July 2013: Primal Pastures – Saving the Earth with Grass-Based Farms

by Karen Voelkening-Behegan

On Tuesday night we welcomed some new faces along with our speaker Paul Greive, his wife, 6-month old son, and business partner, Rob McDaniel.  For our potluck dinner, Paul brought two dishes made with chickens from Primal Pastures. The rave reviews on Paul’s tender, flavorful, smoked Cajun chipotle chicken made me wish I hadn’t been at the end of the line!  We also enjoyed some pan-seared wild salmon, homemade salads, and a couple cold soups made with garden-fresh produce.

Our Potluck Dinner at Nature Friends Lodge in Sierra Madre


After a pleasant meal under the trees on the patio, we headed upstairs for a presentation by Paul and Rob.  The first half of their presentation was devoted to illustrating just how simple and economical it is to raise chickens in your own backyard.  We were shown slides of many styles of chicken coops, all designed to provide protection from the ground predators so common here in Southern California.  Both bobcats and coyotes are known for their massive killing sprees with the majority of their plunder being left uneaten. To address this problem, you can easily purchase or construct an inexpensive lightweight enclosure containing a coop and some open ground for the chickens to walk around in. 


Once the structure is in place, Paul and Rob advised us to let the chickens eat grass, bugs, and some occasional organic GMO-free feed as needed.  In keeping with the natural order of things, it’s best to scatter any supplemental feed on the ground so the chickens don’t wait by any trough to be fed.  Better to let them live out their omnivorous lives scratching at the earth and foraging for food as they were meant to do.


It’s important to make sure your coop and enclosure are lightweight for easy maneuvering around the yard.  Whenever your chickens need fresh ground, just move the enclosure over and give the old patch a chance to rest and regenerate.  This will keep the chickens on a fresh diet, provide fertilizer for your yard, and keep the whole operation odor-free.
Slide of a 1918 Poster from the USDA

Every night your chickens will return to their roost for nesting, resting, and laying their eggs!  You’ll get an average of one egg per chicken every other day for about 3 years, fewer in the winter and more in the summer.  But don’t worry about the non-stop egg production.  If you don’t eat any eggs one week, you can always share your bounty with your neighbors.  They’ll just love your flavorful homegrown eggs with the dark yellow yolks! 

Finally, after decades of decline, backyard chickens are once again on the rise.  A century ago, they were commonplace, as shown in one of my favorite slides:  a poster from the USDA in 1918 stating that it was everyone’s patriotic duty to raise their own chickens, two hens per person in every household!  In fact during times of war it was considered a matter of national security.  Personally I think that still holds true today.  The more diverse and less centralized our food system, the safer, healthier, and more secure we’ll all be.  And how hard could raising chickens be?  If everyoneowned chickens at one time, it couldn’t be thatdifficult.  Paul says, “It’s easier to raise chickens than own a dog!”
Chickens at Primal Pastures
If you’d like to start raising your own backyard chickens, find out the rules about chicken ownership where you live.  Paul and Rob also suggested checking out the website http://www.backyardchickens.com/, or just give them a call to set up a consultation.

During the second half of their presentation, Paul and Rob discussed the evolution of their farm from a dry, desolate, non-productive wasteland to plush green pasture in just 75 days. What made the difference was adding a flock of sheep and temporarily feeding them hay until the pasture regenerated.  The action of the hooves on the ground pressing in the manure, adding moisture, and working the soil brought new life to the land.  In less than 3 months, the grounds had recovered enough to support all the sheep.  The before-and-after slide slides contrasting the stark brown plots of dirt with the bright green productive fields showed a truly awesome transformation. 
View of Primal Pastures with
A Link to their Presentation

Some believe that Southern California might not be an ideal environment for raising pastured animals.  But Paul believes just the contrary:  “Take any marginal land in Southern California and farm it appropriately and sustainably, and you’ll have year-round productivity!”  Unlike other farms where productivity slows when animals spend winters in barns, here in Southern California, with proper care, our animals can lead happy, healthy, and productive lives all year round. 

Now that the chickens and sheep have done their work, Primal Pastures will soon add some turkeys and ducks to the mix.  It is Paul’s and Rob’s goal to diversify their farm as much as possible, with the aim of becoming completely self-sustaining.  Like the famous Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Paul and Rob consider themselves grass farmers first.  The whole idea is to use the animals to create healthy grasslands via holistic management and natural intensive rotational grazing.
Primal Pastures Before and After

Primal Pastures has only been in business for 14 months, and already they’re a big success.  They follow the model of Polyface Farm, and use the same principles of holistic grassland management as taught globally by Allan Savory of the Savory Institute.  Paul’s and Rob’s farm also reminded me of a farm I visited in Texas late last year after the 2012 Wise Traditions Conference, the only farm in a drought-ridden farming community with productive green pastures.  The contrast between that farm and the surrounding ones was striking, and the message was the same:  To survive the drought, simply use traditional time-honored methods of natural grazing without adding any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, or any other manmade chemicals!  The neighbors who once laughed at that rogue Texas farmer were now eager to learn his secrets, the same “secrets” shared by the owners of Primal Pastures.

Watching Paul’s and Rob’s slide show with images of fresh green pasture in the heat of the dry Southern California summer made me wonder why so many people believe that they’re saving the Earth by not eating meat.  But the truth is, undergrazing is equally if not more detrimental to the Earth than overgrazing!  If it weren’t for those animals, our semi-arid grasslands would all be barren!  According to the Savory Institute, the monumental problem of ever-increasing worldwide desertification, starvation, and climate change is primarily due to the disappearance of large herds of grazing animals and the grasslands they nurture.
Sheep at Primal Pastures

In any case, I completely understand boycotting factory-farmed meat, but most people don’t realize that there’s another option.   Eating grass-fed meat is not only healthy and humane, but also helps lower our carbon footprint.  Animals grazing on grasslands sink carbon back into the earth where it belongs!  Grass needs carbon to grow, and any grass that’s being intensively grazed and regenerated on a regular basis will do plenty of growing and regrowing, week after week, month after month, year after year.  Active grasslands are said to use even more carbon per acre per year than mature forests!  Some even calculate that if everyone supported grass-based farming, we could completely reverse global warming within 10 years.

So if you really want to save the Earth with your food choices, then don’t just stop buying meat from factory farms, start funding their competition by supporting local grass-based farms; and seriously think twice about consuming the petroleum-based monoculture and often GMO crops of wheat, corn, and soy that feed all those poor factory-farmed animals and add carbon to the atmosphere.  You will be doing yourself, the animals, your local economy, and the earth a favor!
Paul Greive & Rob McDaniel
of Primal Pastures

Many thanks to both Paul & Rob for an inspiring presentation!  Primal Pastures is currently offering tours, consultations, and even classes on how to process chickens.  It’s a skill that’s highly encouraged for all those who care to stop depending on industrial agriculture.  After such a great presentation, I for one am very backyard-chicken curious!  

If you’d like to try some of the meats produced at Primal Pastures, they now deliver to Pasadena once a month.  Their inventory is always changing, so don’t forget check their farm shop regularly, and put their delivery dates on your calendar.
Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting our local farmers!  Now go out and Save the Earth: Eat grass-fed meat!
Your Chapter Leader, Karen
July 2013
References: 

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