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Troy Michaels, Days Creek

Nestled in the Umpqua Valley, the Michaels Ranch in Days Creek is one of less than 1,100 agriculture operations in the state to attain Century Farm or Ranch status.

It was established by Lawrence Michaels in 1898 and began raising turkeys, beef, sheep, hogs, chickens — and nine children. One of those kids was also named Lawrence, the son who went on to become the second generation to run the ranch. By the 1950s, he had transitioned to only cattle, sheep, and prunes.

“The mix of products has changed over time as markets have fluctuated and certain commodities become more profitable than others,” explains Troy Michaels of Douglas Co. Farm Bureau, who took over the reigns from his grandfather, the second Lawrence, in 2000. Troy realized he now had the opportunity to put his own stamp on the ranch — as well as had the responsibility to keep it thriving.

By the 1950s, Troy’s grandfather had stopped purchasing new calves each year, instead allowing the herd to replenish itself. However, the animals lost their identity once they were shipped to large feedlots and sold on the open commodity market.

By the time he took over the operation, Troy had noticed a growing public interest in where food comes from. He knew the background of every animal on the ranch and realized that sending the livestock away to a wholesale warehouse cost his business a prime marketing opportunity. The idea to sell directly to retailers began to form.

The Michaels soon decided to take the plan a step further; they converted the ranch into a pasture-based operation. The market was ripe for this type of production. From claims that grass-fed beef tastes as good as conventionally raised beef, to the belief that it has high levels of omega 3s, a growing segment of consumers were willing to seek out and pay more for pasture-raised meat.

The Michaels’ cattle and sheep feed only on grass for the majority of the year. For a few months in the winter they receive a nutritional supplement. They also stopped giving the animals growth hormones and antibiotics. 

Troy found another ranch from the region also interested in selling a natural product directly to retailers. The two operations created Emerald Hills Beef. The Michaels sell their sheep through Umpqua Valley Lamb.

Their first client was the Ashland Food Co-op in Ashland. By 2005, New Seasons Market in Portland came calling. Unable to fill the larger orders on their own, the ranches joined the Country Natural Beef program.

While the product costs a bit more than meat that’s purchased on the open market, Troy says it’s not far off from what conventional beef gets when commodity prices are good. The main benefit for the ranch is that its income doesn’t fluctuate. 

“Farmers have to be progressive with the times,” says Troy. “I believe that my grandparents would be pleased with what we’re doing because we’re carrying on with the ranching operation, taking care of the land, and staying profitable.”


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These are authentic stories from real farmers.  Any editorial content does not necessarily reflect the beliefs of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon or our members.


 
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