Bacon & Kale Cheesy Egg Cups – Part of a Successful Weekly Meal Plan Yield: 12 individual egg cups Temp: 325° (f) Cooking Time: 25 minutes Prep Time: 15 minutes
Ingredients – Equipment Needed 1 head kale, chopped 5+ strips bacon, cut/crisped (save some bacon grease for cooking the kale) 12-14 eggs, medium to large ½ cup combined, shredded Parmesan & mozzarella cheese Kosher salt/pepper to taste 12 pan muffin tin Parchment paper or cupcake liners Skillet Canning funnel
Step 1: Preheat oven to 325° (f) and prep the muffin tin with liners. Set aside. My best advice for still intact, non stick egg cups is to use parchment paper by making your own muffin tin liners or purchasing liners that are specifically made from parchment paper. Making your own is super simple and here is a really quick cool video I found on the interwebs by Cooking with Manuela on how to make your own. If making your own is not your thing, I use these from Paperchef all the time and I 100% swear by them *not a paid ad
Step 2: Dice bacon and crisp in a pan. I use a cast iron skillet, but any pan will do. Make sure to drain the fat (but save it!!) while cooking to ensure a good crisp on the bacon. Once crisp, remove from pan and set aside.
Step 3: Wash, dry, and remove kale from stems. Chop and place in skillet with a tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat. You can omit and use olive oil or any oil of your choosing. Kosher salt and pepper to taste. Saute until desired wilt or crispness has been achieved, add back bacon and toss for a few minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Step 4: Crack and whisk eggs with kosher salt and pepper. Set aside. Fill each muffin tin with a tablespoon of bacon kale mixture. Sprinkle shredded cheese mixture on top.
Step 5: If you have a canning funnel, I would totally use it because it will help to eliminate any drips or spills, which in turn makes egg cup removal from the muffin tins a bit tedious… the funnel helps keep everything in the cup where it needs to be. If not, use a large spoon or ladle and fill each muffin tin ¾ full.
Step 6: place in a 325° (f) preheated oven for 25 minutes. Serve and enjoy immediately or do as I do and store in airtight containers in the fridge for your meal planning win during the week.
Additional Ingredient Options: Here are some additional examples of breakfast egg cup variations I’ve made this year: Broccoli, bacon & goat cheese Kale, sweet peppers, & cheddar cheese Sweet peppers, zucchini, sausage & Parmesan cheese
A Note About The Ingredients I Use: The eggs in this recipe and all recipes I create are made from the chickens I raise. They are fed organic feed in addition to all of the organic produce scraps from my kitchen and all that nature has to provide for them in my pasture. All other ingredients I do my very best to source locally if it does not come direct from my homestead (i.e. the produce & meats) as well as organic and non-gmo options. These recipes do not need to be local & organic but this is what I chose to do for my family.
The Story: I’m a fulltime remote employee for a global tech giant, I wrangle two very active boys and husband daily. The dog needs walking & the chickens need food. The land needs tending and there are only so many hours in a day, then you need to eat. This year I’ve decided to reinstate meal planning and meal preparation. Egg cups – the first installment of that plan. I’m typically (when Covid-19 doesn’t have us stuck at home) on the go, tacking on 120+ miles a day in the car in addition to meetings, kids activities, tending to the homestead, trying to stay physically fit and all the things life has to offer. In my back to basics journey I’ve made deep strides to improve the health in my life and I don’t want to hinder the progress by eating crap on the fly. Having good for you, fueling meals ready on the go is key for success in my day to day. This recipe makes 12 egg cups for me for the week. I warm up 2 egg cups a day from Monday through Saturday for my breakfast. Sundays are left for meal planning and meal prepping. I’ll be 100% honest, these are best the moment they come out of the oven and look a little sad on day two, but the taste is still delightful and fills me up on the go. So, here’s to your meal planning success, Egg Cups!
“I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday” – Henry IV
I have memories of birds as a child but never had I had the opportunity to work with raising chickens. I had a duck when I was little. My duck’s name was Feathers. He was big and bad. He attacked all those who came in his path, especially my step mother who’d tend to the flock daily. My duck would chase her poodle around the yard. We had one male and two females. I only visited Feathers in the summer and one summer he and his girls were gone. I have memories of my tita and tito visiting my grandmother bringing along bounty from their garden and eggs from their chickens. I’ve raised parakeets throughout my childhood but that has been the extent of my exposure to birds throughout my life. Never have I had hands on experience being around, working with, or raising chickens…
Shortly after having our son we started making the lifestyle shift towards back to basics. During this time we kicked around the idea of raising chickens for eggs. Unfortunately it was only an idea because of where we lived. Our landlords would not allow us to have chickens despite my excellent care of their property. After almost four years of talk, hoping, and wishing we’re finally able to take the step. We’re raising chickens!
Part of our path to live a less dependent lifestyle is learning how to manage small livestock. Chickens are the gateway! We are choosing to raise chickens for meat, for eggs, for compost, for pest control, for learning and responsibility, and for family fun!
When we first had the idea we wanted to purchase our chickens from a sustainable source that supported Heritage Breeds.
We still have this end goal in mind, in addition to hatching and raising our own, but we had to get started somewhere. We have to learn, practice, fail, succeed, and learn some more. Before we spent extra time and more importantly money, we looked to our local feed store for options. The feed store had Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. The Rhode Island non industrial are on the list for the Heritage Breeds but I can’t confirm if the ones we’ve purchased are considered “industrial” or “non-industrial”. We got 2 of each. We were told that they were all girls but even the best of the best can be wrong in sexing a chicken. Only time will tell.
Now the ideal setup would be you get your chickens home (if not already hatched at home) and straight to the brooder. A brooder is the nursery chicken coop if you will; a non-drafty, warm, clean, secure area for the chicks to roam, and a place for their food and water. Our ideal brooder will sit in a secure area outside next to an electrical source. It will be protected from the elements but still allow for the birds to get natural light during the day and closed off and warm at night.
Here is an example of what we would like to have. I envision ours on legs, high off the ground for me to be able to work from a standing position vs. kneeling. I also would use a different heat source and have a risible roof for easy cleaning. We have a cement slab next to our house in vicinity of my view as well as electrical source that would house a brooder nicely.
The heat source I would use would be an EcoGlow Chick Brooder.
Our end goal is to be able to raise our own chickens for both eggs and meat. We would need a setup for our incubation, brooder, and a final home for the egg birds and the meat birds. We plan to semi free range our birds. I say semi because they will still have to be in an enclosed area because of predators. We don’t have the option to have guardians (dogs) and electric fences. We will depend on large enclosures over pastured areas that allow them to roam, scratch, eat bugs, get sun and fresh air, and still be protected from predators.
For now, this is what we’re working with…
We don’t have a garage that could accommodate such a setup for a brooder and we’ve not yet built our ideal brooder to sit on the cement landing pad outside our house. When we brought our chickens’ home at 2 weeks old they went upstairs to my office. Yes, I’ve had baby chickens in my office for the past month. We did some minor research and gathered what little supplies we had at home and got the birds’ setup in my office. On the surface this is a cute nice idea but in reality – they are dirty birds. They scratch, they flap their wings, and they make lots and lots of dust. Each day they get bigger is each day they make more of a mess. They start to take flight. They like to roost on the edge of things… poop goes everywhere. In reality a 4 inch high container is not sufficient no matter how much protection you have on the floor. Their food & water was always dirty, shavings were everywhere, and as I mentioned they like to roost. They’d hang out on the edge of the container with their little fluffy butts facing the WRONG WAY… poop everywhere!
