where they were the previous day) and the cows on the left (note the fiber-glass posts holding up our electric fence-line in the foreground).IMG_3098

The pasture shown in the photo is a dry-land pasture and was used to raise pullets (young laying hens) last summer and fall and consequently the grass was stressed on this paddock last season.  The recovery this Spring was somewhat slower than other pastures so  we were not able to feasibly put more than 80,000 lbs to the acre on this pasture.  However, after the first grazing 10 days ago, the pasture is recovering nicely and already has re-built a nice stand of grass, ready for grazing in another 2 weeks.

I should note that we are an organic operation so our options for managing weeds are limited to what is in the organic toolkit.  Dock is not the only weed we battle.  The worst is canada thistle, and while i’ve seen intensive grazing slow its spread and discourage it, it is not enough to entirely manage it.  Timed mowing (first week of July, or just at bud-break), annual rotations (e.g. Sudan timed to compete effectively), and when necessary hand-weeding are effective complements to high stocking densities.

A final note for this blog post is that we’ve been working with our interns on calculating stocking density and factoring in associated times, areas, and dry matter.   A tool for working with stocking density and other grazing resources are available at our Intern resources pages.

Grazing Panaroma

 

Panorama

Panorama, looking West to North East (click the image to make it bigger)

The above panorama captures a few notable items at Deck Family Farm from this month.  Starting from the left…

  1.  our new Gator… i can’t believe we’ve gone so long without one of these vehicles.. it is invaluable for so many farm chores.
  2. The chicken greenhouse at the top of the hill where we over-wintered our flock last winter and currently brooding next year’s hens.
  3. The field in the front is being grazed by our sheep down to the ground so we can shortly till it and plant sudan grass for the summer season.  In the fall, this will be put back into a permanent pasture.
  4. The beef are visible in the middle of the photo, grazing the 9 acre portion of the north-slope of our “maternity” pasture.  Each paddoc is approximately 1 acre with 80,000 lbs to the acre stocking density.  We graze the beef tightly so the cows both trample grasses, eat a wider range of plants (including dock), and when we pull the animals off the pasture, the grasses have a better capacity to recover.

Deck Family Farm chickens hit the pastures!!

A sign of Spring: the Deck Family Farm Laying Hen trailers have been uprooted from their hilltop, winter-time location, and have now been moved to the lower pasture, where they will be moved twice a week until October.   Many hands made this happen, from fixing broken flooring and doors, to moving the hens, cleaning the nest boxes, organizing egg collecting in their new location, setting up waters and feeders, and help getting one of the trailers un-stuck from the wet-spot in the middle of the pasture.
One of our four trailers entering the pasture.  The laying hens are inside, waiting for the short trip to end!

Here are two of our trailers, with the doors just opened up.

Post from Intern Jessie

Hey Everyone! I’m Jessie from Columbus, Ohio. I’ve just finished month 6 of my internship on DFF. I have just one month left on the farm before I head back to Ohio to start raising my own chickens.

Coming into this internship I was pretty sure I wanted to be a farmer. I did my undergraduate at Ohio State, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I floated around between majoring in international studies and biology. Fortunately I ended up in the animal science department. Then I took a class on management-intensive grazing. Everything just clicked. I loved that livestock can be raised in a way that not only doesn’t destroy the land but restores it. Then I went to Senegal, West Africa as a sustainable agriculture extension agent for Peace Corps.  For two years I witnessed first-hand the misuse (and overuse) of fertilizer and chemical pesticides and how increased deforestation and overgrazing were leading to desertification.  I worked with farmers on sustainable field management techniques for their field crops, on improving vegetable yields in their household gardens, on planting fruit and shade trees and growing forage bean hay as a cover crop and to increase milk production in their cows during the dry season. Coming back to America, I knew I wanted to learn how to farm here. 

I’ve learned an amazing amount in my 6 short months on this farm. Everyday the interns do chores. We move and feed the pigs, feed the chickens and collect, wash and package their eggs. The dairy cows get milked twice a day every day. This is probably my favorite chore. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the dairy cow’s individual personalities. Now I can recognize them just from looking at their teats! I’ve been fascinated by management-intensive grazing for the past couple of years so as an independent project I took on moving the dairy herd to a new paddock everyday and tracking how long they could stay on each field. We also sent grass samples into a lab for analysis to see just how good different pastures are and if the dairy cows needed anything extra to balance out their diet.

