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:

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.