Small Farmer's Journal

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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Organic To Be or Not To Be

Organic: To Be or Not To Be

(With Apologies to Hamlet)

by Dan Macon of Flying Mule Farm

Occasionally, a customer (or potential customer) at our local farmers’ market will ask whether our grass-fed lamb is organic. In nearly every case, the customer will make a purchase after I explain our reasons for not being certified organic. Because we’re able to sell directly to our customers (usually with face-to-face contact), organic certification has not been advantageous for us. For me, there are both practical and philosophical reasons not to become certified.

First, the practical (and perhaps economic) reasons…

We currently raise nearly 200 sheep, and have with plans to expand this number to more than 400 ewes. We own (along with our bank) just 3 acres, which means we rely almost entirely on rented pasture and contract grazing. This year, we are leasing property from at least 6 different landowners. We’ll be getting paid to graze on at least 5 additional properties, each with yet another landowner. For us to certify our live animals as organic, we’d not only need to certify our husbandry practices — we’d also need to work with our landlords and our grazing customers to certify their land. In other words, we’d need to obtain organic certification on 11 separate properties (with separate owners) in order to call our live lambs “organic.” For our landlords and grazing customers, this would be an unnecessary expense; for us, it would be an undesirable expense, as I’ll explain below.

Organic To Be or Not To Be

To call our meat “organic,” we would need to have our lambs processed in a certified organic processing facility. Given the current meat inspection and environmental health rules, we must have our meat processed in a USDA-inspected plant, of which there are limited options in Northern California. Our current processing partner is Superior Farms in Dixon. Despite the fact that we are a very small fish in their big pond (they process more lambs in a day than we’ll process all year), they do an outstanding job for us. Our lambs are handled humanely (just like we’d handle them), and our meat is processed with care and quality. Superior is not, however, organically certified (and neither are the other facilities we might use) — there is not an economic advantage for them to go to the expense of certification for my 250 lambs this year. In other words, even if we had our production practices and land certified, we would not be able to put the “O” word on our meat label.

These practical barriers are related to the philosophical barrier that exists in my mind. To me, many of our food processing and marketing rules are designed to facilitate a food system where farmers and consumers don’t need to know one another directly. In other words, these regulations (including the National Organic Program) exist to maintain the anonymity of farmers and eaters. Perhaps this is necessary for a system that is large enough to feed 300 million people, but the regulatory system seems to favor very large producers and processors. If you’re buying lamb at the grocery store without any connection to the farm or farmer who raised it, I suppose it’s reassuring to know that a trained inspector approved it or that a third party certified the production practices used by the farmer. I’d rather look the farmer in the eye and ask him or her how their food was produced.

Perhaps these thoughts sound like a rationalization on my part for not becoming certified organic, but let me explain our production system. Our lambs are 100 percent grass-fed — they consume nothing except their mother’s milk, grass, and some extra minerals. We do vaccinate our lambs and ewes against the diseases that are common in our region, but we observe (and go beyond) all of the label restrictions on these vaccines. We feel like we have a responsibility to our animals AND to our customers to raise happy, healthy sheep.

How do our customers know that we’re accurately representing our products? That’s the key, the reason that a third party verification system was created, right? I think this is the beauty of a smaller-scale, community-based direct market food system. During parts of the year, my customers drive past my sheep on their way to the farmers’ market. At all times of the year, we welcome visitors to our farm. In other words, our production practices are entirely open for our customers to see. If you don’t count the trip to the processor (which is just 65 miles from Auburn), our meat is usually consumed within 25 miles of where we raise our animals. The key then is a local, transparent farming and food system. Eating local won’t solve all of our food safety issues, but knowing our farmers (and as farmers, knowing our eaters) is a huge step in the right direction.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Horse Breeding

This is an excerpt from Horse Breeding by M.W. Harper, a Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin from January 1928. In breeding horses the perfection of the animals selected should be carefully considered. Occasionally stallions are selected on the basis of their pedigree. Such practice may prove disappointing, for many inferior individuals are recorded merely because such […]

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On the Anatomy of Thrift is an instructional series Farmrun created with Farmstead Meatsmith. Their principal intention is instruction in the matters of traditional pork processing. In a broader and more honest context, OAT is a deeply philosophical manifesto on the subject of eating animals.

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Harnessing the Future

Harnessing the Future

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En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.