I’ll be sad to leave the farm. On the other hand, I’m ready to start raising my own animals. Thank you DFF for making me part of the family, giving me my first taste of day-to-day farm life and inspiring me to pursue my own farming ventures.

Now Hiring!

Deck Family Farm is currently hiring weekend on farm on call help during market season. Days would be Saturdays and/or Sundays for 8-10 hrs/day, at $10/hr. For more information, please contact Christine Deck at 541-998-4697 or by email at info@deckfamilyfarm.com.

Results of our soaked, hammer-milled organic layer feed experiment

Author: Alex Prediger (Deck Farm Intern from April 2014 to April 2015)
Background:
In order to test the efficiency of a new soaked-feed layer ration, we undertook a feed trial last fall. In this trial, we compared two different organic feeds: a complete-ration layer pellet and a Deck Family Farm milled and soaked feed.
The layer pellet was from Payback, had a minimum crude protein of 16%, and contained corn, barley, flax, soybean meal, mineral, and vitamins. The DFF milled feed had 15% protein, was soy free, and consisted of soft white wheat, peas, rolled corn, rolled barley, fish meal, mineral mix, and lime.  The feed was milled using a PTO powered Gehl hammer-mill/mixer with a 3/8″ screen.  Half-way through the trial, we incorporated an organic dairy source into the milled feed.
Here’s the recipe for our DFF organic soaked feed:
% protein
Lbs
% of overall ration
Lbs of protein
Chickens total lbs @ 1600*365*.23
amount needed per year in tons
Soft White Wheat
10.00%
500
25.00%
50
134320
16.79
Peas
22.00%
660
33.00%
145.2
134320
22.16
rolled corn
9.00%
250
12.50%
22.5
134320
8.40
Barley
13.00%
250
12.50%
32.5
134320
8.40
fish meal
65.00%
80
4.00%
52
134320
2.69
Flax
24.00%
0
0.00%
0
134320
0.00
mineral mix
60
3.00%
0
134320
2.01
Lime
200
10.00%
0
134320
6.72
Total
15.11%
2000
302.2
There were several reasons that we soaked our milled feed, not the least of which was the fact that all seeds contain enzyme inhibitors, which can hinder digestion. When you soak the seed, it gears up to germinate and turns off these inhibitors, making protein and other nutrients more readily available. This process, however, decreases the energy/carbohydrates in the seed. As we aren’t entirely sure the extent to which this happens, we weren’t able to know exactly what the protein content was of the feed, so we had to make an educated guess. It was our hope that in soaking the feed for 2 days with a dairy inoculant, we might encourage a bit of fermentation as well.
Experimental Conditions:
Our experiment consisted of two groups of ~10 laying hens per group (the number varied throughout the experiment due to several skilled escape artists). The control group received ~0.25 lb/chicken of the layer pellet which has been the staple feed for our flock. The experimental group was fed ~0.25 lbs/chicken/day of the milled feed, which was soaked for 2 days with water (and later yogurt) beforehand to help make nutrients more readily available to the birds. Both groups were also supplemented with grit and oyster shell.
That’s the basic layout of the experiment! Onto the really interesting stuff: the results!


Here’s a little extra information that may be helpful in interpreting the results.
We began our experiment one month before we started recording data, in order to allow the birds to adjust to the change in diet. Also, some artificial lighting was added during the second month of the experiment to account for the change in photoperiod. We switched feeds at this point to try to control for the possibility that one flock was simply better at laying than the other.  Another consideration is the fact that our hens are normally on pasture and get a good amount of added nutrition from foraging for insects and plants. This experiment occurred over winter and the hens in these flocks where confined in pens with no forage, which could have impacted the results.
Results:
We took two different averages to further analyze our results. In the overall average, we simply compared the average percent of lay of birds fed soaked feed to that of birds fed pelleted feed over the course of our 5 month experiment: .27 (soaked) and 0.50 (pelleted). We also compared the average percent lay for birds fed soaked with yogurt to the same time period for those fed pellets: 0.32 (soaked with yogurt) and 0.63 (pelleted).  Here we see that the yogurt bumped up production a little bit. It is possible that this increase could also be related to a gradually increasing photoperiod though as the pelleted birds also produced more. In considering these results it is important to note that both the age of the birds (>1 year) and the time of year (winter) could have affected the outcome, as well as numerous other variables.
Analysis:
In conclusion, it appears as though feeding soaked feed, even with supplemental yogurt, results in reduced percent lay when compared to a complete, pelleted ration. For the future, we plan to send in a feed analysis sample of our soaked feed, as well as tweak the recipe a little.  We are considering a program that would incorporate a milled feed source during the time of the year when the chickens are better able to supplement their diets due to ample foraging. In this system we would switch back to pellets during the winter, when the pasture provides less supplemental nutrition.

Early Spring Update from Deck Family Farm

We’ve had some unseasonably nice weather recently – warm days, little rain.  This has given us a chance to clean out some barns, start our grazing season, and get some chicks started!

Nine hundred cute chicks arrived today!  These will be laying eggs starting this October.  The breeds include Auracanas, Black Australorps, and Brown Leghorn.
We’ve been deep-bedding our cows over the winter and when weather permits, we clean out the runs, pushing the manure & straw into a pile.  From there, we run it through our manure spreader, mixing the manure & straw together, heating it up, and creating a product that spreads easier on our fields and holds the nutrients together better as well.
Check out our sheep flock enjoying a newly renovated field.  The pasture mix contains a mix of early and later season grasses and clovers including: Brutus Tall Fescue, Subclover, Persian Clover, Annual and Perrenial Ryegrass, Orchard grass, and Plaintain.  This particular mix was chosen for this particular site, which is non-irrigated and requiring more deeply rooted plants than what was established at this previously.    This gives us a forage that stays greener longer into our hot-dry summer.  These animals were moved onto this field on March 12, 2015.  

Animal Welfare and Livestock Research Article in the NYTimes

The New York Times recently published an article on the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC), located in Clay, Nebraska. Many of the concerns brought up in this article are hot-button topics and raise questions about animal ethics and what our society supports in promoting meat animal industries. The general idea promoted by the author is that we’ve gone too far in attempting to be more efficient and cost-effective in raising animals, and we should think about what this entails. I agree.

The procedures that are promoted at MARC are those promoted by “Big Ag”, supporting the kind of low-dollar meats you find at Winco, Costco, Safeway, and even alternative groceries such as Market of Choice and Whole Foods. The alternative is to get to know your farmer…these are typically farms that are too small to vend at the big stores. If you want to know where your food comes from and how it is treated, you should be able to just call or email the farm that produces your food and ask them what their methods are, what their breeds are, and where they source their feed. This is the only real choice you can make to support a truly sustainable modern agriculture.

Animal Welfare and Livestock Research Article in the NY Times

The New York Times recently published an article on the Meat Animal Research Center (MARC), located in Clay, Nebraska.  Many of the concerns brought up in this article are hot-button topics and raise questions about animal ethics and what our society supports in promoting meat animal industries.   The general idea promoted by the author is that we’ve gone too far in attempting to be more efficient and cost-effective in raising animals, and we should think about what this entails.  I agree.

The procedures that are promoted at MARC are those promoted by “Big Ag”, supporting the kind of low-dollar meats you find at Winco, Costco, Safeway, and even alternative groceries such as Market of Choice and Whole Foods.  The alternative is to get to know your farmer… these are typically farms that are too small to vend at the big stores.  If you want to know where your food comes from and how it is treated, you should be able to just call or email the farm that produces your food and ask them what their methods are, what their breeds are, and where they source their feed.  This is the only real choice you can make to support a truly sustainable modern agriculture.

The Great Barn Fire

The morning after what will forever be known as simply The Barn Fire
Last night our barn burned down. Just as we were sitting down for dinner, one of the farm interns came into the room saying, “Call the fire department, the barn is on fire.”
Chris watches as the flames course through the barn

By the time everyone filed outside, the structure was awash in flames. Tens of thousands dollars worth of hay, our tractor, manure spreader, four wheeler, and a few bikes of incalculable sentimental value were reduced to steel and ash. Not to mention a pair of newborn calves and our faithful beef bull, Billy. RIP Bill.