After a week of constant sweeping, scrubbing poop, and cleaning their food & water I said enough and purchased a large galvanized metal trough. Our trough stands 4x4x2. Resting on leftover cardboard boxes, the trough has been a lifesaver in keeping the birds clean, safe, as well as keeping my office clean.
We’re using a long square wooden dowel along the top of the trough that hangs the water and food. This allows the birds room to roam but also keeps the food & water out of their poopy mess. Remember, they love to scratch and flap their semi flightless wings which cause huge amounts of dust and kicks up poop.
If you’ve researched heat sources you’ve found the typical heating lamp that looks like this.
During our research we’ve discovered that this heat source comes with several risks and challenges. The risk is of fire. These lamps get hot and if they get knocked over in anyway and fall, a fire is most likely the result. The challenge is that despite it being a dim light it is still a light and can throw off a chicken’s natural balance. When the sun goes down so should the chicken. They aren’t humans. They don’t run off of artificial light. When the sun is up they are up and when the sun is down they are down. The EcoGlow is perfect in both regards because it is fire safe and does not emit any light.
We’re raising chickens on a budget right now and getting started for us is using the very basics of what we have around the homestead. We will scrimp and save to get the safe guards in place that will keep us successful in the future. For now we will come up with a temporary fix for our housing and heating purposes but for future chicken raising we will invest in the EcoGlow and build a secure brooder that will go outside.
Our heating source was different but simple. We took a terra cotta plate and on the plate we placed a porcelain light fixture equipped with a cord and 60 watt bulb. We then placed a terra cotta pot over the top of the fixture and plate. The plate and all of its contents then rest on top of a large mason brick that is wide enough to support the base of the plate. There is no light that emits from the fixture. Even unplugged the terra cotta retains the heat but never gets hot enough to start anything on fire or burn anything that rests upon it.
Keep in mind we live in California on the Central Coast. It will never be Minnesota cold. These birds are inside my office, free from draft, next to a sunny window in a tall secure trough. They are cold hardy birds to begin with so this heat source works well in a pinch. Now if you’re in a state with freezing temperatures, then no, a 60 watt bulb in a terra cotta pot will not be sufficient. It works for us for now giving us minimal risk and challenge.
The birds huddle near it at night and away from it during the day… it has proven to provide the perfect amount of heat they’ve needed since living in doors.
Every morning I give them fresh water and food and every morning these little peepers greet me. As they’re getting bigger and braver, they’re hopping up to the top of the tough as I prep their food and water.
The general rule of thumb for keeping your baby chicks warm is 95 degrees at birth and 5 degrees decrease every week till they depart for their new digs. This age all depends on your chickens. We’re in preparations now to get our birds outside and they are officially 6 weeks old. When we first brought our chickens’ home we placed a cardboard box with the bottom open and a door cut out over the heat source. During the day they’d roam around outside the box but at night they huddled inside the box next to the heat source.
Here are a couple images of our little girls wandering around outside the cardboard box, exploring their surroundings during the day.
Peek-a-boo I see you!
Here you see our lovely Elvis (we thought he was Elvira when we first brought them home… like I said, only time can truly tell) roosting on top of the cardboard box above the heat source.
As they got a little older we removed the cardboard box to allow for the heat to circulate more at night.
Here they will go once they transition outside. They have a free roaming area to scratch, eat bugs, and roam. They have nesting boxes and a coop to sleep in and rest at night. Is this our ideal coop? No. We’d prefer our birds to have more room to roam but for now this will do as we learn. Obviously this will only house a few birds, at most. My goal is to have a dozen egg layers and roughly 15 to 20 meat birds in rotation.
Once they transition outside it’s not just a matter of placing them in the coop and that is that. They won’t start laying eggs until roughly 4 to 5 months old. That is a long way off while they transition to their new digs. Until then, the nesting box is off limits. As I’ve read, a sleeping hen is a pooping hen. If they learn to poop in their nesting boxes then your fresh eggs will have more exposure to contamination. We’ve secured a simple piece of plywood in the space between the nesting box and the coop. This will be removed closer to the time they will start laying.
The coop will go in our back clearing, near the landing pad where the brooder will soon go. They will have the company of our neighbors chicken’s whose very large coop is just up the hill from us. At night we will place the coop over a hard surface to protect the birds from anything that may attempt to dig underneath. During the day they will have access to grass, dirt, bugs, and fresh air and sun.
I mentioned earlier our birds are now 6 weeks old. They’re clearly showing signs that they’re ready to move to the big leagues. They no longer crowd around the heat source and they’re constantly roosting and attempting to fly the coop. In preparation we’ve blocked off the nesting box and are putting in a larger more accommodating feeder & water source. Here you see we are building our own waterer with chicken nipples and PVC tubing. The nipples were $5 a pack at the local tractor supply and the PVC pipe was just a few bucks at the local hardware store. We’ll have a similar setup for the feeder and both items will be secured to the sides of the coop to allow the birds to have plenty of room to roam.
This is all trial and error. I by no means claim to be an expert and am always open to listen and learn from those who’ve experienced more. We will make adjustments as we go and share those adjustments with you… but for now these fixes are all working well for us and our birds.
Elvis says “what, you have a backyard… then you should have chickens!!!”
We realize everyone’s situation is different. Some are not allowed based on their city ordinances, or possibly they are renters and the landlords won’t allow it. In those instances I encourage you to seek out local sources for eggs. First and foremost chickens are NOT VEGETARIANS they eat bugs. They need to roam and scratch. They need to free range to be healthy and provide healthy meat and eggs.
Healthy chickens look like this…
Not like this…
If you have a backyard and an interest I highly recommend doing your research and getting started with the basics. As I mentioned earlier we’re raising chickens for eggs because we eat eggs almost daily, for meat because we want to know where our meat source comes from and deserve a cleaner more sustainable option, for compost because their poop does wonders for our produce garden, for pest control because they eat BUGS, for responsibility because the kiddo has to learn, and for family fun because they are fun little critters that bring us lots of joy.
Welcome to Bell Hill Farm & Hen Scratch Quilting, Hollister, CA
It was a late winter afternoon as I drove through the hills along Cienega Road in Hollister, CA. Blossoms are falling from trees and tiny green leaves are budding, letting us know spring is on the horizon. Also known as the “Wine Trail”, Cienega road is home to gorgeous views and a handful of the town’s best wineries scattered along the hillside. DeRose Winery, a “green winery”, is one of the wineries along Cienega Road and just a short distance from the gravel road leading the way to Bell Hill Farm. The steep road is lined with oak trees and the chiming sounds of bells are heard from a distance above. I’m on my way to spend the afternoon with John and Janet Locey and their brood of animals of Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting.
