Raising organic beef a challenge

CHEHALIS, Wash. — PND Organic Beef started life as a dairy.

Paul Olson grew up helping with chores on his dad’s dairy farm. He and Dalene were married in 1975 and raised their five children on that same farm.

As the children found their own interests and began moving off the farm, the Olsons’ chief source of help went with them. So, in 2006, the Olsons converted to a beef farm — PND Organic Beef.

“Our dream was not just any beef farm,” says Dalene. “We had already transitioned to certified organic in 2000 when the option to ship organic milk was introduced here.”

There is a lot to maintaining organic certification.

“‘Natural’ means nothing,” Dalene says. “There are no checks and balances for ‘natural.’ But to remain certified organic, our fields have to be inspected every year, there is lots of paperwork, and our animals have to be inspected every year — in fact, the whole farm and all its fields are inspected. We have a closed herd, except for a new bull every two years.”

Dalene says the most difficult part of running a certified organic beef operation is “keeping and finding fields we can certify. We need fields to be at least five acres. The county uses Roundup or whatever along the roads and fencelines, but to be organic, everything, including roads and fencelines, needs to be free of weed spray and commercial fertilizers,” Dalene says it is getting increasingly difficult to find such property.

The Olsons lease 140 acres for growing hay and haylage. The 250 head of cattle, including cow/calf pairs, are kept on the home place grazing on pasture or being fed hay and haylage when pasture is not available.

“We never feed any grain to our cows,” Dalene emphasizes. “They are 100 percent grass fed. Grain isn’t good for the animals, so it can’t be good for people who eat the meat.”

Some ranchers and farmers find that their children have no interest in continuing the legacy. Dalene says, “Our son helps us every couple of weeks, and he wants to continue our efforts. He wants to diversify — add fruits, vegetables and bees.”

The biggest challenge is winter.

“It gets cold, wet and sloppy,” Darlene points out and says all the work is just more intense in winter. “During calving season, Paul walks into the fields three or four times daily. Most of our cows do fine calving on their own, but every now and then, one will have difficulty or refuse to let the calf nurse. It’s important that we find them in time to save them.”

“We advertise on our website,” Dalene says of their marketing efforts. “There is a lot of word of mouth, and we are on EatWild.com. We find the combination to be effective. The farthest our meat goes is on a barge to Alaska, but we really like interacting with our customers. We meet a lot of good people.”