Animal Welfare

Pastured Poultry Week is a-comin’ to Georgia! Make your reservations now.

PPW 2016Every week is Pastured Poultry Week at White Oak Pastures, but we love partnering with chefs to really get the word out. On July 11-18, chefs in Atlanta, Savannah, and Brunswick will feature pastured poultry on their menus to celebrate humanely and sustainably raised pastured poultry.

A lot of people are learning about the benefits of grassfed beef, but awareness of pastured poultry lags behind. That’s why we need your help spreading the word about Pastured Poultry Week.

According to Compassion in World Farming, the founder and sponsor of the event, the vast majority of the 9 billion chickens raised for food in the U.S. are raised in confinement, in overcrowded conditions where the birds can’t express their instinctive behaviors. These chickens are bred to grow so quickly that they suffer from lameness and strain on their hearts and lungs.

At White Oak Pastures, we are proud to raise a slow-growing chicken breed that takes twice as long to reach market weight, and our birds spend their entire lives on pasture, free to roam, scratch, peck, and dustbathe. Our pastured chickens are certified by Global Animal Partnership at Step 5+, Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, and verified by the Non-GMO Project.

We will have pastured chicken, guinea, goose and turkey available for Pastured Poultry Week. Support the chefs who support White Oak Pastures by making your reservations now. Our pasture raised poultry will be featured at the following restaurants, in addition to those who may be purchasing our pastured poultry through a distributor like US Foods, Sysco, Buckhead Beef, or Turnip Truck:

Gunshow, TAP, Sway at Hyatt Regency, Farm Burger, Kaleidoscope, Miller Union, Cooks & Soldiers, Emory Hospital, and Seed Kitchen and Bar.

Check out the Southeastern Sustainable Livestock Coalition’s website to see the entire list of participating restaurants. Please tell your friends and family, and help make Pastured Poultry Week 2016 a big success.

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We’ve got guts. Lots and lots of guts.

“In nature there is no waste.” -Dr. George Washington Carver

A byproduct of our red meat abattoir is a lot of intestines and guts. It’s not as much waste as there would be in an industrial plant that processes up to 100 times more animals than we do, but it’s still a lot. Most people would throw all those intestines away. We’re full-circle at White Oak Pastures, so we feed ‘em to black soldier fly larvae, which our poultry devour, and then fertilize our land with their feces. Win win win win win!

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We breed native black soldier flies inside an old grain silo that stored corn for the cattle before we transitioned to grassfed. The flies lay their eggs here, and then we move the eggs into large grey tubs where they hatch. Interesting fact: adult black soldier flies don’t eat, or even have functioning mouths; they spend their short 5-8 day lifespan searching for a mate and reproducing.

Their larvae, however, eat any and all organic material. We take the intestines from our abattoir and feed them to the black soldier fly larvae (see the larvae in action here). They eat and grow, and when they’re ready to pupate, they self-harvest by crawling up the ramps on the sides of the tub and dropping into a bucket.

The larvae serve two really important purposes: eating up that organic material from our red meat abattoir, and producing a protein- and fat-rich feed source that we use to supplement the diets of our pastured poultry. Today’s chickens evolved from jungle fowl in Southeastern Asia, and they are naturally omnivorous, hunting and foraging for bugs, grubs, and even small reptiles and mammals. We strive to emulate nature at White Oak Pastures, and with our black soldier fly program we go to great lengths to provide our poultry a very natural feed supplement.

They say the early bird gets the worm, not the corn and soy mix. Mother Nature has some really cool ways of doing things, when we work with her.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

A simple matter of life and death

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Most people don’t like to think about the slaughter and processing of food animals, in favor of the magical leap from pasture to plate. But when you feel the way we do about our animals and you interact with them on a daily basis, you think about it a lot. In fact, how we process our animals gets to the core of what we’re about, and what we’re not.

We’re not industrial commodity livestock production. We’re focused on the relationship we have with our animals; the ones born on our land, grazed on our lush pastures, grassfed and grown into the naturally healthy animals they were intended to be.

Given half a chance, nature does her job extremely well. Working with nature, we give our animals what we believe is the best life possible – which includes honoring them with a humane and dignified death.

Our red meat abattoir is one of only two on-farm USDA-inspected processing facilities in the nation. Situated in one of the pastures our cows have roamed their entire lives, there’s no stressful transportation issue. Their hooves never touch concrete until their last step.