The hillsides along the road to their home are lined with mossy oak trees, picturesque of a woodland fairytale. The road, although gravel lined, is still rough and you must take care when climbing the hill. I carefully navigated my way around the backside of the house, found a parking spot and setoff to find Janet. I was greeted by a couple of four-legged furry family members, wagging tails, wet noses and all. I located Janet sitting in front of the house workshop. In her arms was a tiny 1/2 French Alpine 1/2 American Alpine goat, Chico, only 2 days old. The goat is one of three babies and was not faring along as well as the others despite being bigger than her siblings. Janet was feeding the baby goat because she had not gotten up to feed off her mother. I was fortunate to hold the baby goat for a moment after Janet fed her. Soon after placing the goat back with her mother, she was up and moving around. What a special moment it was for me to experience, witnessing the little goat fight to stand on its own. For Janet, this is nothing new; these are experiences she meets daily.
After tending to the baby goat, we jumped into our chat taking stock of every animal, project, and task in process at the Locey homestead. While Janet escorted me through her life I couldn’t help but notice how many projects she was immersed in and how she was keeping up with them all. I could barely keep up pace with her as she climbed the hills checking on her animals.
Janet and her husband John manage a family of goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks for their personal homestead, as well as operating Bell Hill Farm (Goat Milk Soaps & Lotions) and Hen Scratch Quilting (sewing machine repair, quilting retreats, patterns, quilts, supplies and more!). The ducks and chickens provide eggs & meat, the goats provide milk, the sheep provide meat, and Janet & John harvest it all for their family. Their home rests on the middle of the property. The surrounding hills are covered with wild flowers and moss-covered oaks. The goats live on the bottom half of the hill and the sheep on the upper half, all grazing on beautiful wild forage. The chickens and ducks keep watch near the goats and the dogs & cats follow John or Janet around the homestead keeping watch of them all.
Janet was born and raised in Northern California on her family’s pre-gold rush era ranch where they farmed row crops. Her mother and grandparents kept chickens, which is how she developed a great love for the bird. Despite her deep roots of country living Janet had no prior experience raising small livestock such as sheep and goats. She and John raised their family on what you would call an urban homestead in the South Bay of California, almost 40 years ago. This urban homestead consisted only of chickens but her deep country roots were calling. Janet needed to move her family and her chickens elsewhere. It was then decided Janet and John would move their family to the Central Coast and the hills of Hollister California, over 25 years ago. Janet’s love for chickens helped them settle in the place they call home today. Janet advised it wasn’t the beautiful house or the picturesque landscape that sold her… it was the existing chicken coop on the property. An instant home for her chickens… she was sold and they moved in! When Janet and her husband John purchased the property it was covered in thick brush. To manage the terrain, they bought a couple of Alpine goats. Janet explained, “For a family on a shoe string budget you learn to be creative in how you tackle the challenges ahead.” While the goats were managing the brush they also managed to have… babies!
“A couple of goats, led to babies that led to milk, which lead to soaps & lotions” Janet explained as we walked along the fence line to the goat’s home. “It was a natural progression to go from having too much goat’s milk, not knowing what to do with it, to making soaps and lotions” Janet explained. “There is always enough milk for our soaps, lotions, for our family to drink, and even enough at times to make cheese for our family.” She took me along the goat’s path and I got to see spring in action, each area holding several babies and their mothers. All of Janet’s goats are registered with the American Dairy Goat Association. This allows Janet to track each goat’s heritage and milk line.
Through a course taken at UC Davis sponsored by the DHIA (Dairy Goat Improvement Association) Janet is a certified Goat milk tester. One day a month the amount of milk from each goat is weighed and recorded and a sample is taken and sent into a lab for testing. Reports are generated for milk production, percent protein, percent fat and somatic cell count (health of udder) along with various other information. Decisions on breeding and culling are based on these production records. The information gathered through this program goes into a data bank providing valuable information to the individual dairy goat owner and gathers statistics for the entire goat industry to use in research and educational programs.
The production data gathered though the milk test program may be submitted to the American Dairy Goat Association and the individual goat may earn a star if she meets the production requirement for her particular breed. The star may be passed down to her daughter if she meets the requirements then her registration papers carry the designation of a two star milker. That daughter may have a daughter that meets the requirement and then she would be a 3 star milker and so on. The goats must be on official test to earn the star and you can’t skip any generations. This information gives Janet direct insight into how she can better care for her animals.
I was already dizzy from all the information and how Janet kept up with it all; we had only just begun the tour. Between the goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats… who would have time to make goat’s milk body soap, lotion, and recently added to the lineup of products, laundry soap? I had to know how she was motivated to do this. What led Janet Locey and her family down the path of self-sufficiency, handcraftsmanship, livestock, and eventually Bell Hill Farm & Hen Scratch Quilting?
For over 30 years Janet worked as an accountant for local city governments and school districts; John was a maintenance manager for a local food processing plant. Although their careers provided a stable living for their family, they were frustrated with the outcome of industrial systems and their dependency on so many unnatural things. Janet and John believed there had to be more; more to offer their family and their community. Soon after moving into their country home, they began to experience the satisfaction of getting back to the basics.
Janet finished up outside and we made our way into the house. I was greeted by the sweet aroma of soap & lotion scents mixed with the savory aroma of a roasted chicken she was cooking for dinner. We worked our way down the hall and stopped at the first room; Janet’s office and soap room. The walls were lined with scents, packaging, bottles of lotion, and trays of curing soaps. Her desk was covered with soap wrappers and hemp ties, getting ready to package the next order for Sunday’s farmers market. I was in heaven. Something about the smell of plumeria and ginger (two yummy scents Janet provides through her soaps and lotions) that settles me. I took a moment before having to leave the room. I held each bar of soap to my nose inhaling deeper and deeper, trying to keep the scent with me. Before we left the soap room I noticed a stack of framed pictures. Janet pulled a handful of the frames out from behind some boxes. These pictures were much too beautiful to be hiding away. Looking closer I saw Janet’s signature donned the bottom corners of each piece. This was nothing more than a labor of love for Janet. A mixture of water colors and detailed lines – I got lost in her pictures, wanting to visit the places she was able to create on paper. Her prints are recreated on thick card stock note cards that follow her to farmers markets. Her art also hangs in a local bakery downtown.
We finished up in the soap room and moved on to the next room… the quilt room. You are greeted by a 3 foot pile of completed quilts and the walls are covered in quilts – all made by Janet. These quilts have intricate details and creative patterns. Janet’s quilts are truly a work of art. This beautiful quilt was published in two magazines “American Patchwork and Quilting” and “Quilter’s Newsletter.” Turns out the original quilt was a historic item and had been burned in a museum fire. Janet’s recreation was inspired by an AQSG (American Quilt Study Group) project and the quilt traveled for two years, displayed in museum exhibits and quilt shows across the nation.
Its mind-boggling when you focus on the detail of her work – it slowly starts to sink in and you begin to understand the tedious detail and patience it takes to put something like this together. I asked how long it took to sew one of the detailed quilts and without missing a beat, Janet quickly replied, “a year”. There in this room was a stack; a thick, time-consuming stack of quilts that were all carefully handcrafted and designed by Janet. She designs quilts and creates patterns for Maywood Studios Fabric for both Fall and Spring Quilt Markets each year. Three times a year Janet hosts a quilting retreat at the Saint Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista. Her first session is SOLD OUT but there are still spaces available for the remaining two sessions. We left the quilting room, with my hands still in the pile of quilts… I had my eye on one. It was a turtle theme with varying shades of green and paisley patterns. I really want that quilt.
