We’ve been called names

Over the years, we have accumulated a number of animal welfare and land stewardship certifications. Will likes to say he’s like a Boy Scout collecting merit badges. We feel that we owe it to our customers to meet the standards of all of these organizations, and pay their verifiers to audit us to their standards. This is because so much of our product is sold online and through distributors to consumers who live a long way from White Oak Pastures. Farmers who sell their products directly to consumers may not need these third-party verifications, since they know their customers personally.

We are convinced that the best verification is to visit the farm in person. This is why we built on-farm lodging, an on-farm restaurant, and we host farm tours and events. Y’all come and see us. In the meantime, here is a quick rundown of our certifications and labels.

 

AGA logo

What is certified: Our cattle, goats, and sheep

In 1995, we decided the right thing to do for our cattle herd would be to transition to a grassfed pastured program. We later added additional ruminant species, and now our cattle, goats and sheep are certified grassfed by the American Grassfed Association (AGA). AGA defines grassfed animals as “those that have eaten nothing but grass and forage from weaning to harvest, have not been raised in confinement, and have never been fed antibiotics or growth hormones. In addition, all AGA-Certified Producers are American family farms and their livestock is born and raised in the U.S.”

 

AWA logo

What is certified: Our cattle, chickens, and eggs

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) is a food label for meat and dairy products that come from farm animals raised outdoors on pasture. Our cattle,  chickens, and eggs are certified by AWA, as well as our on-farm, USDA-inspected red meat and poultry abattoirs. As much as we are committed to providing our animals with a peaceful, healthy life, we are committed to offering them a humane and dignified death. Our facilities, designed by Dr. Temple Grandin, are focused on keeping the animals at ease.

 

Savory logo

What is certified: Our land

The Savory Institute promotes large-scale restoration of the world’s grasslands through holistic management. We have been named a Savory Institute Training Hub, an honor given to 17 organizations across the globe to provide education and support on regenerative farming to other land managers. We believe that sustainability isn’t enough; agriculture has to be regenerative. Practicing the Serengeti Grazing Model, we rotate complimentary animal species side-by-side through our pastures. All species naturally fertilize the land, and our soil is a living organic medium that teems with life.

 

GAP logo

What is certified: Our cattle, pigs, chickens, and turkeys

Global Animal Partnership’s tiered rating system recognizes advanced methods of allowing animals to express their behavior. White Oak Pastures is certified at the highest level, Step 5+, indicating our animals are raised on pasture, with no physical alterations, and they spend their entire lives on the same farm. We were one of the first farms in the U.S. to receive GAP certification for beef production, participating in the pilot program in 2010.

 

NON-GMO LOGO

What is certified: Our poultry, eggs, pigs, and rabbits

Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. are produced using genetically-modified seeds, which means a majority of poultry, pig, and rabbit feed includes GMOs. For years we struggled to find a feed mill that could consistently supply enough non-GMO feed for our farm. In May 2016, we became verified by the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization offering third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products.

 

Organic logo

What is certified: Our land and vegetables, fruits, and nuts

The federal government oversees the USDA Organic program, certifying products produced without synthetic ingredients, synthetic pesticides, growth hormones, or genetic engineering. All of our land is certified organic, except that land which we have recently leased or purchased to transition to organic pasture. White Oak Pastures is proud to be the largest certified organic farm in Georgia. Using the same methods Will’s great-grandfather used a century-and-a-half ago, we proactively support nature’s food chain using only sun, soil, and rain to grow organic sweet grasses for our animals to eat.

 

chlogo2

What is certified: Our cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, and eggs

Certified Humane is the label of Humane Farm Animal Care, an international non-profit certification organization that works to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices. Third party auditors ensure farms meet standards that ensure animals are raised in an environment where they can engage in natural, innate behaviors. For example, chickens are able to flap their wings and dust bathe, and pigs have the space to move around and root.

 

CNG logo

What is certified: Our vegetables, fruits and nuts, bees, and goats and sheep

Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) offers peer-reviewed certification to farmers and beekeepers producing food for their local communities by working in harmony with nature, without relying on synthetic chemicals or GMOs. The main difference between CNG and USDA Organic is the certification model, which relies on peer inspections, transparency, and direct relationships. The livestock standards are based on the USDA Organic standards, but additionally require access to pasture and feed grown according to CNG standards.

