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The Carman Ranch outside of Wallowa is a fourth-generation cattle ranch. But that doesn’t mean they are doing things the same old way there.
Cory Carman and husband David Flynn with their children — Roan, 4, and Ione and Emmett, 2. - Submitted photo
Over the past six years the Carman family has been transitioning over to selling directly to restaurants in Portland and to consumers — eliminating the feedlot, packing house and distributor in the process.
The Carman Ranch raises 100 percent grass-fed and finished black Angus and Hereford cattle that are born, raised and harvested on the ranch and spend their lives on pasture.
The cattle are raised without hormones, antibiotics or chemical fertilizers.
If an animal has to be treated with antibiotics, it is sold in a different market.
This part of the program is not so new. A lot of other Wallowa County ranchers also operate without chemicals, Cory Carman said.
However, Carman would like to see other Wallowa County ranchers take the next step, as she and her husband, David Flynn, have.
“There’s some outstanding grass and phenomenal cattle in Wallowa County,” she said.
It has been said that the stirrup-deep grass is what brought the early settlers into Wallowa County.
The Carman Ranch order form states, “The tradition of Carman Ranch in Wallowa County began with our great-grandfather in 1913, and will extend to our own three children.
“Our management practices display our long-term concern for the landscape.
“In addition to creating safe and healthy food, we strive to protect wildlife habitat, improve rangeland health, manage for clean water, sequester carbon and support native species.”
Carman Ranch’s management objectives include protecting wildlife habitat and restoring native rangelands. - Submitted photo
Carman said there are a lot of ranchers in the county who are good stewards, but adds that previously there has been no incentive for their conservation practices.
Carman Ranch now has anincentive through a higher price for its product. This is an incentive without subsidies or regulations, Carman said.
The additional money does not come without additional effort, though.
“It’s a lot of work,” Carman said.
The Carman Ranch sells each animal individually in advance and delivers each animal to the consumer or restaurant. The buyers know where the animal came from, where it grew up and what it ate.
“People are interested in where their food came from and sustainability,” Carman said. “It makes people feel really good.”
“People come out here to visit us a lot. It’s a lot of fun. It is rewarding both ways, because the people appreciate what we are doing.”
And now they are having fun working with chefs in Portland restaurants.
“Some chefs have worked with producers for decades,” she said.
There is a challenge too for the customer who has to have enough freezer space to handle at least one quarter of an animal — the minimum purchase.
Dale Baker of La Grande does the on-farm harvest, and Kevin Silveira of Valley Meat Service in Wallowa does the cutting and wrapping.
The harvested animals are dry-aged for two weeks. This allows time for the enzymes to work. The enzymes help break down muscle fiber to make the meat more tender and the taste better.
The opposite practice is that of the industrial scale operations that wet-age the meat. They package it immediately and it ages in the package, Carman said.
The Carman Ranch method, she said, represents a great opportunity for other Wallowa County ranchers. It is challenging, but has great potential, she said.
Carman thinks that through their method ranchers can make more money and thus make it possible for more ranchers to stay on the land. And, in the process it could make it profitable for them to be doing the right thing on the land.
But, she cautioned that this process takes more time and work. They have to market and also educate people to the benefits.
One such benefit is that by eliminating the feedlot, the packers and the distributors, the consumer can save 30 percent over the same cut of meat marketed the traditional way.
The Carman Ranch order form sums up other benefits:
“When you purchase directly from a rancher, every dollar of your purchase supports our commitment to responsible management including the protection of wildlife habitat, the restoration of native rangelands and grazing in moderation for the long-term health of our land and our community.
“Your support of local ranchers bolsters the rural landscape and economy, while providing the healthiest, safest and tastiest meat...”
The rancher has to transition slowly to this system, because each calf crop that he dedicates to this process can have a delayed payment of up to a year, if he is now selling his calves as soon as they are weaned, Carman said.
“We have to prove that it works — how we can make a living at it,” Carman said.
They have a few more animals to sell this way.
“But, I’m pretty optimistic,” she said.