My Little Corner of the Universe

Shanti Deck and Intern Sarah Gocek feed out the lambs on a beautiful foggy day

Today is the end of my first week on the job but it feels more like
the beginning of the rest of my life. It’s only been a few years since
I got it into my head that I wanted to be an organic farmer and I can
still hear my mom in the back of my head telling me I need a real job.

“It’s time you get your own udder free-loader”
Plenty of people have “real jobs”. Too many, in my opinion because it
isn’t easy to get big-boy job straight out of college nowadays. It cost me $30,000 and four years of college to find out that a degree still don’t make you smarter than a pig but it might
make you just about as ornery as one.

My name is Derek Schroeder. I’m a 23 year old from Wyoming and a fresh

intern to the Deck Family Farm. So far I have learned how to milk (and

artificially inseminate) a dairy cow, I’ve herded pigs and sheep,

nursed baby lambs and found a few dead ones. I learned how to mill

grain, castrate lambs, dock their tails, and that you won’t make it

through an Oregon winter without a good pair of Muck boots. I go to

bed every night with weak muscles but a heart brimming with

exuberance. I’ve been humbled by the kindness and generosity of not only the Deck’s,
but my fellow interns as well and the knowledge I’ve already gleaned from them is still processing in my brain.

Feeding Bambi the day after she was born

But most memorably, I made a new friend. She has long, delicate
features with a soft, auburn coat. I found her before the sun rose
last Wednesday, comfortably nestled at the feet of her mother, Beauty.
Her name is Bambi and she is part Jersy, part Angus, part adorable.
She is smart, patient and always hungry. Most newborn calves struggle
being taken from their mother’s and put on routine bottle meals but
Bambi senses the connection we have with her. She knows that we mean
to take care of her because she will grow to take care of us. We
provide for her as a means of establishing the relationship of
fecundity between the grass we feed her and the milk she feeds us.

We would be nothing if it weren’t for the animals we keep. Not just on
the farm, but on this big, blue ball of chemicals and elements we call
home. It’s the great calling of our race to use our abilities to
nurture and care for this planet in a way that provides not only for
us, but for the other inhabitants as well. That is what initially drew
me to farming. It’s a microcosm of what humanity should be doing with
its abundance of free time and energy – a distillation of the lucidity
we seek, clambering around in our big monkey brains. I learned a lot
in college, but no human will ever be able to teach you what a dairy
cow, or a pig, or a stubborn ewe can: you be kind to me, provide for
me and nurture me and I’ll do the same for you.

I’m sorry mom. I don’t mean to disappoint you. I know I may not have a
real job or any motivation to get one. I’m less than broke and my best
friends are farm animals but when I lay my head down at night my
spirit is content with the gratification that my little corner of the
universe is just a little better today than it was yesterday. 

Lamb+Intern Selfie

Making an appearance in the above photo, in addition to farm intern Sarah, is our own Benjameena Frankleena (who made an appearance in this video several weeks ago).  Benjameena is doing swell with a triple-dose daily of love and affection, and warm milk in a bottle.  

Feeding hay

The above photo was from this morning, Friday January 10th.  Pictured on the trailer are Shanti, Lucy, and barely visible behind them is Sarah, driving the tractor is Raul.

Some items of note about what is going on in this photo:

  • The hay is going from our main barn to the back barn to feed cows on our remote hillside.
  • There are three bales of alfalfa perched on the front-forks going to feed sheep in the fields.
  • Lucy, our faithful golden retriever, is going along for the ride.  In fact, as soon as she sees someone even looking at the flatbed trailer, she will jump on and wait for hours for the moment that it will be loaded up.  She lives for trailer and truck rides.

Sheep plus broilers

Just going through some photos that my mom sent during her visit in October.  The one below features some lovely green grass, chickens, and sheep.  Most folks may feel warm and fuzzy looking at this shot, but it makes me a bit irritated as it reminded me of some low-shocking electric fence that failed to keep the sheep out of the broiler pasture that day.  Typically, we separate the sheep from the broilers using a few strands of polywire so the sheep do not raid the chicken grain. What we were going for is using the sheep to graze the pasture down to a low level so the chickens could follow the sheep and scratch through the sheep manure plus not be soaked through with taller grass and its associated dew.

