Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
Kevin Watt works on his poultry farm in Pescadero. He and his wife Shae-Lynn have established Early Bird Ranch near the coast that sells pasture-raised chickens and turkeys.
Kevin and Shae-Lynn Watt thought they were both destined to be professors when they met in college. Kevin was a math major and Shae-Lynn studied political science.
Kevin’s life was all about numbers and statistics as he worked teaching math at the University of California San Diego.
To unwind, he spent time in his garden. He found himself more at ease working the garden than teaching math, though.
"I like who I am when I’m gardening,” Kevin, 25, said.
His interest in gardening grew to the point he started to study sustainability and farming. He wondered if he could one day turn his interest into making a living.
So, he read "The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and found Polyface Farms in Virginia on the Internet. Polyface was featured in the movie "Food Inc.” and specializes in producing "clean meat” by raising chickens, livestock, pigs and rabbits on pastures.
Watt was so impressed by the farm he asked its owners if he could volunteer on the property to learn the craft.
When he arrived at the Shenandoah Valley farm in Virginia, he found he wasn’t the only person there willing to volunteer to learn the trade, there were many others.
Kevin loved his experience and convinced his then girlfriend Shae-Lynn to also volunteer on the Virginia farm.She loved it too.
Kevin and Shae-Lynn then decided they would become farmers. The couple searched the state looking for a suitable property to raise pasture-raised poultry. They found 10 acres in Pescadero, packed up their lives and moved to San Mateo County’s quiet coast.
They sank every penny they had into Early Bird Ranch, which they established in July.
The couple hadn’t even married yet and decided to forego a big wedding in favor of starting their farm.
The got hitched at the County Clerk’s Office in Redwood City Aug. 3.
"We just kind of slipped it in,” Kevin said.
Their first batch of chicks actually arrived two days early and the couple ended up sharing their home with the chicks before building a proper structure for them.
Their lives have been all about raising chickens and turkeys for the past two months and they are committed to making it work.
The birds are raised in mobile shelters out on grass, a method that lets the birds help themselves to wild grasses, clover and bugs and keeps them naturally healthy with exposure to fresh air and sun.
The day starts for the couple at the crack of dawn.
"What inspires us is that we are growing food that is good for the land, the animals and the community,” Kevin said.
Making a profit will be the hard part.
The couple is committed to raising the pasture-raised poultry to be affordable, so that eating healthier food can be affordable, too.
Currently, there are 500 chickens and turkeys, mostly chickens, being raised on the farm.
The farm will process 200 chickens for consumption on a weekend day about twice a month.
They raise Cornish Cross chickens, which take only eight weeks to grow to eating size. The turkeys take a little longer.
The couple believes in the importance of choice. Customers shouldn’t be told what to eat but they should be able to see how their food is grown, raised and brought to their table, they say. Their goal is to impress all of their customers, whether they judge them by the flavor of their food, how they raise and treat the birds and how they care for the land.
Raising poultry on pastures helps to heal the land and the chickens won’t feed on the same patch of ground for about another year.
The couple supplements the birds’ access to pasture with feed that is free of antibiotics and hormones.
The birds live in low-density populations and are protected from predators by 8-foot by 8-foot mobile pasture shelters that are moved every day at sunrise and mid-afternoon. This method ensures the chickens have twice-daily access to fresh and undisturbed pasture and means that their diet has a higher proportion of forage and bugs than free-ranging alone provides, the couple contend.
The couple who thought they were destined to be college professors ended up be destined to be farmers, instead.
For more information on the farm check out www.earlybirdranch.com.
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.