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
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
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
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.”