Feeding the World

I’ve come across the question of whether small-scale, organic agriculture can feed the world several times in the last month.  The argument goes that we need GMOs and/or large-scale corporate agriculture in order to feed the world’s 7 billion people.  Certainly, our growing population presents a number of environmental and social issues aside from the simple measure of how to feed everyone: for example, supplying fresh-water and implications for the planets environmental health.  I offer here some thoughts on this topic, not definitive answers, and only musings that are related to our experiences at Deck Family Farm.  
False comparisons: Better information and networks of small-farmers have led to increases in production using new techniques and tools.  For example, high intensity grazing systems have largely been enabled through the development of better electric fencing and poly-wire that can easily be moved and can easily contain many thousands of cattle per acre and practical to move on a daily basis.  Based on communication from members of a local grazing group to which we belong, ranchers have seen at least a 50% increase in available forage by practicing management intensive grazing.  Are we taking into account advances in small-scale agriculture while we go on comparing food production to advances in large-scale agriculture? 
The network effect: Agriculture benefits hugely from not only government subsidies but from networks of growers working together.  Current distribution networks are geared for shipping food long distances, with produce from Chile and meat from New Zealand appearing in grocery stores where local producers could be selling, and many times when a local option is in season.  In fact, local producers, by definition, do not have the luxury of shipping long distances.  Based on our own farm’s current distribution model, I see a big drawback in the inefficiencies of distribution and concur with critics that “local food” in current practice has a bigger carbon footprint than corporate agriculture.  However, we haven’t even begun to give local food a chance, as of latest counts direct to consumer sales of agricultural products is still less than 1% of overall food produced – we need to build networks in order to achieve the same efficiencies that large-scale agriculture has gained.  
Local economies:  On our own farm, we hire alot of help to work with animals, market product and distribute directly to our customers.  We also work extensively with interns, training the next generation in practical farming aspects on a human scale.  We do this so we can live a meaningful life, have a hand in food production, and attempt to restore balance to a system in favor of people over corporations.   When we look at local producers selling locally, we see a positive economic impact through the local multiplier effect.  Currently, America only spends 6% of its income on food, lower than any other country in the world.   Is it no wonder that rural America suffers economically while cities become more and more crowded? 

Eating the whole animal:  Our customers typically only consume white muscle from a chicken and typically do not show an interest in the heads, feet, liver, heart, gizzard, bones or blood from the chicken.  My off the cuff guess is that these foods easily represent at least 30% of the nutrients of the overall consumable portion of the chicken.  If everyone made use of a whole chicken (or beef, pig, sheep) we would be able to produce much more edible food without changing a thing with our current production practices.
Waste in the system: Grade 1 food selection practices, at least in the United States are overly picky, resulting in grains, fruits, and vegetables being tossed to the compost heap in alarming amounts.  Our experiment in growing flax 2 years ago resulting in a nearly 50% loss in the final product due to cleaning and re-cleaning to achieve perfection.  Is that necessary?  Simply relaxing some of the USDA grading requirements by fractions of a percent for weed seeds would create a dramatic increase in consumable food.
Teasing out the answers to the question of whether many small-scale family farms can feed the world is complex and crosses many disciplines: environment, economics, politics, social welfare, and health. Solving our resources challenge on the planet does not mean we need to blindly accept GMO, massive industrial farms, and sacrificing animal welfare.  Rather, we can look to some of the simple solutions we discussed here, such as utilizing the whole chicken and supporting local farmers while building local economies.  On the regional level we can support building food distribution networks that look for trading opportunities between counties and states instead of countries and continents.  On a national level we can look at where we spend money on farm subsidies and crafting laws that are more favorable to smaller growers.

Benjamin Franklins #1 and #2 plus Benjameena Frankleena

Bummer lambs are those that are rejected by the mother including triplets that can’t be fed, or other lambs that have trouble coping outside for one reason or another.   The Ewes are in full swing giving birth to baby lambs and so we have our share of bummers.  Right now, they’re ending up in the house. Shanti has found some good names for this set of trouble-makers. 

Check out the video for some lamb-action fun!