Categories: Animal Welfare, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Regenerative Agriculture | 4 Comments

Restoring productivity of overgrown forest through holistic animal impact

We all know a thing or two about grazing: basically, we think of livestock on pasture eating grass. Using holistic planned grazing, we can add biodiversity and shape the land to achieve a desired usage. Browsing, on the other hand, isn’t as well-known. Browsing is when livestock eat the leaves, stems and fruits of trees and shrubs. Much like we browse around a store when shopping, animals walk through a wooded area picking off their favorite vegetation. Sheep and cattle are typically better grazers, while goats are more effective browsers.

We’ve recently leased a 200-acre wooded area, and it’s the kind of place goats dream about when they go to sleep at night. This land hasn’t had livestock on it for 60 years, and as all land longs to do, it returned to a forest. In this state, it’s Valhalla, Eden, and Shangri-La for goats and their browsing tendencies.

Forests are a great environmentally-sound utilization of land, but the growing population of the earth needs food and our region needs jobs. These needs don’t align well with allowing huge productive masses of land to go unused. Instead of clearing the unused land using destructive methods like burning or applying chemical pesticides or bulldozers, we’ll use animal impact as a productive and ecologically sound way to bring the land back into high-quality forage production.

This is a method we’ve used for generations at White Oak Pastures. To better explain the process, we put together several photos from around the farm of land in different stages of management: 1. land that has not been browsed; 2. land that’s had one browsing; 3. land that’s had five years of browsing; and 4. land that’s been browsed since Will’s grandfather ran the farm. You can see the browse line is higher in each picture as the goats stretch higher and higher to clear out the brush.

Once goats have done their job on our newly acquired land, we’ll graze sheep, then cattle. It’ll go from a forest that a cat could barely walk through, to a savanna you could ride through on a horse. It’s like a palette, and using animal impact we’ll paint this land into our own masterpiece.

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Categories: Regenerative Agriculture | 4 Comments

White Oak Pastures goes non-GMO

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For years, we have wanted to make the change to non-GMO feed for our poultry, pigs, and rabbits, but we struggled to find a feed mill that could handle our volume. Recently, we were able to find a supplier to consistently deliver non-GMO feed to White Oak Pastures, and we are proud to announce that our poultry, eggs, pork, and rabbits are now non-GMO and verified by the Non-GMO Project.

We have received many customer requests for non-GMO products, stemming from the fact that none of us really know what effects GMOs could have on the animals, the environment, and us. We are farmers, not scientists, but we do know that genetically engineering plants is very new. We won’t know the effects of GMOs for a long time, and we want to do what’s right for our farm and our customers right now.

In all of our practices we endeavor to emulate nature. Our best emulation of nature is imperfect, and our worst emulation of nature is still in need of improvement. Improving these emulations is a journey and it is our mission. Today we are excited to take one more step down this path.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Agriculture | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Dr. Mercola talks pastured meats and healthy fats at our holistic, integrated farm

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At White Oak Pastures, we have expertise in three areas: animal welfare, regenerative land management, and rural communities. As farmers, we aren’t experts in nutrition. When osteopathic physician and natural health advocate Dr. Joseph Mercola came to visit, we shared our knowledge of farming with him, and he shared his knowledge of nutrition with us. Here are a few of Dr. Mercola’s thoughts on the health benefits of grassfed and pasture-based food and farming.

What are some of the benefits of grassfed and pastured products that people might not have heard about?

One of the most important nutrient groups that you can eat is healthy fat. Fat from pastured animals is very healthy, and in my view, should be consumed in far larger quantities than it is now. Healthy fat is a clean fuel for your body with far less damaging free radical generation which contributes to premature disease and death. This appears to contradict conventional wisdom on fat, but the emerging evidence strongly supports this position.

Which products are you most excited about right now?

My current passion is using food as fuel to minimize the production of free radicals. This means eating a diet that is between 75-85% healthy fat. The challenge to do this is finding a wide variety of healthy fats to fill that role. I am really excited about tallow and lard as an addition to the fats I have already identified as a useful strategy to achieve this dietary goal.

What stands out to you about our production practices at White Oak Pastures?

It’s a holistic, integrated system that works synergistically to provide a near ideal primal environment to produce healthy animals that will in turn provide healthy food for us to eat. It’s a very impressive operation and I’ve never seen anything like it. It provides great hope that this system can be modeled by other motivated farmers to offer this type of high-quality food to people in other regions.

P.S. Check out our pastured pork lard, grassfed beef tallow, and the rest of our products in our online store!

Categories: Kitchen | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Dan Coady, nanomedical researcher to pastured poultry farmer

DSC_0048For six years, Dan Coady conducted research for a multinational technology corporation in California, until one day he decided to move to rural southwest Georgia to become a farmer. Today he leads the country’s largest pastured poultry operation, and we are lucky to have him.