The grass is always greener…

The fire inspectors are still investigating the cause of the fire and though we are busy deciding how to proceed, we are thankful that no one was hurt.

The remains of our tractor and four wheeler. 

For the first 5 minutes, as we watched the fire burn there was a pall of sheer panic and disbelief as the main structure of our farm disappeared before our eyes. Then as the reality sunk in, it was incredible to witness the solidarity growing seemingly right out of the ashes. We spend all day working together and though we pride ourselves on the strength of our community, it has never felt as present as it did that night. There is a certain point where there’s nothing you can do but watch the embers burn and share the silence.

We may have lost our barn but it’s startling how events like this make you reconsider what is truly valuable to you. As disastrous as it may seem, we are quick to count our blessings. Our dairy parlor is completely intact. One of our interns moved his camp from the barn just a few hours prior. Had the fire started a week later, the majority of our beef herd would have been overwintering in the barn and we could have lost invaluable breeding stock.

The phoenix chicken rising from the ashes
We’d like to sincerely and whole-heartedly thank everyone who has supported us at the markets, at any of the fine stores that carry our products and especially those who have reached out in the last couple of days. We are honored to be part of such an incredible community.  We have setup a site to accept donations for those wishing to contribute directly. 

 And lastly we’d like to share, a quaint parting haiku from Bobbi Deck, that simply and beautifully sums up our feelings:


Barn’s burnt down.

Now

I can see the moon.

The Great Barn Fire

Last night our barn burned down. Just as we were sitting down for dinner, one of the farm interns came into the room saying, “Call the fire department, the barn is on fire.”
Chris watches as the flames course through the barn

By the time everyone filed outside, the structure was awash in flames. Tens of thousands dollars worth of hay, our tractor, manure spreader, four wheeler, and a few bikes of incalculable sentimental value were reduced to steel and ash. Not to mention a pair of newborn calves and our faithful beef bull, Billy. RIP Bill.

The grass is always greener…

The fire inspectors are still investigating the cause of the fire and though we are busy deciding how to proceed, we are thankful that no one was hurt.

The remains of our tractor and four wheeler.

For the first 5 minutes, as we watched the fire burn there was a pall of sheer panic and disbelief as the main structure of our farm disappeared before our eyes. Then as the reality sunk in, it was incredible to witness the solidarity growing seemingly right out of the ashes. We spend all day working together and though we pride ourselves on the strength of our community, it has never felt as present as it did that night. There is a certain point where there’s nothing you can do but watch the embers burn and share the silence.

We may have lost our barn but it’s startling how events like this make you reconsider what is truly valuable to you. As disastrous as it may seem, we are quick to count our blessings. Our dairy parlor is completely intact. One of our interns moved his camp from the barn just a few hours prior. Had the fire started a week later, the majority of our beef herd would have been overwintering in the barn and we could have lost invaluable breeding stock.

The phoenix chicken rising from the ashes
We’d like to sincerely and whole-heartedly thank everyone who has supported us at the markets, at any of the fine stores that carry our products and especially those who have reached out in the last couple of days. We are honored to be part of such an incredible community.  We have setup a site to accept donations for those wishing to contribute directly.
And lastly we’d like to share, a quaint parting haiku from Bobbi Deck, that simply and beautifully sums up our feelings:
Barn’s burnt down.
Now
I can see the moon.

What About You?

We are wondering…as we sit here looking at a blank post…what do you, the readers of our blog, want to know about us? What can we share with you on this space to better connect you with our beautiful farm?

Recipes? Some are coming. Promise. Hopefully a lot!

Farming tips?

Whole food, raw milk, local food (etc.) information?

Pictures?

Charming anecdotes?

Please comment and let us know! We want this space to serve you!

The Story of the Incredible, Edible, Locally Sourced, Organic, Corn, Soy, and GMO Free Egg

It’s almost summer and that means a few things here at the Deck Family Farm — the grass is growing and the farmer’s markets in Portland and Eugene are in full swing. You can find our tasty, Animal Welfare Approved meat and pasture-raised eggs at our booths.