Rogue Farm Corps Article in the Register Guard

Deck Family Farm and interns are featured in an article appearing in the Eugene Register Guard on December 16th.   The article talks about the Rogue Farm Corps program, which works with farms and interns to provide educational opportunities on sustainable farms in Oregon.  There are many great shots of the farm, which were taken several weeks ago, and feature photos of our interns doing chores.

Screenshot of the Register-Guard Article. Click here taken to the Register Guard site to read more.

Some egg deliveries cancelled for this week

We have had to cancel some egg deliveries for this week.  The reason for this is due not only to lower than usual production due to the winter season, but that most of our eggs were freezing and cracking in the nest boxes before we had a chance to pick them up on Sunday and Monday (when we had the coldest temps).  We’ve found generally on the farm that -8 deg. Fahrenheit is very cold weather for all sorts of things: water pipes, eggs, and people.  The livestock, however, seem well adapted to the cold since they are dry and have food and water.

The photo below some of our chickens surrounding their trailer.  Typically they roam further away from the trailer but during the cold snap they’ve preferred to either stay in the trailer and roost or roam around under the trailer itself.

Snow & Freezing Delays Some Deliveries / Cancels Markets

Due to the snow and freezing we will not be attending some of our markets this weekend:

  • Hollywood Market has been cancelled.
  • We are not going to the Eugene Market on Holiday Market on Saturday the 7th (but will be returning the following week)
  • We are not going to the PSU Market on Saturday the 7th (but will be returning the following week)

We WILL be going to the St. John’s Stock-up market on Sunday the 8th and doing milk-drops and other deliveries in Portland on the 8th.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of the farm from Friday the 6th, where he had temps in the 20’s and 6 inches of snow.  The previous day we had a low of 10 degrees, which for our climate is very unusual and thus tested our outdoor plumbing systems!

Intern Sean Slyes filling up waters in a bucket for our Sows in the barn.
Even though our pigs have shelters, they usually choose to play outside in the snow!

Short Thanksgiving update from the Farm

Folks in the office are busy arranging Turkey orders.  We are mostly sold out but I’ve been told there are just a few larger Turkeys left (bigger than 20lbs).  Call the office very soon if you’re interested.  

Here are a couple of shots to keep you stay at home farmers satisfied with the happenings out here.  The first one below is a shot of our Turkeys out on the pasture, you’ll see some sheep in the background.

And another shot here of the pig-o-tillers at work:

Layers on winter pastures

We just moved our layers from the summer pastures to their winter pastures (up on a hill, sitting 50 feet above the bottom fields, offering better drained soils).  The winter pasture was grazed by both chickens and pigs last winter and then planted with wheat and sunflowers in the Spring.  We brush-hogged the field last week and were left with a variety of wheat/sunflower seeds whole, sprouting, and sprouted.  The photo below shows what the field looks like.

You can see some clumps of wheat that has dropped and begun to sprout following some early fall rains.  Also visible is alot of straw stubble and straw chopped up on the ground… this was left on the field to stabilize the field during the winter months where the chickens and chicken trailers will have some impact.

I’m generally pleased with the outcome of this crop-rotation experiment.  The wheat yield was somewhat low and wild turkeys/squirrels and various birds harvested most of the sunflowers.  Next year, i’ll sub-soil the field since i suspect compaction from years as a sacrifice pasture impacted growth. However, right now, the soil has a nice mulch layer and should stabilize over the winter, allowing us to keep the chickens outside and there is a decent quantity of feed on the ground for the hens, supplementing their usual ration.

Summer update from the farm

Thanks to a grant from Animal Welfare Approved and support from our Credibles customers we have started work on our egg handling / chicken processing clean room.  We are renovating our old cattle chute area for this purpose and moving the cattle chute to a different location, which will also make working the beef and sheep herds easier.  The photo below shows Allie who is working on this project.

The following photo is a just a small tragedy, a cracked mainline.  This has stopped our irrigation for a few days while we fix this crack.

Finally, the cows are enjoying this years summer annual grass crop, moving into this field on July 15th, 45 days following initial planting.  This is a sudan grass that thrives in the heat.  Sudan grass also does well with minimal watering, allowing us to limit the amount of irrigation we need to apply.

