Symons Beef Co. and Poland Organic Dairy are both family-owned and operated farms just north of Madras. Both are farm-to-table, do not use pesticides on the feed they grow or hormones or antibiotics on their stock, use high-conservation irrigation methods, must feed their stock every single day of the year — rain, snow or shine — and grow a very healthy and clean product from beginning to end.
Both are also very concerned about having enough irrigation water to grow the pasture, alfalfa and grains that are essential for feed. They differ in that they raise cattle and cows for two types of food. Symons Beef produces high quality, clean beef and Poland Organic Dairy produces high quality organic milk, all for your table.
The two businesses also helped host the 2019 Jefferson County Economic Development for Central Oregon "Made in Jefferson County Tour and Lunch" on April 24. The focus of the tour? Educating attendees about the differences in using irrigation water in Jefferson County.
While many irrigation entities in the region serve hobby farms, the North Unit Irrigation District provides water to farmers and ranchers that grow food for the U.S. and world and are not hobby farms. Farming isn't a hobby in Jefferson County; it's an industry.
During the tour of Symons Beef Co., tour-goers saw firsthand the various stages of raising healthy beef cattle, from birth to sale. The Symonses grow much of their feed on their own land to better control what their cattle are fed. Each ingredient — alfalfa, grain, triticale, corn — is carefully weighed and a nutritionist provides the specific feed for each cow depending on its needs for optimum health.
Jefferson County EDCO board member Jennifer Holcomb was struck by the fact that the Symonses did not plant 30% of their land this year due to the lack of irrigation water and Symons Beef Co. typically produces enough beef to feed 40,000 people per year!
The Symonses run 3,500 to 5,000 head of cattle for an average of 4,000 head daily. Holcomb also noted both the Symonses and the Polands spoke of treating their herds calmly, gently and with respect.
At the veterinary and ID station, the group learned that each and every calf, cow, steer and bull is given an ear tag in order to track where each one is purchased, lineage, breeding, weight, where they've fed, grazed, diet, shots for good health, branded for security and easy identification and are tracked from birth to sale.
At that stop of the tour, Jefferson County EDCO board member Ali Alire stepped right up and volunteered to give a calf its shot. With the help of Jeremy Symons, Ali did in fact give one feisty little guy his shot and sent him on his way to good health.
Pens are cleaned out daily; the material is composted onsite, turned into natural fertilizer and put on the fields, eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. The Symonses and the Polands both employ water-saving irrigation methods to use every drop of precious irrigation water on their food crops for cattle.
Sue Vanek, a Jefferson County EDCO board member and the Jefferson County Farm Bureau president, said, "Farming and ranching is very important to the livelihood of our community. We farmers and ranchers need water to survive."
At Poland Organic Dairy, tour-goers were met by Jos and Dee Poland, who were just finishing up their morning milking. The Poland family currently has about 260 milk cows that must be milked twice a day, at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m., and each milking session takes several hours. Cows must be milked twice every day, rain, snow or shine.
Board member Mike Weber noted Jos Poland did a great job of explaining the process of taking farmland that was not organic to an organic condition.
Starting from scratch, it took three to five years to bring the land to an organic state to be productive for pasture and growing organic grass, alfalfa, barley and other feed. Weber also noted that Jos Poland is moving toward all organic grass and grain being grown on their own land.
Local EDCO board member Daryl Booren said each person on the tour was given the opportunity to bottle feed a calf and most did. He said Jos Poland showed the group the milking machine process and how gentle the method is to the cows. Poland Organic Dairy won several categories of the best organic milk in Oregon in 2017.
The group was also told the history of Jos' and Dee's families in the dairy business and how much more time-consuming organic milk is to produce. To show the genetics of breeding cows to produce organic milk, documentation is required every step of the way — pre-birth to sale. The lineage of each cow, pasturing, feed, weight, diet nutrition and much more must be documented.
In relaying what she learned, Holcomb said the Polands talked about the different types of cows, which ones produce the greatest amount of milk and that they do not rush the milking process and do keep the cows calm.
"Cattle need to be treated with respect and affection and they produce a better product," said Holcomb. "Talk to them gently and they produce 40% more milk when they're not stressed."
Eberhard's Dairy Products, headquartered in Redmond, uses Poland Organic Dairy milk exclusively for their organic milk production line.
When the tours concluded, Symons Beef hosted our large group for a sit-down delicious lunch. They had family and friends cooking and the barbecue going and served Symons Beef ribs, both teriyaki and barbecue, locally grown salad and vegetables and dessert made with Poland organic milk, sold through Eberhard's Dairy Products. All the food was locally grown, except the homemade baked beans!
Several of the people on the tours talked at lunch about the narrow profit margin of beef and dairy ranches and the even slimmer margins of organic ranching. Their margin is so slim, they must be very precise on feed, weight and water for the food and cattle. They will not be a profitable business without irrigation water for the land they now use to grow organic food for thousands.
The crowd was appreciative of learning additional information and the importance of irrigation water to Jefferson County ranchers and farmers from Mike Britton, North Unit Irrigation District manager.
Britton was the guest speaker during the lunch program.
With 60,000 acres of irrigated land in food production, if irrigation water is cut back, it will not only affect prices of many food items in the grocery store, it will put ranchers and farmers on an already slim profit margin out of business.
Britton also noted the ripple effect if that happens, calling it main street economics, and listed many retail, service and commercial businesses along main street that will also lose customers with the loss of irrigation and some may go out of business, as well. Both the Symonses and Polands must have irrigation to plant their fields, feed their herds and grow our food.
The crowd talked a great deal about how much they enjoyed each tour, the delicious lunch and appreciated our gracious hosts, the Symons and Poland families.
Longtime board member Daryl Booren summed up the tour very well, commenting, "It was a very enlightening day; (I was) impressed by the family-owned and operated remarkable agricultural businesses operating in our community, (and) incredible grass roots effort to educate about their industry."
Booren expressed "immense gratitude to the Poland and Symons families."
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