Dan had found quite a bit of success as a scientist. He developed nearly 100 patented scientific processes and won the American Chemical Society’s Young Investigator award. But he began to believe there was a more meaningful way for him to utilize his skill sets and spend his time, producing healthy food for his family and community. He fully agrees with the famous Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Dan left the nanomedical research field and moved with his wife and their two young daughters to Bluffton. Together with his White Oak Pastures team, Dan now raises 60,000 broiler chickens, 12,000 laying hens, 8,200 turkeys, 7,600 ducks, 6,000 guinea fowl and 3,000 geese entirely on pasture and processed here on the farm.

As White Oak Pastures’ Poultry Manager, Dan’s PhD in Synthetic Organic Chemistry and his experience in research and development come in handy more often than you might think. He sees the farm as a puzzle, with the many facets of production, processing, and marketing as the pieces. He describes the poultry operation as its own puzzle, and he uses creative problem solving to find the best ways to rotate the birds, provide housing, and increase feed conversion, all while working within nature’s perfect system.

The slower pace of the farm lifestyle suits the Coady family well, too. The kids love riding in tractors and eating in our on-farm dining Pavilion. Right now their favorite meal is Chef Reid’s pastured poultry special, of course: a chicken breast stuffed with spicy Italian turkey sausage. The Coady family believes they made the right decision when they moved from California to White Oak Pastures, and we couldn’t agree more.

Categories: Staff Spotlight | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Unintended consequences: The resurgence of the bald eagle

All of us really revere the iconic North American predator species. We’ve got grizzly bears, timber wolves, cougars, and eagles. We name our sports teams and our Boy Scout troops after them, we see them on tee shirts, and they have one unfortunate thing in common: they are all endangered or threatened.

We often hear that loss of habitat is the reason these predator species are endangered, but after causing a resurgence of bald eagles in southwest Georgia, we have another theory…

Soon after we began raising pastured poultry, we started seeing bald eagles on the farm for the first time. The eagles ate dead chickens and thinned our flock of the weaker ones. By working with nature on our farm instead of against it, we had created an environment where not only our livestock thrives, but wildlife can thrive, too. In contrast, keeping food animals inside factories starves the wildlife that depends on it.

With few other food sources nearby and our pastured poultry operation growing, more and more bald eagles made White Oak Pastures their home. Eagles began aggressively killing large numbers of healthy chickens, and we could not keep up with the losses. Eagles are an isolationist species, and overpopulation leads to fighting, rapid spread of disease, and loss of the natural ability to hunt. The eagles became overpopulated to the point that we’ve enlisted Fish and Wildlife Services to work with us on deterring the eagles using non-lethal harassment methods, to return the population on our farm to a healthy number. 7 or 8 eagles on one farm is great, but 78 is too many.

We now believe part of the demise of the iconic predator species in our country is a function of confinement animal farming which doesn’t give nature a fair opportunity to do its job. We wonder how much of a resurgence of these threatened species we would see if more farmers let their food animals out of captivity and let Mother Nature’s natural selection process work.

(Photos by Backlight Photography)

Categories: Animal Welfare, Farm Life | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Good news: We bought 250 acres of worthless land

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It takes more than time to restore Georgia’s soil to the way it was before industrial farming practices added chemical fertilizers and pesticides and removed the biodiversity and nutrients. It takes us buying the land in the first place. Well, check that box, to the tune of 250 acres.

Our little experiment in the de-industrialization of agriculture is becoming less little all the time.

So what are we going to do with that 250 acres of degraded soil? Exactly what we’ve done with our other 1,500 acres: repair and fertilize the soil using century-old methods and the Serengeti Grazing Model of an unconfined, natural rotation of livestock. We recently moved a small number of our cattle onto the land to eat hay. They will urinate and defecate to feed the soil, and their hooves will break apart and aerate the land, preparing it for the planting of warm-season perennial grasses.

It will take years of good animal-land management to rebuild this eroded soil, but it’s an investment we know is important to continuing our commitment to regenerative animal agriculture.

Not surprisingly, most of the arable land in south Georgia is under someone else’s control. Some of it is conventional farming, some of it is in hunting reserves or timber farming. But we buy when we can buy. We lease when we can lease. We’re on a mission and we just got 250 acres closer to our goal.

Categories: Regenerative Agriculture | Tags: , , | 23 Comments

How to make grassfed beef bone broth

At White Oak Pastures, we take pride in using every part of the animals we process, and broths are a way to utilize the strong, nutrient-dense bones. Check out Chef Reid’s easy how-to video and instructions for making beef bone broth at home. Enjoy this broth by itself as a rich, nourishing supplement or add it to soups and sauces for added flavor and nutrition.

