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, 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.

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

Author: Alex Prediger (Deck Farm Intern from April 2014 to April 2015)
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
% of overall ration
Lbs of protein
Chickens total lbs @ 1600*365*.23
amount needed per year in tons
Soft White Wheat
rolled corn
fish meal
mineral mix
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.
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.
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

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.

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.

Moving Sheep

One of the great things about raising sheep is the opportunity to graze them in novel places.  In the last month we have moved our sheep to pastures in Monroe, Root 36 farm (at Highway 36 and 99 in Junction City), and pictured below is us moving our sheep this last Wednesday, March 12th, across the road to Rambling Rose Vineyard.   All the lambs are big enough to follow the lead of the older Ewes, who know the drill about moving from field to field.  Pictured in front is Intern Lisa Benneman and Alex Deck is in red blocking the road.

Hazelnut-Finished Pork — Or How to Make Happy Bacon Happen

“The Earth is not a dead body, but is inhabited by a spirit that is it’s life and soul. All created things, minerals included, draw their strength from the earth spirit. This spirit is life, it is nourished by the stars and it gives nourishment to all the living things it shelters in its womb. Through the earth spirit received from on high, the earth hatches the minerals in her womb as the mother her unborn child.”

— Basilius Valentinus

 The pure pleasure of being a pig photo by Katelyn Black
On the Deck Family Farm, bacon is one of the four main food groups alongside sausage, steak and butter. Before moving on to the farm, I wasn’t much for pork and pork-related products, having tussled with a nasty, unforgettable bout of food poisoning at it’s hands, but working alongside these animals every day will make you admire their capabilities with undying resolve. Transparency is the key to creating and sustaining a market for earth conscious meats, so I’d like to show you how the Deck Family Farm raises our signature Hazelnut-Finished Pork and give you a little background into the makings of a happy piggy.

Can’t beat some fresh hay straw
photo by Katelyn Black
Upon domestication, pigs were bred and utilized for two different uses: lard types and bacon types. Lard pigs fattened quickly and efficiently for use in cooking oils, lubricants, soap, lamp oil, cosmetics and even explosives, while bacon types grew lean, muscular frames from a diet of grains, garden scraps and dairy by-products — feeds that are high in protein and low in roughage.

As technology increased and petroleum-based products flooded the market, the lard hog declined in use and farmers began selecting breeds that could quickly turn corn and other cheap feeds into delicious, pork chops the size of your head. Today’s swine are the result of years of Dr. Moreau-ian genetic selection to suit our desire for tasty, cheap meat. However, today’s industrial pig operations miss out on a few things a pig desires deep down in his/her little piggy heart — open pastures.

A Hormel or Jimmy Dean raised pig usually doesn’t get to see the light of day. Their most valuable asset (their nose) has a ring promptly shoved through it to keep from rooting and their tails are clipped to thwart nibbling due to close quarters. Mother sows are held in gestation pens with little room to move, let alone turn around. Because of this, the meat suffers and most industrial pork is injected with up to 12 percent salt water to make up for lost flavor and tenderness.

Please don’t inject me with salt water. I swear I’ll be delicious if you just love me

“Finishers”  renovating a winter pasture on the Deck Family Farm. Some of these are Yorkshire and some are Red Wattles, while others still are a piggy blend of both breeds. The ‘wattles’ visible on the necks have no known function. They are a characteristic usually passed on to crossbred offspring.
The hotwire set-up. Good at keeping hogs in and interns out. Or maybe the other way around..
Saint Filbert, the patron saint of nuts
Seasoned intern Sarah Gocek feeding out a bucket of hazelnuts to some eager mouths
Fourth down and ten more yards to go. Our linemen work just as hard to get to the endzone, only their salaries are only slightly less inflated.
Every day, without failure, one of the interns tending the “finishers” feeds them several bucketfuls of hazelnuts and bumps the hotwire up 5-15 feet. This allows the pigs to root around in our pastures to their hearts content, tilling the great soil for us and nubbing any roots or goodies they may find below the earth. It’s an incredible process that benefits the pig, the land, the farmer and the pork.
These paddocks were finished by the hogs in November. The pigs worked day and night tilling the soil for us, never charged overtime and provided us (and you) with plentiful pork when it was all said and done. In the spring these will be planted with an annual rye grass and another grain crop providing us with reliable feed for our animals.
I’d like to mention as well that this is our strategy for wintering the pork. Because of the rainy Oregon winters and the hogs’ impact on fragile winter pastures, we choose paddocks for them that are well-drained highlands over soggier, sunken pastures that would be nearly destroyed by the pigs impact. 
For this reason, the wintering paddocks will rotate semi-annually. After the pigs renovate a paddock, we’ll follow with an annual crop such as triticale, turnips or cara wheat to stabilize the soil. The paddock pictured above was planted in sunflower and wheat. In the fall, the chickens tore through it, reveling in fresh sunflower seeds and wheat grain. Most of the wheat fell of the stalk, replanted itself and provided yet another bump of feed for the chickens in the form of wheat sprouts making our chickens healthier than most vegan, gluten-free hippy conform-ovores.
When the weather cooperates, we’re going to graze the pigs through the garden. They’ll knock down all the sunflower stalks and other vegetable matter that would take much longer to compost, till the beds for us, and add fertilizer out the back end.

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: