CHOOSING TO BE A FARMER

Our son Ben has been following the seminar program at Early Bird Ranch, who farm pasture-raised turkeys and chickens on the hills of Pescadero. Kevin and ShaeLynn have set down deep roots in our community. Ben met them when they gave a chicken slaughter seminar for the high school, and is enormously enthusiastic about learning their business.

Early Bird have 200 Broad-Breasted Bronze and White turkeys. Turkeys are cheerful, noisy, and dim-witted, so the chicks begin life on the ranch with chickens, who show them how not to fall asleep in their water

To keep their birds well supplied with fresh clover, grasses and bugs, Kevin and ShaeLynn move their enclosures frequently. The chickens move onto new pasture twice a day. The turkeys, in their quarter acre of electric fencing, don't move quite so often, but will rampage through all the greens quickly. The birds leave behind concentrated patches of fertilized ground. Since Early Bird are farming on the hillside fields of a cattle ranch, the depleted grazing is replenished. Next year, the birds will move onto another of the cattle-grazed fields, improving the soil there. ShaeLynn and Kevin have built on this rotation by breeding rabbits, who graze ahead of some of the chickens. Those lucky chickens move onto the rabbit grazing spots, to snaffle rabbit droppings where they can. Yum - pre-digested alfalfa.

Three-day-old baby rabbit. Early Bird's rabbits are a gorgeous black and white breed supplied by a Basque breeder who raised them in his back garden free of hormones and antibiotics

A farmer's life is hard. Early Bird can never sleep in. The birds must be moved rain and shine, in their predator-proof runs and shelters. They must have fresh water and antibiotic-free feed. They are slaughtered on the farm, with respect. And then the farmers must sell their product, not least to pay the feed bills. As Kevin puts it - but it's true for all of us small farmers - they must balance the health of the land they farm, the health of their animals, their lifestyle, and their profit. Our son has grown up with our farm, our priorities and our feed bills. He understands the life we've chosen. It makes us proud that he's curious about how another farm works, and that Early Bird praise his commitment and self direction.

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours? Early Bird are clear-headed about diversification, and the web of community. Here's one of their six happy pigs napping in a eucalytus grove, probably after a tasty snack of windfall apples from Blue House Farm and whey from our milking goats

There's no pressure for Ben to be a farmer. He won't have to come home to Pescadero to manage our farm, as we take longer and longer holiday cruises. But we couldn't be happier that he's learning from ShaeLynn and Kevin at Early Bird, who have brought so much energy and acumen to our farming community.

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