The abattoir design is by Temple Grandin, a renowned expert on humane animal handling, and was designed to keep our animals at ease. For instance, the structure of the walkways minimize shadows because shadows frighten cows. Our abattoir is Animal Welfare Approved, an accreditation that reflects the highest animal welfare standards. This is important and good to know because when you choose your food, you’re also choosing how the animals are treated.

At White Oak Pastures, the compassionate treatment of animals doesn’t end with the end of their lives.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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 Land Management | 6 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 Land Management | Tags: , , | 8 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 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, Will Harris has 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)

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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 Land Management | Tags: , | 2 Comments

New kids on the farm

The business that we run is the most simple business in the world. We own land, and we own animals. We spend our days doing the right things for both. The animals breed, have young, they grow, we slaughter them, we sell the meat and poultry for money that we use to pay our expenses, and it all starts again. It is very simple, but it is also remarkably complex. There are a lot of moving parts.

Some of the great joys in our work are the birthing seasons. Goats kid, rabbits kindle, hogs farrow, sheep lamb, cattle calve, poultry hatch. This is part of a cycle of birth, growth, death, and decay. Everything we do here is in support of that cycle.

Each spring we welcome new goat kids to our herd as they are born in our pastures. Our Small Ruminants Manager, Matthew Cantrell, ensures that they live a peaceful, healthy life, caring for them and watching over them along with his dogs, Oakley and Pancho.

We are excited to have goats on our farm, as goat is the most consumed meat in the world. We believe that our customers who are currently buying our beef, lamb, poultry and rabbit will also like our goat.

Please enjoy our photo gallery of our mama goats and their new kids, in their nursery in our pastures. This is the way we believe animals should be born and raised.

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Craft revival: Jamie Bush turns animal byproducts into artisan goods

DSC_0876Jamie Bush joined the White Oak Pastures family in 2014. She has a lifelong passion for farming, having grown up raising horses and goats on her family farm in Waycross, GA. She came to White Oak Pastures to learn everything she could about large-scale regenerative farming that offers much more than just good, fair food.

Jamie has a vital role in our effort to tap into ancient traditions that respect animals, the environment, and human health. A few of her responsibilities on the farm include making candles, soap, lip balm, and gardener’s salve from our beef tallow, and making pet treats from parts of livestock that would otherwise go to waste, including poultry feet, heads, and necks; cattle trachea, esophagus, and penises; and the ears and noses of cattle and pigs. These items are part of our line of specialty products, and our commitment across the farm to follow a zero-waste model.

According to the United Nations, 22% of meat in the U.S. food supply chain is wasted. With nine billion animals slaughtered annually, that’s roughly two billion farm animals thrown away every year. A hero of ours, Dr. George Washington Carver, told us, “In Nature there is no waste.” We endeavor to run our farm by this standard, and our commitment to the animal is to utilize all of the parts.

Growing up as a girl, Jamie never thought, “I can’t wait to dehydrate duck heads and chicken feet, and weave bull penises together to make pet treats.” But when our Specialty Products Manager, Amber Reece, made the suggestion, Jamie was excited to give it a try. Jamie appreciates seeing our customers enjoy our tallow products, knowing that what goes on the body is just as important as what goes inside. She also loves watching dogs happily devour our pet treats. For her, it’s a powerful feeling to be part of a system that’s creating a net positive impact on the planet.

Our artisan goods are available for purchase on our website. Please contact amber.reece@whiteoakpastures.com for more information.

Categories: Animal Welfare, Staff Spotlight | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life on the Farm: Q&A with Will Harris

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1. Do you remember your first day “taking over” the farm? Can you describe it for us?
EXCEPT FOR MY 4 YEARS AT COLLEGE, I HAVE LIVED AND WORKED ON THIS FARM ALL OF MY LIFE.  I HAVE NEVER WANTED TO DO ANYTHING EXCEPT RUN THIS FARM.  I MAJORED IN ANIMAL SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA IN PREPARATION FOR DOING THIS.

WHEN I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE, I EXPECTED MY FATHER TO GO AND SIT ON THE PORCH SO THAT I COULD RUN THE FARM.  HE HAD A VERY DIFFERENT IDEA.

HE WAS AN ONLY CHILD, AND I WAS AN ONLY CHILD.  EITHER OF THESE WAS PRETTY UNUSUAL FOR OUR GENERATIONS.  IT WAS UNHEARD OF THE STACK THEM.

