“I see poultry as an integral component to the farm’s broader long term mission and strategy for success. Regenerating abused row crop landscapes so that they may be viable pasture for ruminants is a necessity as the farm grows. Plain and simple, poultry help make beautiful soil”.
This is Jeff Lackey’s passionate perspective on the Pastured Poultry Operation he manages. White Oak Pastures is the country’s largest year round GAP5+ producer of multispecies poultry, and one of the largest pasture-based chicken operations in the country- we have over 65,000 birds on pasture at any given time.
“It truly is a team effort. The poultry operation was previously championed, at different times, by John Benoit and Tim Hauber, who both continue to occupy integral roles at the farm but in other departments. I am routinely trying to capture their experience, their perceptions and opinions of what’s going on, and get them involved at the right moments to deliver impact. It is key. I also have to give major credit to the entire poultry crew for their hard work. I truly appreciate the contextual knowledge and experience of everybody who has been living and working at this farm”.
Jeff has implemented several infrastructural and operational changes in an effort to save labor and improve bird and land welfare. For example, Jeff has implemented compositional, structural and rotational changes to both our broiler and egg layer sets as well as dramatically expanded upon the farm’s hard line water system.
He believes his engineering background has enabled him to bring a unique perspective and skill set to the farm. “This farm consistently interfaces with people from across the country and the world, from a diverse array of communities. My background allows me to be on pace with academics, farmers, and academic farmers. On the day to day, I am using a distinct mental approach as we tackle challenges”.
Jeff is also carrying forward the Livestock Guarding Dog (LGD) program for pastured poultry. He previously participated in the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) Fund-a-Farmer Grant Program focused on training farmers to deploy LGDs for pastured poultry. This is a nuanced and difficult task. With our farm losing approximately 300 chickens a day to depredation by Bald Eagles, further development of this program is a crucial step towards protecting our flocks.
Jeff holds a BS in Electrical Engineering and a MS in Biomedical Engineering. Before arriving at White Oak Pastures, Jeff was involved in regenerative and multi-species agriculture, including mushroom farming, non-native invasive plant management, and perennial food production. Jeff is from Pennsylvania but has also worked in South Africa, Kenya and Honduras. Below, he answers our Staff Spotlight Questions.
How did you get into farming?
Good food and caring for the earth are paramount.
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Short term- Harvesting.
Long term- Seeing the Ghost of Chicken Past make the grass grow beautifully.
What is the biggest challenge you face on a daily basis?
Conducting the symphony that is our poultry operation.
What do you find encouraging?
Seeing the changes that we make in the operation translate to improved flock health and increased harvest.
What is your favorite food in the on-farm Dining Pavilion?
Order a Farmer John Burger, drop the bun, change the cheese to the Thomasville Tomme, and pair it with a chicken salad.
Choose one word to describe White Oak Pastures.
What’s the best, and worst, part of living in Bluffton, GA?
Best part: It is about as rural as I can get.
Worst part: The lack of traffic here has probably made me a more complacent driver. I routinely find myself driving in the middle of the road.
What is your favorite meal to cook at home (with White Oak Pastures products)?
1 part ground duck mixed with 2 parts paleo grind in a cast iron skillet.
What’s your favorite chore?
Receiving up baby goslings, ducklings, and guinea keets and hanging out with them in the brooder after they are first taken out of the box.
What’s your favorite hobby outside of work?
Fermenting Kombucha, yogurt, and grains. Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t do the fermenting. I foster the situation for microorganisms to do the fermenting. Consuming fermented foods is a daily passion of mine.