I just got back from a fantastic day visiting the Early Bird Ranch at Half Moon Bay (actually, Pescadero) with fellow HMN member, Lenore. Lenore had heard about fresh, locally pastured chickens being available there and pre-ordered some chickens for the fall harvest. We made a day of it by tripping out to the coast with our families to pick up her chickens and speculate on some Thanksgiving turkeys.
May I say that I am really excited about these farmers! Kevin and ShaeLynn Watt are a young couple who “risked it all” by abandoning their graduate studies in Comparative Political Science and Animal Behavior to pursue sustainable bird farming. Adorned in a long, blue butcher’s apron, Kevin Watt welcomed us to the farm and offered us a tour of the harvesting facilities. He and several family members had just finished up the very first harvest on their new farm. Though their bodies were fatigued from hours of bird butchery, their eyes and voices showed signs of the rushing adrenal effects of success. Their pride was apparent and well-deserved. Some buckets of blood were waiting for their trip to the compost pile but, otherwise, there wasn’t much indication of the day’s work remaining around the slaughter tent. We had just missed the last bird of the day by 30 minutes. I admit that I wish I had been able to see the whole process personally. They promised me the opportunity in the future.
In five weeks, another 100 to 200 birds will meet the end of their stress-free existence in this sparkling example of an open-air slaughterhouse (portable tent, really). The blue and white striped tent covered a raised floor of wood slats. The slats, Kevin explained, are designed to allow for any solids or splashes from the harvesting process to fall through and return to the soil. The stainless steel counters, sinks and scalding pots were sanitized and drying in the late summer sun. This idyllic scene is quite a contrast to the industrial chicken slaughterhouses that can turn stomachs as well as former carnivores into strict vegetarians.
When Kevin’s interests strayed from politics to farming birds, he decided to do it right. He interned and worked for a year and a half with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, the admirable chicken farmer featured in Food, Inc. After learning from the best, Kevin and his girlfriend began dreaming of starting a farm of their own. Kevin and his now wife, ShaeLynn, pooled all of their savings and scrupulously budgeted how they could afford to rent a 10 acre farm in Pescadero. The land they selected is gorgeous, located in a perfect, pastoral valley just inland of the coast. Each bird is respectfully raised from chick to maturity on the farm, spending their days in the pasture. Their diet is supplemented with organic feed. The Watts are enthusiastic and bursting with ideas on how to not only take from their newly acquired land but to give back to it as well. They are consciously rotating different animals throughout their acreage to ensure that the soil is growing in sync with their wards.
Each bird at the Early Bird Ranch is dispatched by hand using a very humane and efficient method; the main artery and vein of the chicken or turkey are cut, causing instantaneous brain death. The windpipe, however, is kept intact so that the heart may continue beating long enough to pump the remaining blood from the bird. The carcasses are then scalded, plucked and bagged for you to take home that day. These are the freshest birds you can get!
Early Bird Ranch is located at 4900 Cloverdale Road in Pescadero, right off of Hwy 1. Their chickens and turkeys are available during the dry seasons of the year for about $4 a pound. Lenore’s chickens were all a very healthy 5 pounds each! These are not scrawny chickens. They harvest every 5 weeks or so as the new batch of birds mature. If you would like to join their mailing list or reserve a turkey for Thanksgiving, contact them via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
View their website with more details at www.earlybirdranch.com
Kevin and ShaeLynn would love to have us out for a tour of the facilities with the kiddies. They won’t be able to give us a full tour when they are harvesting, but you are welcome to watch them work when you pick up your birds. Would anyone like to tour this farm and then go and get some pumpkins down the road in October? Post a comment if you’d like to join us.
Co-Leader, Holistic Moms Network of San Jose