Intern Lisa Beneman chats with a customer at the Eugene Farmers Market

We love the market because it gives us a chance to personally connect with our customers and vice versa. We are always answering questions and sparking conversations about local food and it’s no surprise that folks love our eggs.

We are always fielding questions about why our eggs cost so much more than eggs in the supermarket. As it turns out, the answer is anything but simple so I’ve decided to save myself the breath and paint the big picture here — along with some pretty pictures of the farm.

We don’t have any ‘cages’ or ‘ranges’ on our farm. Just lush green pastures

When you buy ‘organic’, or ‘cage free’, or ‘free-range’ eggs in the store you are the victim of clever marketing and fuzzy regulations. To you, a free-range chicken conjures images of a hen on a lush field of grass with half a million or so of her BFFs laying eggs and pecking dirt to their hearts content. To the USDA it means a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feed Operation) with a little door to a concrete chain-link pen. Their exact definition reads: “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”

That’s it?

The sad truth is terms like ‘cage-free’ and ‘free-range’ have been hijacked by conglomerate agro-giants to snare a growing demographic of consumers who believe the welfare of the animals they rely on for three meals a day should be better than a convicted felon. Unfortunately, the only true way to know how your eggs are produced or your meat is raised is to know exactly where it came from.

I encourage you to give a conventional egg farmer a ring and spark a conversation about his “cage-free” operation and I’m sure he’d love to tell you all about it.

In the meantime, let me show you how our eggs are raised.

The Organic Flock is hungry. Everyday we feed them pellets and collect their eggs from the nesting boxes located in the chicken trailers.

The Deck Family Farm eggs that you buy come from hens born and raised on our pastures in the Willamette Valley, 7 miles West of Junction City, OR. Our ladies live on our Owens Valley Pasture, where they have the freedom to roam in and out of their chicken trailers, which they frequently do, and lay eggs in the nesting boxes, which we collect by hand every day. The chicken trailers allow us to move our flocks twice weekly.

Farm Manager Raul Lopez moves the Soy Free trailer from the winter pasture to their new home

The reason for this is two fold — their manure is especially nitrogen rich and we’d prefer it to feed our pastures, not burn them. Moving them regularly enriches the life of the hens as well by allowing them to constantly peck through fresh grass.

We hear a lot of questions regarding the feed we give our gals. The short answer? Certified Organic chicken feed for our Organic flock and soy free pellets for our “Soy Free” flock.

We have two different flocks for a couple reasons.

“Layers need a balance of protein and amino acids to regularly lay high quality eggs. Most people use corn or soy in their layer feeds,” farm owner, John Deck explained to me one day during our lunch break.

Soy in particular has 44% protein, soft white wheat has 9% peas are 23% and corn is just 9%. But corn and soybeans are two of the big 5 — the highly subsidized, monoculture kings that soak up pesticides and blanket the Midwest. Soy is also one of the most common food allergens and many folks with sensitivity to industrial eggs, enjoy our soy free eggs just fine.We pride ourselves on doing whatever it takes to avoid these crops in our chicken feed.

Farmer Girl Shanti Deck perches a young Rhode Island Red pullet. These ladies will start laying eggs this summer.

“If we want to feed the chickens year round and we wanted to do an organic, no soy, no corn feed all sourced locally from the Willamette Valley, we’ve now set ourselves a bar that is really difficult to achieve, “ John says. Owners John and Christine decided to mill their own feed  because it gives them the ability to utilize grains grown in the area, the flexibility to use grains seasonally and it’s much cheaper in the long run.“We’ve been milling locally sourced wheat, barley, oat and pea for the pigs for a long time and we’ve done pretty well on that.”

But including layers in the milling program has been a struggle from the start. Farming is an economy of scale — corn and soybeans saturate the market making them readily available and cheaper than alternative protein sources. Today, fewer farmers are growing crops like peas and barley because the return on their crop is far less per acre than if they grew corn or wheat.

“Four years ago we had an organic, soy free feed but at some point you couldn’t buy organic peas in the valley,” Christine Deck explains. She told me there wasn’t a market for soy free feed when they started asking around. “It was really frustrating because we were trying to work with the local mills and they told us soy just is the protein.”