We briefly stopped in John’s workshop before heading off to Janet’s sewing room. A workshop filled with sewing machines and all of their little bits and pieces. John cleans and repairs old Featherweight sewing machines… in his spare time. He helps keep Janet up and running so her quilting deadlines can always be met. He also helps maintain many of the machines from guests who attend Janet’s “sewing sessions”. Each week Janet hosts a handful of women at her home in her sewing room. They work on quilts, learn new techniques, and share information. The room is long and the walls are covered with books and quilts. There are tables in the center of the room covered with sewing machines and pieces of brightly covered fabric and patterns. Janet thumbs through the shelves and quickly finds a stack of patterns. She spread the colorful fabric out in front of me and with a pre-made square she briefly showed me how she gets beginning quilters started.
I could see how passionate Janet was about teaching. Janet noted that through teaching others she gains so much more knowledge. “If you don’t learn something from those you are teaching, you’ve not done your job correctly”, Janet explained. We left the sewing room and worked our way through the house to the kitchen, our final destination and of course one of my favorite places to be! I was in heaven as Janet showed me all of her homesteading gadgets. From ice cream makers, to grain grinders, milking buckets, cheese presses, and even a fizzy water maker… Janet had everything a homesteader would need to make life easier and enable one to be more self-sufficient. One of the best parts of my visit was the taste of fresh goats milk cheese. Janet utilizes the extra milk from her goats to make several different types of cheese for her family’s consumption. There is a tiny “college” refrigerator sitting in the corner of her kitchen. This is the cheese fridge housing months of delicious aged goodness. Janet explained that it doesn’t make sense for her to take Bell Hill Farm goat milk tasks beyond soaps and lotions. Janet and her goats may make fantastic cheese but a certified dairy is a costly venture that she & John are not able to take on at this point in their lives.
Our visit was coming to an end. Janet shared with me a taste of their dinner; one of their own chickens, roasted, along with steamed rice made with homemade broth and local wheat berries. She had just finished washing the fresh collected chicken and duck eggs from her flock. She had several buckets lined up on the sink ready to go for the next milking of the goats. There was a giant container of soap shavings that she was getting ready to process for laundry soap. Across the kitchen sat a loom with a half transformed “rag rug”. It was clear that no matter the time of day, or day of week… Janet had something going, something in process. She was busy and she was happy. Janet explained that she’s coming to a point in life where most people would find themselves retiring and settling down – but she is not. She’s finally found her calling… she knows now what she wants to be when she grows up. “If only I started sooner; if only I was doing the things I am now with the energy I had in my 30s and 40s”, Janet explained with sincerity. With the very best advice she could provide, Janet expressed to me, “don’t stop what you’re doing. This is the best thing for your son, for your family, and for your health. You are making a difference and can make a difference in educating and motivating others”… on getting back to the basics of life.
It gives me great pride to share with people a story of a loving married couple of 40 years who do more in their 60+ young years of age than most 20 something’s’ I know. Thank you Janet and John for allowing me in your home and sharing with me your lives… Welcome to Bell Hill Farm and Hen Scratch Quilting!
Bell Hill Farm Products are:
– Goats Milk Body Soap
– Goats Milk Body Lotion
– Goats Milk Laundry Soap
All products are available in unscented. Other scents available are Almond, Lavender, Lilac, Plumeria, Sandalwood, Spice Mahogany, Vanilla, Yuzu, and Wild Oats & Honey. Janet can also put together special requests.
Benefits of Goats Milk Soap & Lotion: – Does not contain harsh detergents or additives
– High levels of cream in goat’s milk provide moisturizing qualities
– Goats milk is high in protein, fat, iron, vitamins B, C, D, E providing bacteria killing properties (acne) and helps retain skins moisture
– Goats milk naturally contains glycerin for high moisturizing properties
– Low pH to that of human skin allowing for better absorption
– Goats milk naturally contains lactic acid which is an alpha hydroxy acid found in skin rejuvenation products
Bell Hill Farm Products can be purchased at:
– Directly from their website
– Local farmers markets (schedule on the Bell Hill website updated monthly)
– A monthly, 6 week, or bi-monthly CSA program with auto ship, details at the website
– At San Benito Bene in historic downtown Hollister, CA
Hen Scratch Quilting Patterns, Retreats, and more…
– Visit Hen Scratch Quilting for patterns that you can order directly from the website
– Janet also makes and provides supplies for Rag Rugs, perfect throws for every area of the house
– Contact John Locey via email for more information on Featherweight sewing machine cleaning, repair, and supplies
Janet’s prints can be purchased at:
– Heavenly Bakery in historic downtown Hollister, CA
– Local farmers markets (schedule on the Bell Hill website updated monthly)
It is mid spring on a late Sunday morning. I am driving down State Route 25. Also know as Airline Highway, the single lane highway stretches over 75 miles starting in Priest Valley CA and ending in Gilroy CA – I’m on my way to visit Paicines Ranch.
Row crops, orchards, and grassy rolling hills are a blur passing my window as I make my way out of the City of Hollister. I am given a brief warning to slow my speed from 55 to 35 before driving through the town of Tres Pinos. The small town is out of an old western, donning historic wooden buildings and horse stables along the roadway. Less than a minute has passed and I’m out of Tres Pinos, kicking the speed back up to 55. I drive through Bolado Park, home of the San Benito County Fair. Despite our recent rains, the green is already fading. There are mixed yellow and amber waves of tall grass and flowers that stretch as far as the eye can see. I’ve now entered the town of Paicines. A road sign and a small general store and post office are the only major markings to the town. This will be the last major stop you see for several miles. Route 25 will lead the way to wild grasslands, rocky hillsides covered with cattle & horses, vineyards, sandy shale covered mountain ranges, and various small bodies of water.
To my right is the Paicines Reservoir where I’ll soon be arriving at my destination. I turn right off of Highway 25 onto Cienega Road. I pass a slightly crooked, faded stop and arrive at a large green metal gate. The sign on the gate reads Paicines Ranch Grass Fed Beef. I am here today to meet with one of San Benito County’s few female cattle ranchers. Sallie Calhoun; former electrical engineer turned California grass fed beef rancher and Holistic Management student.
My family and I are passionate about where our food comes from and how it was raised. I have been a customer of Paicines Ranch grass fed beef for a little over a year now. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the ranch on occasion but I wanted to learn more about the beautiful ranch that provided my family a healthy protein option. There has been much talk in the media recently on the ethics of eating meat, grass fed vs. conventional beef, and the validity of sustainable ranching, specifically with cattle. I wanted to know more and wanted to see how one of the few female cattle ranchers in my community was making a difference in the environment and her surrounding communities.
I drive past the gate of Paicines Ranch. To the right are golden rolling hills and to the left, fields of certified organic row crops. There are a couple of buildings scattered among the property’s backdrop, hidden by oak trees and wild flowers. I follow the dirt road past several horse corrals. It’s a warm spring day and the horses are taking cover under the pepper trees that surrounds the fence line. I’ve arrived at Paicines Ranch headquarters where a giant steel structure houses towering rows of hay. Ahead of me are several old buildings, stables, and barns. I find a parking space closest to the beautifully landscaped courtyard next to the Paicines Ranch Grogan House. There were crowds of people bustling about, breaking down tents, chairs, and other event related items. The day before, on Saturday April 28th 2012, the E-Cubed Foundation hosted their annual Spring Trail ride here at the Paicines Ranch. The foundation is a non-profit organization who provides sustainable financial support for programs within the small schools of rural San Benito County. I spot Sallie at the end of the Grogan House walkway, who is quietly overseeing the breakdown of the event. After brief hellos we made our way up to the patio of the Grogan House where we would spend the duration of our conversation.
In 1867 Paicines Ranch was owed by Alexander Grogan, a transplant from Ireland. Mr. Grogan built many of the structures that are still standing on the property today. One of which is the Grogan House built in the 1860’s. A few steps lead the way to a covered porch, offering a cool breeze and inviting wicker seating. We settled in and jumped right into the conversation.
Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee; Sallie knew from an early age that she enjoyed the outdoors and gardening. She spent a lot of her free time hiking The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the largest protected areas in the Eastern United States. After college she found herself learning more about organic gardening. During the accounts of her past, she talked about her subscription in the late 70’s to Rodale Organic Farming and Gardening magazine. Sallie also talks about Earth Day, “I remember the first Earth Day very well, and it seemed important to me.” Once becoming a resident of California, she began reading into the problems of the disappearing native perennial grasses and the dying oak trees. In the late 80’s she chose to landscape her yard with the native perennial bunch grasses. Sallie wanted to be part of the solution in bringing the native grasses back. Since then Sallie has been passionate, considering herself an environmentalist, focusing on the issues of organics, sustainability, recycling, and the environment as a whole.
A graduate of Rice University, with an electrical engineering background, Sallie is no stranger to hard work and challenges. After meeting her husband, they settled in the town of Saratoga, California where they owned and operated a software company. In 2000 they sold their company and went on a journey to find a place of rest and relaxation. Through their journey they discovered the historic Paicines Ranch located in Paicines, California. The ranch was scheduled to be turned into a resort hotel with golf courses, and residential homes. The project never came to fruition and Paicines Ranch was eventually purchased by Sallie and her husband.
The biggest question on my mind at this point in the conversation was how do you go from owning and operating a software company to owning and operating 7000 certified organic grazing acres and 2000 head of pastured cattle? Sallie smiled and jokingly explained “I had no intention of getting into ranching. It sounds crazy now, but we kind of bought it as a place to wander around and hang out.”
After a long pause, she smiled, and continued “it’s an awfully big place to wander around and… hang out. But we’re also really fascinated by old buildings. The very first time we walked down the path from our current house to what is known as the Grogan House… we were sold. We were quite fascinated by the history of the land and the old buildings and that is how we came about buying the ranch.”
There are several old buildings, many historic, that needed maintenance. Then there is the 7000 grazing acres, which is no tiny patch of lawn. There is serious land management needed when dealing with this size of property. Sallie agreed and remembers back to the first moments moving into Paicines Ranch. “It was the craziest thing two analytical engineers ever did, was buy this ranch. The first day I moved in some items, my sister was with me – we entered one of the buildings where half of the roof was collapsed in. We had setup old yellow couches to sleep on and my sister says… ’my god, what have you done!’ Yes, it was a huge venture but at that time I really had no intentions of owning cattle.”
The early years on the ranch were spent bringing many of the old buildings back to life. Sallie and her husband believed in restoring what existed before creating new structures. I noticed throughout our discussion that the common theme was use- less and use what you already have. She didn’t want to create more waste by breaking down these buildings. Given their love of historic architecture they chose to restore everything that existed on the property and what they now call Paicines Ranch headquarters. As they made their way through restorations, Sallie was also looking into how they could best utilize the land.
When Sallie arrived at the ranch in 2001, she was she was introduced to the concepts of Holistic Management™ by one of the ranch’s previous owners, Joy Law. Joy and her family used to own the ranch from the early 40’s till 1989 when it was purchased by Ridgemark Corporation. Joy advised Sallie to read Alan Savory’s book on Holistic Management. Sallie admits that her original intention for the land was to lease it out to local San Benito county cattle ranchers. She expressed that the biggest challenge for ranchers today is to obtain land. It took some time but after many discussions with local ranchers and reading Alan’s book on Holistic Management; Sallie realized there was a possibility of dramatically improving the health & quality of the land as well as restore the California Native Perennial Grasses by the way they managed cattle. Given the “environmentalist” attitude of her past, this information ‘hooked’ Sallie on the idea of raising cattle on the 7000+ acres of beautiful grassland.
During her discussions with local ranchers, she met Joe Morris of Morris Grass Fed Beef. Joe and his family have practiced Holistic Management™ on their ranch since the early 1990s. Sallie had initially discussed the possibility of Morris Grass Fed leasing the land. She even states in our discussion that “the ranch may have been better off in the hands of the Morris family, but… my life would be VERY different.” Sallie knew she would learn some things but, “doing it yourself is always different” she explained. Soon after her discussions with Joe and other ranching experts, Sallie dove head first into the life of sustainable agriculture, ranching, organics, and the practice of Holistic Management™.
It Takes a Village…
Under USDA regulations, Sallie is just under the guideline for being considered a beginning woman rancher or farmer. Her husband is involved at Paicines Ranch headquarters. He is passionate about the historic architecture but he has chosen to take a step back in the aspects of managing the cattle operation. Sallie jokes that he greatly enjoys the grass fed beef and the serenity of the land but he has no desire to get into the logistics of managing a herd. Sallie’s deepest passion is the management of the land and the impact the cattle has on the landscape. So how does one take on the huge task of managing 7000+ grazing acres? You have a strong able bodied team to back you up. Sallie gave a brief account of her team, every time acknowledging the hard work each person puts forth in their daily jobs. She is grateful for her team and understands the challenges they face every day. Meet the good folks of Paicines Ranch!
Chris – is the ranch manager and Sallie’s right hand, jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. Chris manages the day-to-day operations of the cattle, while working closely with Sallie on the strategic plans for the management of the herd and land. Chris also handles the major tasks around the ranch as well as the rental properties surrounding the land. For example, if Sallie informs Chris they need to restore a barn… Chris will find a way to restore the barn… he will make it happen. “Chris is really important to the ranch”, Sallie explained.
Leti – manages the event center and is the face of customer service and hospitality for the ranch. Sallie boasts that there is nobody who stays at the ranch, who doesn’t rave about Leti in the end. She makes your event and visits to the ranch a pleasant adventure.
Jeb – manages construction projects and is instrumental in assisting Chris as needed on other major building projects around the ranch.
Bobby – Worked at the ranch for over 8 years bringing with him a great passion for old buildings. He’s no longer at the ranch but in his previous years he played a key role assisting Sallie and team with much of the hard restoration projects. One project specifically was the Grogan House that rests at the end of the long driveway at Paicines Ranch headquarters. The house is gorgeous, boasting large pillars at the front porch, surrounded by flowers. The porch itself offers inviting wicker chairs for resting in the cool shade while enjoying a passing breeze. The main entrance has large doors that welcome you to a high ceiling banquet room. The windows fill the room providing a panoramic view of the rolling grasslands surrounding the ranch.
Betsy – manages the grass-fed beef inventory and sales. Betsy also manages the horse facilities at the ranch, which include long and short term horse boarding. Betsy’s love of the animals and her attention to detail allow a wide array of horses to board at the ranch. They also specialize in boarding young horses that need time to develop in small, age appropriate groups.
Sherry – is the Controller for the ranch and manages the overall administrative duties. Sallie jokes that Sherry is “ranch supervision” making sure everyone stays in line… kindly of course.
Jen – manages the housekeeping for all of the ranch properties, keeping the ranch clean and beautiful for its guests.
Gabe and Ricardo – are key ranch hands who are instrumental in helping around the ranch. They are in the fields on the daily making the water work, putting up electric fencing, and helping Chris move the cattle.
The Good The Bad The Holistic
There are many challenges that come with owning land. There are even more challenges owning land with a large herd of grazing cattle who depend on the wild forage of the land for survival. Year after year the seasons change and the weather extremes are more and more severe. San Benito County’s landscape is not a forgiving one. Most places the climate is very different than here. Most places expect a summer rain. More often than not, there is little to no rain from May until early November. This year has been one of the worst years for rain. There was a heavy rain early in November and then it remained dry until March. Even then it only rained a couple times. It has been dry since and it’s only April. This is where Sallie’s exposure and education in Holistic Management come into play.
Sallie learned about Holistic Management roughly three months into her residence at Paicines Ranch when she was advised to read Alan Savory’s book. Soon after, she met with Joe Morris and got a firsthand account of how the Holistic Management practices worked. When Sallie & her husband first arrived at Paicines Ranch, it seemed everything they touched fell apart. They had a lot of things to sort out and it took some time to implement the practices of Holistic Management on their landscape. Chris and Sallie took a two year course through The Holistic Management Institute on Ranch & Range Management. The program allowed them to travel to different ranches throughout the U.S. learning about Holistic Management in depth. It’s been within the last three years that Sallie and team have been able to implement the Holistic Management practices they’ve learned. It’s been within the last year they’ve gotten closer to what they want to happen from a landscape perspective. Sallie explains, “first it’s a matter of setting up a cattle operation and then you’ve got to change the way traditional cattle ranchers think, which all takes time.”
If they keep enough grass around during the summer months and the river maintains a green environment, the cattle won’t loose weight; the cattle will be fine. There is no supplement to their diet, only wild forage. Sallie explained that there is this misconception that cows only eat grass. Cattle will eat many things besides grass. “We try to encourage biodiversity which allows for a wide range of plants for the cattle to choose from. Russian nap weed, not a native plant, is viewed as a nasty invasive weed. It has a root system of over 12 feet and you can’t kill it. It’s green during the summer and has more protein than alfalfa.” I joke that this weed must be abundant in my backyard because I can’t get rid of the ones I have. Sallie laughs because she knows the challenges of battling non-native plants but at the same time understands the benefits of varied forage. “You have to view the amount of the food and variety of food being very important. Our animals are between 3 and 4 years old before we harvest them. We keep our animal twice as long as most people because we are not supplementing and farming to add to their diets.”
Sallie’s biggest passion in this venture has been the restoration of the land. Many peoples’ response to her end goals are to plant seeds. “We don’t plant seeds and there will not be any seed planting here at Paicines Ranch for at least ten years. The seed is really expensive. If we can bring back the grasses by changing the way we manage our cattle – the seed bank is there and as we rotate the animals the grasses will return. We’re already seeing results of it.”
Currently, Sallie and team are passionate about harvesting animals that taste great. The animals are aged on the hoof as well as dry aged. The grass fed herd consists of various ages, allowing for annual harvests. By Holistic Management practices, the herd is rotated every few days across 200 acre paddocks divided by single wire electric fencing. A product of Sallie’s passion for land restoration is raising high quality tasting beef that takes minimal to no inputs or use of fossil fuels. It’s taken years of learning and experimenting to find what Sallie and her team consider the right formula for the high quality beef they produce today at Paicines Ranch. The challenge is they are still considered a small operation. So how can they be small and economically viable?
Today, the convenient model for most consumers is to go to the supermarket to buy cuts of beef. Most grass fed beef producers are challenged with how to sell their beef because they have to sell the whole animal verses the basic cuts that are sold in the supermarket. “We had to plan starting our beef 2.5 – 3 years before we harvest it. At harvest we’ll end up with 40 different cuts of beef to sell.” As most of us know, the average American home cook knows how to prepare roughly 3 to 4 different cuts of meat; not 40. The answer most grass fed producers came up with was to sell the animal as either a whole, half, or split half. Paicines Ranch decided their customer base was primarily in the South Bay. A majority of these people do not have giant freezers able to accommodate hundreds of pounds of meat that come in the whole and halved portions. Paicines Ranch decided to sell their meat by the cut in addition to whole, half, or split-half options. They worked out the pricing and distribution models to allow grass-fed beef to get to people who wouldn’t normally eat it.
While attending bay area farmers markets during the beginning of her grass-fed beef career, Sallie could estimate roughly 90% of her potential customers did not understand what grass fed beef was. Not many people were writing about it and not many were managing as Paicines Ranch was.
Sallie believes the communication and understanding of grass-fed beef is not done, but it’s improving. This is proof based on the current request from NY Times and the call out to the communities for their thoughts on ‘Why is it Ethical to Eat Meat?” Here is Sallie’s response: Sallie Calhoun NY Times Essay. Sallie explained, “It’s people like me who show what happens when they practice good land stewardship, working to regenerate their landscapes and the earth. The ranchers must be willing to share their stories. It’s people like you who can share the information they’ve learned.”
There Will Always Be Challenges… It’s All in How You Manage Them
As a female engineer in the 70’s, Sallie is no stranger to being the only woman at a table and facing challenging situations head on. From land management, herd management, meat processing, marketing, and community involvement, there is a lot of responsibility riding on Paicines Ranch.
For example, I’ve heard from several small ranches across the bay area that processing their meat has always been a challenge. Going back to the idea of being small and economically viable, how do you get past the challenges of processing the product that keeps your operation running? Sallie explained they had the typical complaints, but that was “until we ran a meat packing plant in Newman. It is not an easy task to take a giant animal and break it down into a clean visually nice looking retail cut for market. The equipment used in larger scale operations, which allows for faster processing, is very large and very expensive. The small packing plants do not have this thus there are guys with very sharp knives working the meat. Many can’t appreciate the skill and time it takes to break a giant animal down into clean looking retail cuts for market, using only your hands.”
The small operations are also challenged because the grass fed producers are harvesting their animals between the months of April and July. This means there is a waiting list. The small plants can only take five to six animals at a time. More often, ranchers say “processing is the weak link in the grass fed chain” and Sallie explained, “There are more problems after processing… it’s a matter of how you face them and work with them. Processing is only the link that you run into next.”
Sallie believes the future is bright based on the information they are learning and implementing. The biggest challenge in today’s environment for most small operations is much land is owned by people other than private ranchers. “This leaves not a lot of continuity and flexibility in how you, as a small rancher, can manage the land. This could be a great opportunity to change policies and views in how we manage the land – so it’s a challenge but a huge room for growth and opportunity. Public organizations don’t own the land to make money; they own it ‘In public trust of land’. This could mean neighbors and ranchers can collaborate to raise the cattle and maintain the land. As we are learning what is best for a healthy symbiotic relationship between the land and the animals.”
Working with the community also makes the future bright for sustainable ranching. I asked Sallie if she believed Paicines Ranch is setting precedence for helping and operating sustainably in the community. She believes they are just now getting to the point to be considered a role model. They are trying. This is why they host the Holistic Management workshops to build and educate a community of like minded people who are focused on making a difference.
In addition to the workshops and the practice of Holistic Management, Sallie and her team work within the community to raise awareness and support. Some recent and past partnerships include a sponsorship for the San Benito Rodeo, hosting of the annual Kinship Wine Tasting, and this year they will host the Save the Music Program for the San Benito County school district. Paicines Ranch also worked with the Oaxaca Children’s Garden to help them acquire a tractor for their farming. As I mentioned earlier they hosted the E-Cubed Foundation Spring Trail ride and are supporters of the Community Foundation of San Benito County. Sallie explained that, “this is the community our ranch resides in and the community our employees live in and we believe it’s important to help make it thrive.”
Beyond the restoration of land, Sallie is also passionate about food and feeding those less fortunate. She explained, “I am a big believer in if you give a man a fish he can eat for a day but if you teach a man to fish he can eat for a lifetime.” This year Sallie is working with Valley Verde, a non-profit in Santa Clara County. The organization installs organic gardens in low income family backyards. They will teach the families how to organically garden, harvest, and how to use and cook the food they grow in their gardens. The goal of this organization is to put over 20,000 gardens in Santa Clara County over the next 10 years Sallie explained that she is extremely passionate about how we can produce food in urban environments.
The Future Is Bright!
Sallie’s passion is the land, her community, and the results of the hard work her & her team put forth. She will continue to raise excellent grass fed beef through her efforts in responsible land management. Paicines Ranch also offers pasture finished lamb. Sallie explained that due to predator problems they’re only beginning to attempt to grow their lamb from birth. They’ve had some recent success and will attempt to bring them to market soon. Sallie expressed interest in bringing aboard someone who knew pig extremely well and having them manage the process on the land. Sallie is not versed in raising pork and she talked about the challenges in managing your domestic stock away from the wild pigs that currently roam the land. Sallie welcomes the wild pigs; their rooting and wallows provide a natural tilling for the land. Sallie explained that “the land needs some level of disturbance. We keep them out of headquarters but ultimately we don’t try and control their population. They don’t bother the cattle and we don’t bother them. We try to manage for biodiversity. The more different types of conditions you create on your landscape the more different kinds of plants and animals will be happy.”
A small portion of the land is leased out to large certified organic producers. Sallie and team work closely with those producers to manage their ‘run off’; pushing it through the wetlands before it gets to the rivers and streams. “We use the water to grow grass and clean it at the same time.” Sallie expressed the desire to bring on more small family farmers to utilize the land. She explained that the small family farm is more viable and provides more stability for the community and she would like to help this movement grow.
Sallie sees the next step for the ranch to be a ‘giant classroom’. She wants to be public with their successes and failures regarding the land management. Through this she would help teach others in her community. She wants to bring classes to the general public that focus on the ‘urban dwellers connection to sustainable land management’. She would like to teach people how to get the most out of their land without pulling too much from it and keeping it thriving; a Holistic Management for urban sustainable homesteader. Sallie is also currently working on her permaculture design certification. Eventually she sees children visiting Paicines Ranch for further education, fostering the growth of young farmers, ranchers, and future environmentalists!
In Sallie’s closing statements she emphasized she sees herself doing this for another 25 years. Throughout our conversation Sallie brought forth such a deep passion for her environment and what she is learning through Holistic Management. She’s taken the time to understand her land, the biodiversity, the ecosystem and how the pieces fit together.
I will say upfront, Sallie is easy to speak with and has an infectious enthusiasm about what she does. I admire Sallie’s passion and her motivation to tackle the environmental and community challenges that lay ahead. I appreciate Sallie taking the time to speak with me, share her story, her successes and failures, and continue being a strong advocate for our environment, community, and viable healthy protein options.
Paicines Ranch Grass Fed Beef, Events, and More
You can obtain Paicines Ranch grass fed beef and lamb directly from Paicines Ranch by making an appointment. All customers have the option to tour the ranch with advance notice. Visit the web site at www.paicinesranch.com for more ordering info.
Inquire on their pre-arranged drop points in San Jose, CA and Saratoga, CA getting their grass fed product to the customer with minimal use of fossil fuels.
Paicines Ranch beef is also available through the CSA – Eating with the Seasons, if you are a CSA customer you can order your meat directly. Stay tuned for new CSAs to be added later this year
Make reservations at Jesse Cool’s Flea Street Café, where Paicines Ranch provides meat for their weekly specials
The ranch will continue to host your best events from weddings, corporate workshops, and parties… “Anything you can think up we’d like to host here!”
Get to know your local farmers & ranchers. Stop by and say hi at your weekly farmers market. Ask questions – they welcome it! If you don’t have a farm within driving distance or want to seek out grocery stores supporting the grass fed movement check these following resources:
www.americangrassfed.org– promoting the grass-fed industry through education, govt. relations, concept marketing, and research
www.eatwild.com– a resource for safe, healthy, natural and nutritious grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy and other wild edibles.
www.localharvest.org– an online directory of farms, markets, and other resources offering sustainably-raised meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
www.eatwellguide.org– an online directory of farms, markets, and other resources offering sustainably-raised meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
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.
Ready to get to business!
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.
Lisa loves and cares for each and every one of her animals
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!
It is a crisp autumn morning. Thick fog is giving way to the emerging sun as we make our way along the winding Panoche Road. We pass by lush vineyards, dense orchards, and grazing cattle. Their backdrop is steep hills littered with tumbleweeds and wildflowers. “From highway 25 take Panoche Road, roughly 34 miles till you get to a Y in the road; veer left…” My husband and I were taking our son to visit the family operated, Douglas Ranch, whom we purchase our pasture raised pork from. We believe it is important to know and understand where our food comes from so I reached out to see if we could come out for a visit – they welcomed us with open arms. Don and Rani Douglas run Douglas Ranch, nestled in the hills of the Panoche Valley, where they train horses, pasture raise cattle, pork, and lamb, and dabble in high quality wood furniture crafting.
Although the journey would only be 34 miles the drive will take roughly an hour. The road is not well kept, windy, and at times narrows to one lane giving way to a steep hillside below. This doesn’t last too long and eventually you are driving a long stretch of road with rising golden hills as far as the eye can see. The only vehicles we passed during the drive were two road construction trucks, filling in significantly deep pot holes along the roadway. Our journey down Panoche Road took us past Claravale Farm, a raw dairy farm who has been producing high quality, natural raw jersey milk since 1927. We also passed Panoche Inn, a simple rest stop where you can grab a sandwich and a beer for a couple bucks; nothing fancy but I believe they wouldn’t have it any other way. After a few winding turns past Little Panoche Road, we approach the Y in the road, and veered left. A few yards ahead and we’ve arrived at the Douglas Ranch.