WE WERE LIKE TWO BROTHERS, FATHER & SON, BUSINESS PARTNERS, AND BEST FRIENDS.  WE COULD HUNT & FISH TOGETHER, EAT & DRINK TOGETHER, BUT WE COULD NOT WORK TOGETHER.  HE WAS THE ORDAINED KING, AND I HAD OPINIONS THAT I JUST COULD NOT KEEP TO MYSELF.  WE PISSED EACH OTHER OFF.  IT WAS BAD.

HE WAS TOO SMART TO LET US LIVE IN A COMBATIVE SITUATION. HE AVOIDED THIS BY MAKING ME GET AN OFF FARM JOB IMMEDIATELY AFTER GRADUATION.  I BECAME THE REGIONAL MANAGER OF A FARMER COOPERATIVE.  WE RAN COTTON GINS, PEANUT MILLS, FERTILIZER BLENDERS, AND GRAIN ELEVATORS.  IT WAS GREAT EXPERIENCE FOR ME AND I COULD NOT HAVE DONE THE THINGS, IN THE MANAGEMENT OF THIS FARM, THAT I HAVE DONE IF I HAD NOT HAD THIS EXPERIENCE FORCED ON ME.

BUT… I ALWAYS LIVED ON THIS FARM, AND WAS ALWAYS VERY INVOLVED IN WORKING ON THE FARM.  I WORKED 40 HOURS EACH WEEK FOR THE CO-OP, AND OVER 40 HOURS MORE EACH WEEK ON THE FARM.  I ONCE COMPLAINED ABOUT HOW I WORKED ALL OF THE TIME.  DADDY SAID “YOU DON’T WORK BUT HALF OF THE TIME”.  HE MEANT 12 HOURS OF THE DAY, 7 DAYS PER WEEK.  HE SAID THAT IF A MAN WANTS TO “ACCUMULATE SOMETHING” HE NEEDS TO WORK MORE THAN HALF OF THE TIME.

ONE HOT DAY, IN 1995, DADDY DROVE HIS PICK UP TO WHERE I WAS BUILDING A NEW FENCE IN THE PASTURE.  HE SAID “DO YOU WANT THEM DAMN COWS?”.  I SAID “HELL YES I WANT THEM DAMN COWS.  THAT IS WHY I’M BUILDING THIS DAMN FENCE”.  HE SAID “TAKE THEM”, AND HE DROVE OFF.  AND THE TRANSFER OF OWNERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT WAS DONE.  WE HAD NEVER DISCUSSED ANY SORT OF TRANSFER BEFORE THIS AND, EXCEPT FOR THAT EXCHANGE, WE NEVER DID AFTER EITHER.

I KNOW THAT DADDY GAVE IT UP THAT DAY BECAUSE HE WAS BEGINNING TO FEEL THE FIRST SIGNS OF DEMENTIA.  HE NOR I NEVER ACKNOWLEDGED IT, BUT THAT WAS THE DEAL.  IT SLOWLY KILLED HIM OVER THE NEXT FIVE LONG AND SAD YEARS.

AFTER THAT DISCUSSION ON THAT HOT DAY, HE NEVER TOOK ANY SORT OF ACTIVE ROLE ON THE FARM.  NONE AT ALL.  IT WAS VERY TRAGIC THAT IT HAD TO BE THAT WAY.

2. On January 1, 2014, two of your daughters were officially back on the farm and White Oak Pastures employees. What was that day like for you?
THE BEST DAMN TIME OF MY LIFE.  THE STORY ABOVE WILL GIVE YOU INSIGHT AS TO WHY.

3. I just picked up my first batch of layers today. Although I feel responsible for the current layers in the pasture, I feel more bonded to, or just more responsible for the ones I got today. It’s the first ones I hope to raise from start to finish. How did you feel when you bought/slaughtered/sold your first cow?
YOU ARE EXPERIENCING THE STEWARDSHIP OF THESE CHICKS. STEWARDSHIP OF YOUR OWN LAND AND ANIMALS IS THE CLOSEST THAT PEOPLE CAN EVER COME TO FEELING THE COMPASSION OF GOD FOR HIS SUBJECTS.  MOST PEOPLE NEVER GET THAT.

4. What do you look forward to the most about retirement? Or do farmers every truly retire?
MY RETIREMENT WILL CONSIST OF GRADUALLY HANDING OFF DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES, UNTIL I HAVE NONE LEFT.  WHEN THERE ARE NONE LEFT, IF MY HEALTH IS GOOD, I WILL RIDE A HORSE AROUND THE FARM ALL DAY EVERY DAY.

 

If you have any questions for Will, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to get an answer for you!

Categories: Animal Welfare, Regenerative Land Management, Rural Community, Staff Spotlight | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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