WARNER SPRINGS – Most people don’t set up a wholesale pastured poultry operation in an area known for its mountain lion activity as much as for its orchards, yet for farmer Paul Grieve of Pasturebird, flourishing habitat is an integral part of farming.
“The important thing to us is that we build an ecosystem,” Grieve said. “Our role is to steward the land and grow a great environment for Mother Nature.”
On its newest farm site – 100 acres of a 1,000 acre parcel that meets the Palomar and Iron Spring Mountains in Warner Springs – Grieve and his family are restoring a former potato field to permanent pasture. They ensure wildlife corridors remain open and use a variety of methods to protect their chickens, in order that a variety of wildlife can pass through the property.
“We end up seeing snakes, rabbits, birds, worms, deer and coyotes,” Grieve said. “I love being able to see those guys come through the farm but not interrupt our operations. Knowing that mountain lions are around makes it even better. It means we’re doing something right.”
This sentiment, together with a variety of husbandry practices to meet the farm’s stewardship mission, has enabled Pasturebird and sister location, Primal Pastures, to become Southern California’s first farm to achieve Certified Wildlife Friendly status. Certified Wildlife Friendly recognizes farms and ranches committed to regenerative practices that enable wildlife and livestock to coexist. The farm is working to restore perennial grasslands. It uses managed, multispecies grazing practices to improve soil. It conserves wildlife corridors and relies upon proactive, humane practices to deter predators, among other key attributes. Along with peers around the globe, Pasturebird and Primal Pastures are part of a progressive wave of agriculture that models the critical role of farms and ranches in sustaining wildlife and habitat.
“Pasturebird’s commitment to transparency and raising birds the way they were meant to live is truly inspiring,” Chef Alan Latourelle of Wolfgang Puck, another satisfied customer, said.
Kitchen workers from the hospitality group’s Southern California staff recently toured the farm, gaining first-hand experience of what Pasturebird terms simply “real chicken.” Inspired by renowned grass farmer Joel Salatin of Virginia, Grieve and his family are committed to creating a scale-alternative to factory farming that cares for the land, the animals and consumers’ health.
The farm started simply enough, five years ago, from the family’s search for healthy food for its own use.
“We were paying a bunch of money for labels, but not good food,” Grieve said. “We wanted to eat meat that was not bad for the environment or our bodies. We couldn’t find what we were looking for.”
So what began with an order of 54 chickens for personal use has turned into a vocation for two generations and multiple branches of the family. Pasturebird as wholesale chicken operation opened in 2015 and is building upon the success of Primal Pastures, the family’s direct-to-consumer farm in Murrieta.
Livestock guardian dogs are integral to the farm’s ability to coexist with wildlife. While predator losses were significant in the farm’s first true commercial year, the family quickly realized the use of lethal control “didn’t jibe at all with what we were doing,” Grieve said; rather, “we were working to heal the land, heal the soil and participate with nature.”
Instead, the farm raises its own Anatolian shepherd and Great Pyrenees mix dogs as guardians. The dogs help to protect the flock, which is moved to fresh pasture daily in open-air, floorless chicken tractors. The farm vision includes having its operations become carbon-neutral in a few years, by offsetting the energy put into tractors and other equipment through its soil-building activities.
The farm’s practices mean it is a regional model.
“I am thrilled that Paul and his team are leading the way in the region by taking measures to not only protect their chickens and raise healthier ones, but simultaneously helping to keep wildlife populations and the ecosystems healthy,” Winston Vickers, a veterinarian with the Southern California Mountain Lion Project, said. “I applaud their foresight and leadership and urge others to follow their great example.”
Its efforts mean great food too.
“Seeing chickens that you can tell are happy and healthy is refreshing in this day and age,” Latourelle said. “I never thought I would be so excited about chickens. Thank you, Pasturebird, for what you do; it makes our jobs much easier.”