Ingredients

  • 10 pounds White Oak Pastures grassfed beef bones. In this recipe, we used canoe, knuckle, marrow, oxtail, and rib bones, but choose any combination that you’d like.
  • 2 large onions, quartered
  • 3 medium-sized carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 5 stalks of celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place bones in a large, shallow roasting pan. Bake bones 30-45 minutes, or until well browned, turning at the 15-minute mark. Remove from oven.

Move bones into a large pot. Pour 1/2 cup water into the roasting pan and use a wooden spatula to scrape up any fond (crusty browned bits). Add the fond mixture to the pot, then add onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and vinegar. Add water to cover the mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 24-48 hours.

Over a large heatproof bowl, strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve, or a colandar lined with cheesecloth or 2 layers of paper towels. Remove bones, vegetables and seasoning.

Chill broth, then lift off the fat. Store fat in the refrigerator for 1 month, or freeze for 6 months to a year. Store broth in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze for 6 months to a year.

Categories: Kitchen | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Organic spring vegetables at White Oak Pastures

We just kicked off the Spring season of our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Our Organic Farm Manager, Ryan Carnley, Assistant Manager, Mary Bruce, and our garden team are busy planting, harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering organic produce to our wonderful CSA members.

Here is how it works: we offer “shares” to the community, which consist of 6-8 unique produce offerings each week of the season. Members pay a fee at the beginning of the season in exchange for a weekly delivery of fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts.

The arrangement is mutually dependent and mutually beneficial, which builds a lot of trust between our farmers and our members. Our CSA members’ support allows us to operate seasonally and year-round because we have a consistent customer base. As nature dictates the outcome of the growing season, our customers share the risk with us. We call them our CSA family because we experience the ups and downs of the seasons together.

The CSA program is unique in many ways. Our members get the opportunity to eat both locally and seasonally, learning about and experiencing the variety of produce that is available each week in Southern Georgia. Customers also get to know our farmers and ask questions, having face-to-face interactions each week on delivery day.

It’s not too late to sign up for the Spring CSA at a prorated rate. This season, a share might include the following items: kale or collard greens, carrots or beets, bunching onions, spinach or spring mix, swiss chard, broccoli, pac choy or tatsoi, and blackberries. Here in our garden, we love all of the seasons and we hope you will, too!

Categories: CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) | Tags: | 2 Comments

Our chickens of the woods

Chickens were born to scratch and peck, which is exactly what they do at White Oak Pastures. Our chickens are completely unrestricted, and they could walk to Atlanta if they wanted to. This lifestyle is ideal for them, but it makes our job a heck of a lot harder. We think it is worth it, and our customers do, too.

We utilize the Serengeti Rotational Grazing Model, grazing large ruminants, followed by small ruminants, followed by birds. Our poultry like to scratch through cow manure, which is one of the many benefits of having chickens in the pastures. They eat the bugs and redistribute the nutrients, instead of leaving them in piles. Our hens have the option to lay eggs in our mobile pastured poultry houses, or they can lay them anywhere else on the farm they choose.

We have learned that most of our biological diversity occurs in the “edge.” These days, many of our hens are gravitating toward the bushier, shadier parts of our pastures near the forest edges. Our Laying Hen Manager, Sam Humphrey, explains that domestic chicken breeds are descendants of the red junglefowl, whose natural habitat was the edges of forests where two biological systems are together teeming with life. Here, chickens have cover from predators, and there is a wide variety of leaf litter, seeds, and bugs for them to eat. It’s very natural for our hens to want to be there foraging, nesting, roosting in the limbs, and dust bathing in the dirt. None of these behaviors are possible on a factory farm, which produce and market those ever-so-popular eggs labeled “cage-free.” Our eggs have deep yellow and orange yolks, as opposed to the light yellowish-grey yolks of hens kept in confinement with poor diets. Ours also have a rich flavor and a great nutrient profile as a result of our hens’ own nutritious diet. 

Right now with the warm weather and lots of sunlight, our hens are laying about 5,500 eggs each day. Our egg crew is busy collecting eggs two to three times a day, seven days a week. For them, it’s like an Easter egg hunt every day at White Oak Pastures. Once the eggs are collected, they are taken to our candling, washing, and sorting room where they are prepared to be shipped to grocery stores, restaurants, and other distributors. Our eggs are also available for purchase in our online store to be shipped to you directly. We hope you enjoy our delicious, pasture laid eggs!

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Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Agriculture | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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