While Oregon is known for its abundant rain and evergreen hillsides, the golden landscapes of Central Oregon’s high desert are sunny for nearly two-thirds of the year. Pastures drenched in sunshine are a rancher’s dream, and the agricultural bounty proves that dream is reality. On a trip through the high desert you’ll see cattle, sheep and even fuzzy alpacas at local farms and ranches, as well as help support the local economy by buying meat in bulk or enjoying barbecue at local eateries. Fall is a great time to visit for cooler weather and all the wonderful farm harvest action.
Farm Fun for the Whole Family
Central Oregon’s farms and ranches offer many opportunities for visitors to spend time on farms. Visit with Southdown Babydoll sheep, take a gardening class or shop farmstead preserves and pickles at L&S Farm and Garden in Prineville.
In October, a visit to DD Ranch in Terrebonne is a must for their legendary pumpkin patch, hay rides and petting zoo. The farm also sells heritage pork and 100% grass-fed beef and lamb shares through a CSA program.
Drive down US-97 in Terrebonne and you can see the fluffy alpaca friends of Crescent Moon Ranch. Stop in to stroll through the pastures, where you can pet the impossibly soft creatures and hand-feed them too (for a small fee). The on-farm shop focuses on local goods, souvenirs, and fiber products like alpaca socks and sweaters. The ranch is just one of many places to visit with alpacas in Oregon.
Wine Down Ranch in Prineville is a working cattle ranch that welcomes guests all year-round to its lodgings, which include a tiny house, a bunkhouse and campsites. Overnight guests can go bird-watching, hiking and mountain biking on the property, as well as cross-country skiing during the winter season.
Stop for Pork Belly, Fry-Bread Burgers and Homemade Bologna
When it comes to meals, there are many places to enjoy the products of local ranchers. For upscale farm-to-table fare, stop at Feast Food Company, a bright-red food truck at Kobold Brewing and The Vault Taphouse in Redmond, including a grass-fed Vaquero Valley Ranch cheeseburger or cubes of crispy Well Rooted Farms’ pork belly with seasonal vegetables. Another food cart, Native-owned Twisted Teepee, serves up excellent fry-bread burgers on the Warm Springs Reservation.
For a wide range of local meat offerings, the artisanal butchery and sandwich shop Sisters Meat and Smokehouse is a must. Shop from the cases or pull up a chair and order from the menu. The house-smoked tri-tip with onions, provolone and barbecue sauce might be the most popular, but the sleeper hit is a sandwich of homemade bologna on white bread with cheddar cheese. Open year-round, Central Oregon Locavore in Bend, a non-profit grocery similar to a co-op, offers meat and other products from several area farms and ranches.
Hot tip: Find more places to eat and adventure throughout the region along the High Desert Food Trail.
Buying Pasture-Raised Meat From Central Oregon Farms
Most beef sold in the United States changes hands many times throughout the supply chain from farm to supermarket, which can mean that the ranchers who raise beef cattle see only a small fraction of the grocery-store sale price. One way Central Oregon ranchers are building more sustainable livelihoods is by selling their beef directly to people.
Melissa Magee and her husband, Doug, raise beef cattle at Millican Valley Beef in Bend. They sell ground beef exclusively to families and restaurants through the farm website. Doug has been selling cattle since 1992, but they were inspired to become licensed to sell meat directly to the public when they noticed the quality difference between the meat they ate at home and what they were served at restaurants.
“We’re a small family ranch; we don’t have thousands of cattle, we have about 100, and we have some 50 to 100 customers that buy from us,” Melissa reports. “Once people try our ground beef, they instantly can taste the difference and quality of meat.”
A similar approach to selling local meat — a strategy employed by several ranches, including Larkin Valley Ranch in Redmond — is to offer grass-fed beef and lamb by specific cuts or shares online. Others sell through local custom-cut butcher shops, including Redmond’s Cinder Butte Meat Co., where you can select steaks or roasts from nearby ranches in a retail setting.
How and Where to Buy Shares
If you’d like to order beef (or pork or lamb, depending on what’s available) directly from a farm or ranch, consider buying in what’s known as shares — a whole, half, quarter or even sometimes an eighth of an animal at a time. Here’s what you need to know.
- The meat from a whole cow represents a big financial commitment and ample freezer space. For example, an eighth of beef share at North 44 Farm in Bend represents about 50 pounds of meat — which would fit in a large cooler — whereas a whole share is about 400 pounds. Vaquero Valley Ranch & Cattle Company in Bend, Big Summit Beef Co. in Prineville and other ranching operations in the area also sell beef shares directly. A farm that sells pork shares, like Redmond’s Well Rooted Farms (along with beef shares, vegetables and eggs in season), will also ask if you want a portion of your pork turned into ham, bacon or sausage.
- You’ll need to pre-order well ahead of time, discuss the cuts you want with the butcher and plan to pick up your meat when it’s ready — be sure to bring coolers.
- This type of cooperative-buying model isn’t limited to meat. At Windy Acres Dairy Farm in Prineville, you can buy a monthly farm share (even as a visitor to the area) to choose from their selection of eggs, seasonal raw-milk cheeses, and farmstead dairy products like yogurt, sour cream, milk, butter and kefir — all of which are made from the milk from their small, pasture-raised herd.