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.


I can see the moon.

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.