A Year of Contract Grazing

A Year of Contract Grazing

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Contract grazing involves the use of livestock to control specific undesirable plants, primarily for ecological restoration and wildfire prevention purposes. The landowners we worked for saw grazing as an ecologically friendly alternative to mowing, mechanical brush removal, and herbicide application.

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After moving the drop ring on the other side down we went out to the round pen for a test drive. The difference in how she ground drove and turned was amazing – not perfect, but real sweet. With the lines at that level a right turn cue on the line obviously meant go right to her, and a left turn cue meant left. After we drove around for a while with me smiling I couldn’t resist moving the drop rings back up to the line rings – Bam, back to the old confusion.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A Gathering of Comtois in France

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I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to.

Hand Plucking Poultry

Hand Plucking Poultry

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I confess that I am cold-hearted and cheap. Though I love raising poultry, I hate spending time and money anywhere but on my little farm. So I process at home. If you are only raising a few birds for yourself, say 25 or 30 at a time, I recommend having a party and doing it all by hand. My journey backward from machines to hands started with a chance encounter with a Kenyan chicken grower visiting the United States. He finishes 15,000 broilers each year.

Ask A Teamster Round Pen Training

Ask A Teamster: Round Pen Training

When we ask a horse to follow us in the round pen we can help him succeed by varying things a bit – changing direction and speed frequently, stopping periodically to reward him with a rub (“a rub” or two, not 100), picking up a foot, playing with his tail/ears/mouth, etc. In other words, working at desensitizing or sensitizing him by simulating things he will experience in the future (trimming and shoeing, crupper, bridle over the ears, bit, etc.).

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster

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The first step to a successful training session is to decide ahead of time what it is you wish to accomplish with your horse. In the wild the horses in a band require the strength of a lead horse. Your horse needs you to be that strong leader, but she can’t follow you if you don’t know where you want to go. On the other hand, we need to retain some space within ourselves for spontaneity to respond to the actual physical and mental state of our young horse on any given day.

The Milk and Human Kindness Stanchion Floor

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So let’s just say this is your first experience with cows, you’ve gone to your local dairy farm, purchased a beautiful bred heifer who is very skittish, has never had a rope on her, or been handled or led, and you’re making arrangements to bring her home. It ought to be dawning on you at this point that you need to safely and securely convey this heifer to your farm and then you need to keep her confined until she begins to calm down enough that she knows she’s home, and she knows where she gets fed.

Happs Plowing A Chance to Share

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Dinnertime rolled around before we could get people and horses off the field so that results of judging could be announced. I learned a lot that day, one thing being that people were there to share; not many took the competition side of the competition very seriously. Don Anderson of Toledo, WA was our judge — with a tough job handed to him. Everyone was helping each other so he had to really stay on his toes to know who had done what on the various plots.

Work Horse Handbook

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The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

Developing Draft Colts

Developing Draft Colts

During October, 1910, The Pennsylvania State College and Experiment Station purchased a group of ten grade Belgian and Percheron colts and one pure bred Percheron for use in live stock judging classes. An accurate record of the initial cost, feeds consumed and changes in form has been kept in order that some definite information as to the cost of developing draft colts from weaning to maturity might be available for farmers, investigators and students.

The Milk and Human Kindness Part 1

The Milk and Human Kindness

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I know what it’s like to be trying to find one’s way learning skills without a much needed teacher or experienced advisor. I made a lot of cheese for the pigs and chickens in the beginning and shed many a tear. I want you to know that the skills you will need are within your reach, and that I will spell it all out for you as best I can. I hope it’s the next best thing to welcoming you personally at my kitchen door and actually getting to work together.

Cattle Handling Part 1 Basic Cattle Handling

Cattle Handling Part 1: Basic Cattle Handling

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If they understand what you want them to do, and you give them time to figure it out, cattle are very easy to herd. Pressuring and release of pressure at the proper times will encourage them to move (or halt) and to go the direction and speed you desire. The herd will also stay together, moving as a group if you herd them calmly and don’t get them upset and excited. Best results are had when you move them at a walk, controlling the speed and direction of the leaders.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative

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The Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative was founded in 2016 by a group of dairymen who want to be outspoken advocates of the Ayrshire breed. Ayrshires are one of the most cost-effective breeds for dairy farmers, as the breed is known for efficiently producing large quantities of high-quality milk, primarily on a forage diet. These vigorous and hardy cows can be found grazing in the sun, rain, and cold while other breeds often seek shelter.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT