Welcome to Pasture Chick Ranch, Hollister CA
It was the summer of 2010 when we met Lisa Knutson of Pasture Chick Ranch. Our son was five months old and starting to eat solid foods. It was also around the time we focused on changing our eating and consuming habits. It was important for us to get our son off on the right foot so we sought out the local farmer’s market to see what sustainable, organic resources would be available to us.
This is where we met Lisa Knutson of Pasture Chick Ranch. When we first met, she was just getting her feet wet and clientele were rapidly knocking down her doors. Lisa was very busy providing pastured eggs and chicken to CSAs and local Farm Stands that her supply was limited to outside clientele. She stood very firm on only putting forth what she could sustain via her land and her current resources. We kept in touch and soon the farmers market came to an end. Here in Hollister, the farmers market is seasonal and only runs spring through end of summer. We saw Lisa the last week of the market; she handed us a flyer. It was for a Saturday Farm Stand in San Juan Bautista. The farm stand was managed by the same organic produce farm we purchased from weekly at the farmers market; Pinnacle Organics. Lisa advised Pasture Chick Ranch would be providing eggs, chicken, sheep, and goat meat at the Pinnacle farm stand every Saturday from 8am to 1pm. We were so excited! Everything our refrigerator needed in one place and it was all organic, pasture raised, and local!
We arrived early 8am for our first Saturday farm stand. Lisa was there, tucked in the back, setup, and ready to go. She had her truck backed into the stand. Her little dog Tempie sat in the front seat. She had a table arranged with cartons of fresh eggs, chicken, sheep, and goat meat. Every Saturday from that point forward we would visit the farm and every Saturday Lisa and her little dog would be there. We became fast friends. Lisa was super sweet and spunky. She had a wealth of information about the services she provided, her community, and always seemed to know every face that showed up at the farm stand.
Over the past year of getting to know Lisa, she has opened her home and her heart. She has provided us with valuable resources, great information, and a friendly welcoming face in the community. She’s been an inspiration to me, and as I’m learning, to several others within the community too. Up until now, I’ve only seen the surface what she goes through to get us these delicious products. Given my need to know & share attitude… I asked if I could spend a day at the ranch with her. I wanted to learn all about Pasture Chick Ranch and what made Lisa operate?
Lisa grew up in San Juan Bautista. Her family raised and grew almost everything they ate. Her mother milked cows and took care of a garden. Canning was a frequent task in their household. Her father raised veal and took great pride in his work making sure his animals had a clean and comfortable living environment.
Before Lisa was Pasture Chick Ranch she was Lisa Marie of Lisa Marie’s Salon in Hollister, CA. She ran one of the best salons in San Benito County and had a wide array of clientele. Need a blow out, a wax, a quick trim… Lisa was your girl. She provided specialty products and services that were out of this world. Everyone in town knew where to go. She was busy, very busy; so busy that she began to fall ill. It was a time in Lisa’s life when she had to step back and look at the bigger picture. After a lot of soul searching Lisa found her way back to her roots and left the salon business.
It took several years but with the support of her husband, they secured an ample plot of land, and took on raising grass fed natural cows. Once securing the space, it took them a year and a half to prepare the land for the animals. The ground needed maintenance, hundreds and hundreds of feet of fencing went up, and security had to be in place. Lisa and her husband were managing over 20 cows and a large pack of dogs, while her husband was working on a secondary career in the fresh cut produce industry. Before they knew it, his career took off and Lisa was managing the animals on her own. The cows and dogs were manageable but it was the bulls that gave her a challenge. This is no easy task especially when you don’t have consistent outside help. A couple years into their life of grass fed beef, Lisa realized that this wasn’t the direction she saw her life moving. With her husband’s career taking on a positive full time status, she needed something she could manage on her own, that would provide her family with a secure future, and most importantly would make her HAPPY!
Again, with her husband’s support they made the decision to sell their cattle to Paicines Ranch, who specializes in pasture raised grass fed beef. In addition to cattle, Lisa was raising Merino Sheep and Cashmere Goats for her own spinning of wool fibers and meat for her family’s personal consumption. After crunching the numbers, it made the most sense both economically and environmentally to raise goats and sheep for her community instead of cattle. The Merino Sheep and Cashmere Goats are dual purpose animals providing both fibers and meat – overall it was the best move sustainably for her environment, space, and resources; Pasture Chick Ranch was born.
Despite their best efforts to manage the cattle, the land still needed additional maintenance to support the grazing and growth of healthy sheep and goats. Lisa was motivated by friends involved in the Slow Food movement and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which lead her to decide to raise heritage chickens and turkeys. Lisa decided that grazing poultry on the same land as the sheep and goats would help improve the quality of the grass, manage the bugs in the area, and fertilize the land. Throughout my visit with Lisa there was one thing she repeated frequently… the care and maintenance of the land was so important. “The grass is the goose laying the golden egg.” If the land wasn’t properly cared for the animals wouldn’t thrive. It was a cycle… the land took care of the animals, the animals took care of the land, and Lisa of Pasture Chick Ranch took care of it all!
After selling the cattle, they took a sweep of the land, tilling and cutting the grass, moving and updating the fence lines, and building schooners for the chickens and turkeys, and other structures as needed for the animals. The animals would be grazing on over 100+ acres in the middle of the country. In the country there is wildlife. In order for your livestock to survive in a natural setting you need security from the wildlife; here enters the dogs. Besides her beloved poodle Tempie, Lisa manages a pack of Border Collies, a pack of what she refers to as her “guardians”, and also a herd of cats. Of the Border Collie pack there is Jesse, Dee Dee, Katie, Lucy, and Joe. The border collies help Lisa manage the herds, help drive the animals where needed and keep everyone and everything under control. It is amazing to watch Lisa work with her dogs. The relationship of trust and communication between Lisa and her dogs is a sight to be seen. They move around the field with grace as they herd in the animals. The “guardians” are a mix of Akbash and Pyrenees dogs. She has Herbert, Cooper, and Josephina to name a few. There are eleven in all but honestly I couldn’t keep up with all of the names! The guardians are there for just that. They keep a strong watch on everyone and everything – keeping the land and the livestock safe. The cats reside at home base, where they keep the barns and surrounding buildings safe and clear from rodents and vermin. Everyone and everything at the ranch has a purpose and is used to their fullest abilities and are treated with the utmost respect and care.
It was early fall 2010 that Lisa was approached by Live Earth Farms to grow chicken and eggs for their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. She started off with 50 birds and kept a journal watching their growth, habits, and how they adapted to the environment. The birds grazed on natural pastures and were fed an organic feed provided by Modesto Milling, who traces all of their seeds ensuring Non-GMO ingredients are used. Fresh air, bugs, and sunshine were all that’s added. Lisa conducted her first harvest and reached out to family and friends to give her honest feedback. The reviews were in and the chicken was a success. Here we are a year later and Pasture Chick Ranch’s relationship with Live Earth Farms is still going strong!
Lisa’s reputation for great service and even better quality products also brought her to Greenhearts Family Farms CSA and Jesse Cool of Cool Eats restaurants and catering, where Lisa is providing organic, pasture raised meats & eggs. Lisa recently hosted an event for Greenhearts along with the support of several local farmers such as Claravale Farms, Pinnacle Organics, and Garden Variety Cheese. The goal of the event was to promote Greenhearts CSA program and to bring the community together in the fight for sustainably grown good healthy food for all.
It’s because of Lisa’s growing popularity we have not seen her at the Saturday farm stands. She’s had to focus her time on the land and her animals. We still keep in contact and we still purchase her organic pasture raised chicken. It’s the only chicken my son eats and he loves it!
Lisa hopes to make her way back to the Saturday farm stand and possibly other Farmers Markets but until then her hands are full. One thing I’ve learned from Lisa is that she will not sacrifice quality for the sake of profits and this… is honorable. At the Greenhearts’ event, the guests took a tour of Pasture Chick Ranch’s operation. Unfortunately I was kept back at home base, unable to attend the tour. Lisa promised me a personal tour after things calmed down at the ranch and last week I got the opportunity.
It was an early Friday morning. I arrived at Lisa’s house, 8am sharp with coffee & homemade applesauce scones in hand. I was greeted by Cooper and a very excited Tempie. It was clear to me that I’ve become a fixture at Lisa’s since Cooper now welcomed me with a loving nudge of his ginormous head instead of a demanding loud bark. Lisa was already moving quick, ready to get to the day’s chores. She let the border collies out of their pens. They were immediately ready to work, jumping excitedly into the back of the ATV. We headed up to the main barn, passing by her personal home of chickens, turkeys, and French Alpine goats. Lisa starts her day by letting the dogs shake off the morning sleep and feed the brood of animals that live at home base, such as the cats, dogs, chickens, turkeys, and goats.
The main barn houses the baby chicks who will go out to pasture for either eggs or meat. Over 170 little baby birds peeped wildly as Lisa cleaned their nests and gave them fresh organic feed and clean water supplemented with an organic apple cider vinegar. The chicks will reside in the brooder for roughly three weeks, which houses lights that replicates the mother. Once their first feathers develop they will be moved out to pasture to grow on fresh air, grass, bugs, and sunshine!
After the birds, cats, and home base dogs are cared for, we head back down the hill to grab Emmy the registered French Alpine Goat. The other goats are excited and want to come along but it’s only Emmy who will be providing milk today. Emmy gets milked every morning and typically provides a gallon daily. Lisa explained that the French Alpine milk is mild in taste. She utilizes Emmy’s milk to make cheese and kefir for her family’s consumption. Emmy will be with Lisa’s family for years to come and every year will provide fresh whole goat milk.
After Lisa finishes with Emmy, we lead her back down the hill to her pasture. It’s time to load up the Rhino with the feed for the ranch animals and head out. As we drive along the route to the ranch, Lisa stops along the way to feed the dogs watching over each pasture. Once on the ranch, the border collies’ jump out and run alongside the ATV. We enter the main pasture where everyone is there to greet Lisa, turkeys, chickens, and dogs… everyone is so excited to see her. With slow methodical movements, Lisa makes her way through the flocks, feeding birds and collecting eggs. The animals have been fed and lastly we take a trip along each of the fence lines to fix gates and ensure everything is intact.
The chores are complete and now it’s time for projects. On the surface, Lisa makes it look very easy and fun but it’s so much more than putting some animals in a pasture and letting them roam. Lisa has a huge operation that is 100% dependent on her; it takes money, time, and a lot of care. There are hundreds of feet of fencing to build and maintain, moving a fence line, building or rebuilding a schooner for the birds, making deliveries, receiving deliveries, community/partner projects, the dogs need training, care, and maintenance, the land and grass need maintenance that requires large expensive equipment, hundreds of pounds of food is needed monthly to sustain all of animals along with vet bills and preventative care maintenance, the physical demands are endless lifting heavy bags of feed, fence and animals; from sun up to sun down there is always something for Lisa to do.
There are two things that seem constant at Pasture Chick Ranch and with Lisa Knutson… she won’t give in quality to profit and every animal under her watch is shown respect and care. She honors what the land and the animals provide to us. She is grateful for those who have helped show her the way in this world of agriculture and those that continue to stand by her today. Lisa wants Pasture Chick Ranch to grow naturally… organically.
A small creamery, farm dinners, spinning classes, canning classes, and farm education days are just some of the many possibilities, which are endless for Lisa and the team she is building. Lisa will continue to celebrate generations of farmers by sharing her experiences with others and keeping true to the tradition of real organic, sustainable farming.
And then, there is the reality TV show… but that’s another story…
Thank you to Lisa and her family for opening their doors and hearts to my family and to the community; we appreciate all that you do.
For more information on Lisa Knutson and Pasture Chick Ranch, visit her Facebook page – a website coming very soon!
Pasture Chick Ranch offers pasture raised organic chickens, eggs, turkeys, goat, sheep, Cashmere wool, and Merino wool.
Check out her services provided through Live Earth Farms and Greenhearts Family Farms.
Original post written on October 26th, 2011 by The Sustainable Sweet & Savory Gourmet at site: http://thesustainablesweetandsavorygourmet.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/welcome-to-pasture-chick-ranch-hollister-ca/
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