Don and Rani settled in the Panoche Valley a little over 16 years ago, where they continued raising their children and now their grandchildren. The ranch spans over 650+ acres of beautiful natural pastures. At first glance, you see miles of fencing, strategically placed wells & pumps, beautiful wooden structures, barns, stables, and corrals; none of which were in place when Don and Rani purchased the land. With a few hands, they transformed the Douglas property into a ranching paradise. Each length of fence, water line, and building were put up by Don and family. No day is “typical” at the Douglas Ranch. From sun up to sun down and in between Don and Rani are constantly on the move tending to horses, cattle, pigs, lamb, building maintenance, land management, fence repair, and the list goes on. As you look a little deeper, you begin to understand the blood, sweat, and tears it took to get Douglas Ranch where it is today.
The Douglas family chose Panoche Valley for its pristine surroundings but also for its prime land conditions. At one point in time the Panoche Hills were once part of an inland sea. When driving in you can see where the receding waterline cut into the hillside creating a staircase effect. The soil consists of marine shale, sandy and heavy with fossil resources. There are acres of level space with very few large rocks allowing prime grazing and roaming land for horses and cattle. The quality of the soil supports Douglas Ranch’s efforts to “grass fatten” their animals with choice native grasses that are plentiful throughout the year. Don explains that he continuously rotates his stock, allowing the animals to fertilize the land and native grasses to replenish, operating sustainably. They do not use chemicals or manufactured fertilizers – the land is managed by the animals, the way nature intended.
Providing natural pasture raised grass fed beef, pork, and lamb to their community was not always “the plan” of Douglas Ranch. Don was born in Minnesota but did most of his cowboy work in Montana where he learned how to train horses; and here is where Douglas Ranch got its start. Don and Rani were already in the environment because of raising and training horses. It was a natural progression when the rest of the livestock became part of their daily lives. They begin raising cattle, pork, and lamb for their family’s consumption. A few dinner party’s later and friends began asking for meat, then friends of friends, and so… here they are. Once the animals are ready for harvest, they work closely with a USDA Certified Organic processing plant to ensure the meat is properly processed and packaged for you and me, the consumer.
They are a small family ranch which means production is also small. Keep in mind they cannot nor do they want to keep up with the demand that the major grocery and restaurant chains require. It’s not natural. It takes Don several months longer to harvest an animal because he is raising them naturally. Keeping production small and allowing the animals to graze on the land as they were intended, Douglas is able to provide the highest quality natural grass-fed meats. The Douglas animals are allowed to roam freely, graze on the land, and breathe the fresh air. They are NOT by any means confined to cramped feed lots, where other animals are overstressed with minimal room to move, standing in their own feces. The Douglas animals are not given hormones or unnecessary antibiotics and they are treated humanely with minimal handling. They believe a happy, healthy animal is a tasty animal…and I too agree!
We met Rani last year at the Hollister Farmers Market. Every Wednesday we looked forward to getting our weekly “pork fix”. The market was seasonal so when it ended we were in a panic…where were we going to get our pork from? I can’t go back. I can’t un-learn what I’ve come to know about high volume food production and its negative impacts to my health, my environment, my community, and my future. Because of this, I am highly dependent on my local small farmer, such as the Douglas family. Thankfully Douglas sells directly from their website and also works with local cooperatives such as Santa Cruz Local Foods and Field to Feast. For those with room in the freezer I recommend purchasing directly from Douglas where you can buy whole, half, or quartered animals. For those with smaller storage options I recommend the local cooperatives where you can purchase individual cuts. Keep in mind that selection will be determined by harvest. It is important to understand that an animal only comes with so many parts and ordering 60 pounds of pork ribs is not an option. Several pigs would have to be slaughtered for this quantity; and that alone is wasteful.
Although they are a small operation the Douglas family still makes time to work with and give back to the community. Since 2005 Douglas Ranch has participated in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms USA (aka WWOOF), where participating members join a network of organic & sustainable practicing farms. Workers also known as Woofers, travel around the country from farm to farm. The woofers provide a service to the farm and in turn are provided food, shelter, and an education in sustainable and organic farming practices. Don and Rani were expecting two new woofers the day we came to visit. The woofers will be helping them with the landscape of the ranch and planting new trees.
I asked Don and Rani what advice they’d give to someone who was considering a life/career change into ranching. They both echoed the sentiment that they wouldn’t change anything about their lives. The Douglas family loves what they do and wouldn’t have it any other way. That said, they also strongly caution those that want to enter into the industry. On the surface, they make it look so easy but it takes work… a lot of hard work. Weekends and vacation…they don’t happen. Weekdays blend into weekends. Will the Douglas legacy continue on with the next generation? Time will tell. For now Don and Rani love what they do and are fully immersed into the “life” of the ranch. Currently their worries are not of the Douglas clan continuing the legacy; their biggest concern is what is happening in their very backyard; in their community.
Panoche Valley and all of its residents are currently under fire. Many will lose their livelihoods and their homes, both human and animal, to the possible changes that will soon happen to the valley. Solargen Energy is in the planning and approval stages of a giant solar farm. The solar panels will span over 4,700+ acres and will occupy over 1/3 of the valley floor. This land is currently used by endangered species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. The area is also used by ranchers such as Don and Rani Douglas who carefully maintain the land in step with the animals and nature. If these solar panels are put in, it would wipe out the habitats of the species listed. The grasses would be removed, creating a severe dust bowl within the valley. This would impact the farms with existing vineyards, orchards, livestock, and more. We as a planet are in need of greener resources and there is no way we can continue to waste and overuse as we do. Our planet will not survive… but this does not mean we must wipe out entire species along with hard working families who give back to their communities to use a resource in itself that just isn’t enough. There are other ways.
At the end of our visit, Don packed us up in his truck and took us around the property and the various pastures. Outside the front fence resides the pigs. Mom and piglets were resting under their shade canopy. Really mom was trying to rest and the piglets were scrambling about excited for us to visit. In the center of the field stood their 500 pound boar. He threw a few greeting grunts our way as he stood under a giant sprinkler, enjoying the spray. In the pasture next door were their lambs. They were anxious for visitors, following us along the fence line as we crossed the street to see the cattle and the lone buffalo. The backend of the property housed the horses, woofer cabins, and the mess hall. The mess hall is an amazing site, built solely of straw and mud. Only the door, windows, and roof were framed. All of the furniture inside was made by Don himself.
It was an amazing day and we are so grateful for Don and Rani opening their home to us. We are truly thankful and appreciative for people like the Douglas family who are fighting the good fight for what is our fundamental right… good, whole, healthy food! If you plan to be in the San Benito area I highly recommend a trip out to Panoche Valley and a visit to the Douglas Ranch. The views, the fresh air, and the welcoming community are well worth the trip. Lastly, I hope this read entices others to take a moment to get to know their local farmer/rancher. Besides having a better understanding of where your food comes from, you’ll be supporting your local communities, and may just make a long time friend in the process.