Farm transitions from hobby to working
By CHRISTY LOCHRIE
For the Capital Press
CAMAS, Wash. -- It's one of those rules of farming and eating: If an animal is destined for a dinner plate, it's bad form to name it.
But when Shane McGuffin and his wife Melissa bought a 30-acre farm in Camas in 2004, most of their hobby farm's animals -- a horse, goats, ducks and rabbits -- were also christened with names, courtesy of his three children. And then the inevitable happened: Animals became sick and died.
"We had a lot of ceremonial burials," McGuffin, 45, said. "That doesn't happen anymore."
That's because McGuffin's farm, now with its own name -- Grass Kickin Farms -- transformed from hobby farm to working farm in 2009.
The tipping point came after McGuffin lost his job of 15 years as a construction project manager. The real estate market -- and its market for new commercial construction -- was at a low with no signs of recovery. McGuffin faced an uncertain future. Also during that time, he was reading books by small-farm guru Joel Salatin and watching food-production documentaries, like "Food Inc."
"I started looking into what does it mean to farm," McGuffin said while feeding toasted barley to his chicken flock on a recent morning.
He and Melissa discussed a transformation from hobby farm to working farm and decided to give it a try. To make it work financially, Melissa, a 15-year stay-at-home mother to the couple's three children, took an administrative job that came with health insurance benefits so that McGuffin could focus on the farm.
These days McGuffin rotates livestock on 55 acres, raising hogs, cattle, laying hens, broilers and, seasonally, turkeys. The cattle linger over carpets of thick grass and are rotated across the property with movable wire fencing until they're ready for slaughter.
McGuffin slaughters twice a month, taking his livestock to a USDA custom butcher who dry hangs the beef, butchers it and then freezes it. He then sells directly to his customers, who have come to know him and how he raises and butchers his livestock. The direct sales also means bypassing auction and the variable prices of beef, pork and poultry.
McGuffin sells his meat in 15- to 30-pound bundles. Beef fetches $6.50 to $7.00 a pound. Chicken sells for $4.50 a pound, and turkeys, which require a $40 deposit, are $5.50 a pound. A dozen eggs go for $5. McGuffin started with 150 turkeys for the holidays and has just 35 left. Of the remaining turkeys, 30 percent were reserved for Christmas.
The majority of his meat is sold to regular customers, who often have culinary questions. So, just like small farmers who man a veggie stand at a farmers' market and offer cooking tips, McGuffin and his wife are ready to recipe tips, both in person and on their Facebook page, which has 358 followers. McGuffin estimates he has 50 regular customers and an email list of 150 customers who have bought from him at some point.
But even though his is a working farm now, there are still a few named holdouts, like Blueberry and Buttercup, part of a trio of goats. And then there's Thomas, the turkey tom who struts through the poultry flocks.
"He's kind of official with all of his stuff (plume) going on," McGuffin said.
McGuffin credits his neighbor, lifelong farmer, Charlie DeTemple, 87, with helping him filling in his farming educational gaps.
"When you're first generation, you have to find someone," McGuffin said of DeTemple, who immediately showed a visitor X-rays of the screws that hold together his torso from a 1990 tractor accident.
Of the knowledge that DeTemple, who still tends cattle, has passed on, he says: "If it's any good, why, you can have it."
McGuffin's days are as long as before he started farming, but he says he enjoys the lifestyle.
"I spent 15 years going into an office and the question (from Melissa) was always 'When are you going to be home?' Now, I'm always home," McGuffin said.
Occupation: Farmer at Grass Kickin Farms
Home: Camas, Wash.
Family: Melissa, wife; children: Maddisson, 15, Connor, 12 and Carrson 8
Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology from Western Washington University