CAMAS — At 4 a.m. Tuesday, Shane McGuffin will rise, herd 95 turkeys into his horse trailer and head for Willamina, Ore., where the birds will be butchered.
By Tuesday evening, customers will flock to his house at the end of a nearly milelong driveway to claim their Thanksgiving birds.
McGuffin and his family are full-time farmers, selling beef, pork, fowl and eggs to some 150 customers. And it’s a life that appeals to Shane, 45, Melissa, 39, Madisson, 15, Connor, 12 and Carrson, 8.
They own Grasskickin Farms, formerly Lacamas Fresh Farms.
“Farming found us,” Shane said of the 30 acres they bought in 2004 and an additional 50 they farm above Lacamas Lake. Shane formerly was a project manager and builder who was laid off in 2009. He grew up in Camas.
For the first six years, Shane said they were hobby farmers. They had rabbits, goats, ducks and a horse.
“We graduated from things that sound good to animals that actually translate into what people want to eat on their plate,” Shane said.
So, in August, they bought about 140 poults (infant turkeys) and they grew into mostly 16-pound broadbreasted birds.
The whole family fussed over the once-tiny turkeys: for two weeks they were under heat lamps beneath three family trampolines, surrounded by chicken wire and tarps.
Shane said the mortality rate is about 25 to 30 percent and keeping the birds alive is “super stressful.”
“We started with 50 turkeys here in the kitchen,” Shane said of the first year. “You have to have an environment that is perfect for them.”
“And you have to talk nice to them,” Melissa said. “They frustrate the heck out of you,” she added.
Shane said the family sells directly to individuals.
And he said his customers want quality and will pay for it.
Turkey is $5.50 a pound, beef and pork $6.50 to $7.00 a pound, chicken is $4.50 a pound, and eggs are $5 a dozen. Customers tend to buy 25 to 50 pounds of meat. Shane said that meat is aged 21 days and worth the price.
Brenden George, 46, of Camas says his family buys turkey, pork and beef.
“What we notice is the texture. I don’t typically like turkey burgers, but with the texture and the freshness, I do like their turkey burgers.
“As you become more educated on the large stockyards and how they raise their beef, I really appreciate that it is farm fresh raised.”
Sarah George, 46, said: “We’ve had pork chops. The ground beef is really good and several kinds of steak. Fabulous.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit more, but it’s peace of mind, knowing how they feed and how they treat their animals and take care of things around the farm. I think their steaks are in line, pricewise, with most of the grocery stores.”
The couple’s son, Noah George, 12, is friends with Connor.
Kids pitch in
The turkeys are raised on orchard rye grass, grubs, barley, turkey pellets and water loaded with natural enzymes.
But sometimes they get loose from the fenced area and need to be herded back from pecking at gravel on the driveway.
The young McGuffins seem happy with farm life.
Shane says Connor was born to farm. “You can pet their beaks,” Connor said of the turkeys.
Madisson called the turkeys “my favorites.”
“I just like the noises they make, and they are so weird.”
Carrson works on the delivery force.
“I take eggs to school and deliver to my principal,” he said.
Melissa said of becoming a farmer: “All of a sudden we were land rich and cash poor.”
Today, there is the debt a new farm family takes on.
“We’re a startup business,” Shane said.
“We struggle financially but we eat really well,” Melissa added.
Shane said he sees more discriminating customers in the future and is working on marketing.
“There’s a demand,” Shane said. “It’s real hard to find what we do.”