That’s when the Decks decided to split the flock and scrap the milled layer ration. One flock would get organic pellets, the other would get soy free pellets. But as more and more folks demand soy free chicken eggs, the supply follows. 

The next time you crack a Deck Family Farm egg consider what it took to get to your dinner plate

This year we are proud to be returning to our own personally milled, organic, soy and corn free layer ration. Our solution to the chicken feed debacle is a wet mash the hens won’t be able to pick through and that we can create from resources as close to the Willamette Valley as possible.

“Since we have milk we can use that as a component in the wet mash which allows us to use a little bit lower protein feed,” John says. The freedom to close the loop to your own system is of the luxuries of having a diversified operation.

We can’t thank everyone in the Willamette Valley and all across this big green state for supporting us in realizing the potential of a truly local food economy. We wish it was easier to bring wholesome, sustainable food to your table but anything worth doing isn’t easy. We pride ourselves on being your source for Animal Welfare Approved meat and eggs. See you at the market!

Gardening with the Gods

It’s been just over a month since we finished grazing the pigs in the garden area and I can’t believe the change it’s undergone. Last year’s garden was quite a success and I’m excited to be undertaking a little vegetable production this year in my spare time. All the interns have been a great help in planting, mulching and watering when the spring rains are absent.

The garden as it stood in early March just before the pigs grazed through. Death and rebirth.

Not the same exact angle but still pretty incredible. We planted annual rye grass for Ella and RJ’s wedding in June,
potatoes and broccoli in the corners and onions/carrots/radishes along the edge. Instead of rows we’ve decided to plant in little circular pods throughout the garden plot.

But the real hard workers are the pigs. Those little guys sure can work the soil and it’s a labor of love. I grazed them over last year’s garden for about two weeks and I captured it with a little timelapse video. It’s nothing special but it’s fun to watch…

It’s incredible to watch them as they munch down the old cabbage and onions — they pull and tear the roots and break up the soil with those incredible snouts. They’ll inevitably find some black walnuts to munch on and plenty of earthworms. Happy pigs make a happy garden. Sure, we may lose some organic material along the way but the pigs enjoy a veggie smorgasbord while taking care of our dirty work and we’d like to think they thank us for that.

But where the pigs’ work ends, ours begins. Lately, we’ve been doing our best to carve out chunks of time between collecting eggs and milking cows to plant the early season stuff — potatoes, onions, carrots, radish, cabbage, broccoli, peas, and of course, kale.
Intern Alex Prediger weeds the potato/broccoli bed on a gorgeous day. We were lucky enough to receive a bunch of broccoli starts from our friends at Horton Road Organics.
Transplanted cabbage under a bed of fresh mulch.
After some much needed renovation work and a little sheet mulching, the little greenhouse on the property is ready to house our tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers and (eventually) melons. 
This patchwork greenhouse is made out of straw bales and rotting 2x4s, but strength isn’t the only measure of character. RJ and I framed some windows in it with lumber milled from the property and it may even have doors soon! 
The tomatoes, sweet potato and peppers inside don’t seem to mind a little breeze. I can’t wait to seem them turn this little house green

The onion bed with little baby carrots just popping up. We planted radish as a marker crop but it basically became sacrificial food for the cucumber beetles. Radish fans are sparse on the farm so the jokes on you beetles!
Growing food is a vital necessity for life. We owe more than just full stomachs to our ancestors who learned to work in accordance with the dynamics of nature, to put down their spears and pick up the spade.  While some folks may point to agriculture as the progenitor for great imperfections in our modern world, I disagree. 
In the mythologies of the world, the act of growing food from seed is a deeply symbolic endeavor that unites the duality of life and death — every year in the garden death nourishes life. Last year’s broccoli stalks and cabbage leaves release their energy into the soil for the coming fall harvest. We bury seeds like loved ones and care for their graves with a religious vigor. 
I love the ancient symbology of growing food. I wish our culture was still inspired by the simplicity of life the way our ancestors were. The plants and animals were our brothers and sisters — the mountains and rivers the source of our nourishment.  
But all things must pass. In his great book Eaarth, Bill McKibben argues that this planet is so thoroughly altered from it’s origin, one can hardly call it by the same name. I suppose that’s true. There’s no senses wallowing in nostalgic grief for a time and place forgotten, but in this chaotic, contemporary world man has few sanctuaries left to relish his role in nature. The garden is the great microcosm of the universe where all things intersect and man stands in the center. Perhaps that’s why growing good tomatoes makes you feel like a god…

Spring Has Sprung

“Behold, my brothers, the spring has come;
The Earth has received the embraces of the sun
And we shall soon see the results of that love!

