Multi-Species and More with Will Harris, III
White Oak Pastures Bluffton, GA
Will Harris, III from White Oak Pastures shares with us in this conference presentation about the history of White Oak Pastures and how they came to be where they are today in their production model and practices. If you have thought about or are doing multi-species production, this is a talk you need to hear from Will Harris, III.
Will Harris is the owner/operator of White Oak Pastures, a multi-generational family farm that was established in 1866 in the small, southwest Georgia community of Bluffton. Will is the fourth generation of Harris’ to operate White Oak Pastures and his daughter, Jenni, is the 5th generation to join the operation. In the beginning, White Oak Pastures (originally White Oak Plantation) was a multifaceted, multi-species operation. His ancestors slaughtered cattle, hogs, chicken, and lamb every week and sold them in nearby towns. They even built a commissary on the farm to further build sales. However, as agriculture became heavily industrialized, so did White Oak. In the mid-1900’s, the Harris family transitioned from a multi-species operation to a mono-culture of beef cattle and started depending heavily on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and supplemental feedstuffs. Will gradually grew tired of this type of production system and made a conscious decision to make radical changes in the way they operated. These changes were predicated by Will’s concern for the environment, animal care and welfare, and human health. One of Will’s favorite sayings is that, “Nature abhors a mono-culture”.
In this short excerpt, Will talks about why White Oak Pastures moved to grassfed production and building a processing facility on farm.
In 1995, Will reinstituted rotational grazing practices and initiated a 100% grass fed beef program, giving up the use of grains, hormone implants, and antibiotics. In 2000, he gave up the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and sought organic certification. In 2005, Will took a calculated risk (and a huge leap of faith) and built an on-farm USDA-Inspected Beef Slaughter and Processing plant so that he could provide his customers with high quality, source verified product. In 2010, he added sheep and free range poultry to the operation. In 2011, a poultry processing plant was built and ducks, geese, turkeys, and guineas were added to the mix. In addition, White Oak now also has organic gardens in production.
Today, White Oak Pastures employs a number of people and is the only farm in the U.S. with an on-farm USDA-Inspected beef, small ruminant, and poultry processing facility. White Oak produces grass fed beef, lamb, and free range poultry for retail markets up and down the east coast. White Oak Pastures is a prime example of a multifaceted operation that successfully follows the family commitment to animal welfare, environmental sustainability, revitalization of the rural economy, and locally produced food. They are Certified Humane, hold a Step 5 GAP (Global Animal Partnership) rating, and are Animal Welfare Approved.
A prominent statement on the White Oak Pastures website is:
“We are fiercely committed to the well-being of our animals and the quality of the meat that we provide our customers. We honor that commitment by treating our animals with dignity and respect from the day that they are born throughout their lives, including the day that they are slaughtered.”