Long Tom Watershed Council Project Tour at Deck Family Farm

The Long Tom Watershed Council (LTWC) will be holding a tour on Tuesday, May 28th at 5:30pm at Deck Family Farm.  This tour is free and open to anybody who is interested.  Speakers will be John Deck, Pat McDowell (University of Oregon geomorphologist), and Jed Kaul (LTWC fish biologist).  Topics will include landowner goals, how improving stream habitat coexists with the goals of a working farm, how the project improves the migration for native fish, and why the Bear Creek basin is important for cutthroat trout.  

Questions should be directed to Rob at LTWC 541-338-7060 or visit the LTWC website for more information.

View of bridge that replaced an under-sized culvert.

Spring Lambs

Lamb season is full upon us which means we also get to enjoy some of the “bummer” lambs– triplets or other orphans that we care for near the house.  The crew of four you see below provide us with hours of amusement with their frolicking antics.

Baby Chicks and Attempted Thievery

Recently, we received our first batch of 480 chickens.   We revamped our brooder this year to give more room, better heat, and better ventilation.  The chicks seem to love it!  They’ll live in the brooder for 4 weeks, at which time, we will put them out onto pasture.
Unloading chicks into the brooder.  
2 nights later, our wildlife cam caught our farm-cat Chaurcy, attempting entry into the brooder in the wee hours of the morning.

One choice at a time

Last night Christine and I were talking about how we, as humans, in this day and age, use our time.  So much of what we do centers around the “manufactured” and “processed” – tv shows, processed food, paying mortgages on houses constructed with manufactured products, driving to work, driving to entertain ourselves.  The real tragedy here is for our children and our environment.  The environment suffers due to the by-products of consumption – exhaust, and depletion of natural resources.  Children suffer from being educated in a vacuum – learning theory in schools but, in general, minus a feeling that they are really needed by their family and community.  When people have something to care for, to live for, there comes a purpose in life.

I heard a quote a long time ago from someone who asked a teacher accusingly, “Do you think a women’s place in the home?”, to which he replied, “Yes, certainly! and so is a man’s”.  We so often forget about home-based food production, learning, and building.  However, when we talk about what really matters to us, its the simple things, and the things we find in the home that truly matter.   This is contrary to what we spend most of our time doing– running around, driving, and working all hours.  We’re a long way from where we really want to be, but in the meantime, we’ll continue making choices one step at a time… do we eat out or cook a meal at home?  do we stay up watching a movie or do we get up early on a Saturday to clean the house to make it a friendlier place?  At any rate, i think these choices about where we spend our time and focus our energy is really the way to work for peace for all humans, slowly change our military-industrial society, and change the world… one person at a time, one choice at a time.

2012 Farm Photos

Photos say it all.  We had a great year in 2012 and following are some of my favorites from the farm …

Farrowing and piglets took off in 2012.

Elie, Elia, and Ella graced us with their beauty this summer 🙂

Late summer grazing with the land-ark egg palaces and beef herd in the back-ground.

Sunflowers were a big hit during their bloom. The sunflower seeds were cut and fed to our chickens in the fall.

Dog culture is alive and well.  Bear on the left looks on while Lucy and Salim discuss rodent chasing tactics.

Here is the farm staff for a group photo, from left to right: Maria, Lucy the dog, Brigid, Stacy, Tenzin, RJ, Ella, Alex Eddy, Shanti, Chris, John, Chelsea, Matt, and Raul.

Turkeys in the Shade

We raise our heritage turkeys on pasture.  This requires some housing to keep them cool and give them a place to roost.  We created a portable turkey shelter out of an old flatbed trailer, long sticks from the woodlot to perch on, cattle panels bent into an upside-down U shape and tarps over the top.   It is important to secure the tarps well so they don’t flap in the wind… this makes them last much longer.  The space for the turkeys is ample and the cost was reasonable.  The whole structure can be moved periodically with a truck or tractor.

Speaking of Turkeys — as of today, we have some left for home purchase before Thanksgiving.

Summer grass!

The cows approved of our 15 acre experiment this year with Sorghum/Sudan Grass.  We planted this grass, along with volunteer white clover in this paddock as it is does well in warm weather and can thrive in our draught-like conditions typical of Western Oregon for the months of August and September.  
Photo by Gentiana Loeffler, Market Manager for St. Johns Farmers Market.