In 1833 Pescadero was part of Rancho Pescadero, a Mexican land grant awarded to a Juan José Gonzales. Gonzales' men farmed the rancho for their boss, who lived in Santa Cruz. Rancho Pescadero was prime pasture then, and is still fertile farming land for families who bought their land some generations ago from that initial rancho, and for first-generation farmers, many of whom rent from philanthropic landlords who wish to preserve that prime pasture.
Through luck and boundless optimism, we extended our farm last year and will begin the challenge of resurrecting that new land and barn. There will be fresh pasture, a nursery to raise our baby goats, and public space for visitors, to take some of the weekend parking pressure away from our neighbors. We will make a garden walk this spring, to connect the nursery and farm, because it's a joy to grow plants in the black gold of our valley, and because we want to experiment with our new range of copper alloy tools. These tools are made by a small family company named PKS, in Austria, and they have an intriguing philosophy.
The Austrian forester Viktor Schauberger, whose son founded PKS, was passionate about developing practical tools for working with the living entity of soil. He found copper alloy tools better than other metals for farming because tiny traces of copper slough off into the earth and increase enzymatic action, promoting healthier plants year after year. His copper-worked gardens had fewer slugs and snails, but not earthworms. The pests, but not the worms, do not have iron in their blood and are apparently strongly attracted to magnetic fields. They cannot resist the traces left by iron tools, which naturally often end in tender lettuce snacks. Copper, on the other hand is not magnetic and leaves no clues for pests. We will enjoy using the tools in our own experiments this year, and let you know how our own slice of Rancho Pescadero grows in 2012.
We built the farm grain silos in 1998, to strict county requirements. Their capacity was much too generous back then, but ideal now with our herd of over two hundred milking goats. Sixteen years ago, I bought sacks of food from our nutritionalist, John Throckmorten, but we now take delivery of vast amounts via the grain truck. John makes a complete food, with more than forty ingredients, including vetch, clovers, alfalfa, beet pulp, vitamins and so on, but no actual grain. In winter, the food value of the pasture is low, so we compensate for that in this pellet food. After the babies are born, the formula changes to reflect the mothers' nutritional needs.
The grain truck auger is a perfect fit for the top of the silo, which must remain water-tight because mold makes goats extremely ill.
Our pellet food formulas are exact, and balanced with the pasture grasses, so that the flavor of the milk does not change. We may sell sacks of this "Harley Farms Dairy Pellet" ourselves for small goat farmers very soon.
Yesterday our 2011 American Alpine babies crossed the road from their juvenile paddock back home to the farm, with their llamas Dolly and Lorenzo. Every baby was born on the farm this spring, named and tagged so that we have a record of her pedigree. The babies were raised in small groups on our annex before being set loose on their first grass paddock. Now, at 90lb or more each, they are sturdy goats ready to meet boyfriend Holstein.
First time crossing the road, so they romp about instead of following Dolly Llama
Poised on the brink of the road
What's the plan?! Let's hold up the school bus, the beer truck, and a bunch of local vehicles
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.