Every seed is awakened and so has all animal life.
It it through this mysterious power that we too have our being
And therefore yield to our neighbors,
Especially our animal neighbors,
With the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.”
-Sitting Bull


This little guy is no more than a few days old. His mother is glad to be out of the barn where they spend the latter part of their pregnancy eating grass hay.

Holy Cow it’s almost April! Time flies when the company you keep don’t carry watches. The grass is green, the sky is blue and that means one thing — it’s calving season here on the Deck Family Farm. We’ve had our hands more than full getting acquainted with all the new faces popping up around the farm and I’d like to introduce you to some of them.
Farm intern Lisa Beneman and I just took this calf out of the barn (pictured behind Lisa) where he was born so we can tag and band him. 

Looks like this little guy was born just a few hours ago. His curly calf-fro lets us know his breed is Galloway and Angus — all our calves are sired by heritage Galloway bulls.  The Galloway’s thick, coarse coat  helps shed the Oregon rain and keep them warm through the winter. Galloway cattle are the heirloom tomatoes of beef — top notch grazers that tend to be less picky than other breeds of cattle, they take up to 32 months to finish but they have excellent flavor and great marbling. As a heritage breed, they are one of the more ancient breeds — their name is derived from the Province of Galloway, a region in Scotland where they were a popular breed from at least the 16th century.

William McCombie — a pioneer Scottish breeder and a delightful old chap said, “The Galloway undoubtedly has many great qualifications. On poor land they are unrivaled, on land so poor our Aberdeens could not subsist upon it. There is no other breed worth more by the pound weight than a first-class Galloway.” Jolly good. 


In a matter of moments, the happy calf is reunited with momma.

Watching them buck and run when they hit what we call the “Maternity Field” is gosh darn adorable.

Just because we feed them everyday, doesn’t mean they trust us.  J11 peeks out from the safety of his mom’s udder.

It’s always nice to see the farm creatures co-mingling on a foggy Oregon morning.

The sun rises on the “Maternity Field” 
Jack is pretty cute I guess. He nurses from his mother AND gets a few bottles a day. Spoiled for sure.

Roro loves the bottle 

Spring is an inspiring season on the farm. New life is springing up everywhere as the winter frost loosens its grip and the sun peaks its timid smile around the clouds. Immersing myself in the calving process is not unlike watching the early season daffodils bloom in the morning sun, only daffodils don’t have yellow diarrhea or fight over bottles like they’re in Thunderdome.

The Deck farm is teeming with life and it imbues the air with an unmistakable energy that glorifies the beauty of the present. Like every moment, every calf is a gift unto us, milk slobber and all, and I feel blessed to be able to watch life in all forms, nurture and grow.

-Derek



Cat behaviour

2 nights ago we setup our new brooders and placed some fancy wire tops on the back of the brooder to let in natural light and air.  We woke the next morning to find one of the tops pulled off and some chicks missing.  To fix the problem we placed two 16′ long 4×4 posts on the wire lids.  Assuming the culprit would return to the scene of the crime, we placed a motion-sensing infrared camera in the brooder area to see if we could determine who was responsible. What we found was our cat Chorcy, pictured below:
In fact, the surveillance camera took a total of 131 images of Chorcy during the hours of from 11:03pm to 6:51am.    Chorcy visited 9 times during this period staying for 2-4 minute intervals.    The following was his schedule:

Time Minutes Visited
11:03:00 PM 2
11:19:00 PM 2
11:25:00 PM 2
12:21:00 AM 4
1:52:00 AM 3
4:12:00 AM 2
4:32:00 AM 2
4:53:00 AM 4
6:51:00 AM 1
Glad to say the 4×4 posts have done their work and the chicks are safe and sound.  Also, we have a sense of the persistence displayed by a common house-cat.