People build fences taller than most professional basketball players around their gardens in an effort to keep out high-jumping deer. The owner of Barley Buck, 31-year-old Travis Ralls, wants to give those determined deer something else to chew on besides azaleas—specialty deer feed high in protein, vitamins and amino acids. Barley Buck’s tagline is “Hunter Owned, Farmer Grown” Ralls has his hands in both.
At an age when most kids were glued to the television watching Saturday morning cartoons, Ralls was obsessed with fishing and hunting shows. Growing up, he became an avid outdoorsman, and hunting and fishing transformed from hobbies to serious passions. Ralls studied video production at Southern Oregon University, and afterward, he landed a dream job as a videographer and producer for the Outdoor Channel. For six years, he traveled the world—one week he’d be shooting in New Zealand, the next in Africa or Canada. He gained experience in hunting and game management, but the tradeoff was he lived out of an old blue duffle bag.
In 2010, his life on the move came to a screeching halt when he met his future wife on a blind date. “When I met Katie, I knew I wanted to have a family and come back home to Central Oregon,” Ralls said. “If I kept living that cameraman lifestyle, I wasn’t going to achieve those dreams.” It didn’t take any convincing for him to settle down in Central Oregon—he grew up in Redmond and Katie’s family had a century-old farm in Madras, where they were married in 2012.
Carrot seed was the crop of choice on Katie’s family farm, but when it didn’t quite work with the crop rotation anymore, Ralls’ father-in-law, Brad Klaan, wanted to try something new. “My brother-in-law, Seth (Klann), is a big-time homebrewer, and he was looking at all the ingredients he used to make beer and thought, ‘Man, we could grow some of this stuff,’” Ralls said. Since Central Oregon is a craft beer mecca, the three decided to give growing barley a try. Now, more than a hundred craft beers are brewed using the Klaans’ Mecca Grade Estate Malt.
Ralls isn’t involved in the day-in, day-out operations of Mecca Grade, but when he attended malting school in Canada with his in-laws, he had an aha moment. “During a portion of the classwork they talked about the byproduct of barley and how nutritious it is as a feed for cows and horses,” Ralls said. “I thought, ‘Sure would be great for deer to eat.’”
The barley byproduct is what gets knocked off during the cleaning process. “It’s a product that’s not desirable to use in beer, but it’s still incredibly nutritious,” Ralls said. Combining his love for hunting with an underused resource, Ralls crafted a specialty feed for deer and no … it’s not bait. Anyone can use Barley Buck to feed deer, from people who love to watch them to outdoorsmen who care about the health of the deer population. “Most hunters are in it for the love of the animal more than anything,” Ralls said. “I think hunters are the best conservationists on the planet.”
The feed is in granular form—a powdery substance that can be mixed with other feed or spread out on the ground by itself. Ralls compared it to giving the deer the equivalent of a protein shake. One sure sign the feed is working, Ralls said, is if a buck’s antlers reach their full potential in growth. “During drought years, sometimes you’ll see deer with smaller antlers, but if it’s a rainy season, with lots of feed in the mountains, the bucks will have larger antlers,” Ralls said. He’s had customers send him photos of deer and elk, “eating the feed like crazy.”
Barley Buck uses the barley byproduct from Mecca Grade Estate Malt, but the companies are separate. Diving into new territory in an industry he’s been devoted to for decades is exciting, and although it’s a complete departure from his past life as a cameraman, he’s sold on his newfound career. “I wanted to be part of something bigger,” Ralls said. “And since I’m passionate about wildlife and conservation, turning something that wasn’t getting used into a nutritional feed for the deer is so satisfying.”