Fledgling Sustainable Farm Operation in Temecula, CA Seeks to Raise Free Range Broilers Right
November 13, 2012 | Melonie Magruder
“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” – Hippocrates
To that nugget of wisdom, Paul Greive of Primal Pastures likes to add: “If food is your medicine, then farmers are your doctors.” Greive and his extended family own and operate a small farm in Temecula, California that raises organically-fed chickens that are so “free-range,” the young farmers haul their chickens to greener pastures regularly, allowing their jumbo-sized broilers to roam, peck and scratch over generous plots of constantly renewed grassland on their five-acre farm.
It’s part of their goal to provide the healthiest meat poultry available in Southern California – food that they feel good about providing their children and (eventual) grandchildren.
“You really are what you eat,” partner and brother-in-law
Rob McDaniel said. “And factory-farmed chickens are so loaded with antibiotics and hormones, and processed in such filth that they’ll kill you. If you are going to eat meat, it really should be straight from the pasture.”
McDaniel should know. He is studying for his Masters degree in Kinesiology and works for a cardiologist. Along with his brother Jeff, his father Tom, and Greive, McDaniel decided to start a farm one day last April that would produce pastured meat chickens at first, followed eventually by brood hens, pigs, sheep and cattle. The fact that all of them work outside of farming, with professional degrees in business interests, intimidated them not at all.
“Dad grew up in the Midwest and was into sustainable farming back when people thought it was wacky,” McDaniel said. “We decided we should do something with our small acreage towards a goal of sustainable farming.”
They had no coops, no fencing, no feed, no processor and no expertise. But three weeks later, they had built a small pen and coop, and welcomed 50 two-day-old chicks. There was a learning curve. They realized that they would have to move the pen regularly so that the chicks could grow doing what they do best, scratch for bugs and leave fertilizer behind.
This entailed hitching up the coop to a tractor and moving it a few hundred yards every week or so to provide the birds constant access to new territory to dig for nutrient-rich scratch, augmented by organic, antibiotic-, soy- and GMO-free feed. The chicks are raised in this manner for seven to 10 weeks before they are processed – a multi-step procedure that involves a “killing cone,” a scalder, an industrial plucker that “looks like a washing machine with rubber fingers,” and a chilling tank. Primal Pasture’s first batch of culled chickens sold out in 12 hours.
In response to the distribution question, McDaniel said that they sell direct to the consumer, either at their farm or at drop spots around Southern California.
“Paul is really into cross-fitness and the Paleo-diet, where everything you eat is super fresh and unprocessed,” McDaniel said. “Our first customers were people Paul met at his gym. Apparently, the crossfit community is very plugged in, because word spread and we ended up with hundreds of customers pretty quickly.”
Of the 300 or so chickens they have in any one batch, all sell out through orders that come to their website. Greive takes iceboxes full of fresh chickens to UCLA, where he is attending classes, and parcels out his haul to customers who meet him in a parking lot at a designated hour.
Not all has gone smoothly. Early evening owls meant the team had to insure their chickens were safely in the coop at night. Other predators were an issue till they purchased electric net pens, which keep out poachers for the most part. But when McDaniel was late coming to feed the chickens one morning, they broke out of their electric pen and rushed the back porch to peck on the door.
The chicken farm is a for-profit business model through and through, Greive said. But, since they don’t yet generate the income to hire full-time help, they all pitch in to work the farm, while maintaining full-time jobs. He said he knows that their distribution model is a bit unique, but enjoys the advantages.
“It allows us to connect with our customers face to face,” Greive said. “We are all about reducing the degrees of separation between people and their food. I think it’s cool that people can talk to the actual farmers who raised and harvested their chickens.”
It also cuts out the middleman and allows Primal Pastures to not only sell their chickens at a reasonable price, but also provides the company with a healthy enough margin to make it a potentially viable business. A four to six pound chicken costs about $25, which beats prices one would find at Whole Foods.
When asked what their biggest business challenge was, both Greive and McDaniel replied immediately.
“Matching supply with demand,” Greive said. You don’t want to sell out in 12 hours every month, but you also don’t want to be left with extra product. It’s all about growing the business through repeat customers and word of mouth. I always say we have the most awesome, educated customer base ever.”
“The other challenge is land,” he continued. “We’re on about five acres, which really limits what you can do. It would be great to move onto 100 or 200 acres, and really get to raising some sustainable food and healing the land!”