Meet Primal Pastures - A Tour

"The food in this country went into a dive in the last 50 years - it was the Industrial Revolution when everything was getting bigger, better, and faster which is great for machines and automobiles but not food."

Primal Pastures - their name bespeaks their purpose, and their purpose is a valiant one. With more and more people starting to care (publicly) about the foods they put in their body, it was no surprise that a farm had cropped up with the intent of delivering the best and most natural products they could. What the surprise was, however, was that there aren't more of these establishments yet. We had heard of Primal Pastures through several venues before, followed them on social media, and kept updated on their farm's activities. If you don't know who they are yet, you should get to know them and their mission (it started with chicken by the way!). Though we were checking in through social media with what they were doing, we didn't unravel the complete story until we hopped onto a tour they had in November that was open to the public and everyone's curiosity. Our first sign that we were at the right place: meeting their sheep Wanda out front, named because she wanders, hah.

"Rob had the bright idea while we were just talking; he disappeared for 5 minutes, comes back, and says 'We've got 50 chicks on order coming in two weeks.'"

Farmers (and brothers-in-law) Paul Grieve and Rob McDaniel were our guides that foggy morning and gave us the scoop straight from the source. It was inspiring to see that two men with no background in farming could rally together some support and rapidly learn what it would take to ultimately create their popular farm built upon the standards of raising meat as naturally as possible. Paul became an office in the Marine Corps after college but suffered a few physical pain problems until he tried out Crossfit and switched to a paleolithic diet. Rob is currently studying to become a PA. In a sense, both had health on their mind somewhere and after some idle talking about the lack of nutritional and well-raised food, Rob surprised the two with an impulsive purchase of 50 chicks to be delivered in two weeks' time. A scramble to get everything together quickly taught them how to start up the farm and to their surprise, the birds were sold out within two weeks of their sale being publicized (100% prepaid). The reason? "Because we were raising birds outside on grass and feeding them what they'd eat in the wild - just doing things the way we believe nature intended for things to be raised." Oh and if you were wondering what help they had in knowing everything there was to know about farming, apparently Rob's father had grown up in the mid-West, visited relatives' farms, and researched farming since 1970 (amassing 200-300 books on grass-feeding!) unbeknownst to them until they started talking about farming.

The growth was rapid, and if you have ever tried your hand at placing an order, you understand the type of waitlist that has accumulated. The month after their initial sale, they put out a stock of 100 chickens. Those sold out right away. The next month, 200 were paid for. At the time of our visit, more than 110 families were supposedly on the monthly list to get chickens. As a tip for yourself if you feel like getting a bird after reading this article, every purchaser gets put on a VIP notice list (a few days' notice ahead of selling to the public) and eggs are so popular they sell out within 15 minutes. So get on it! There's a reason they are running out so quickly - quality animals. During our visit, Paul explained that there was 2.5 acres of land for Primal Pastures but they had already outgrown it; expansion is constantly on their minds but for now, they have to outsource some of their offerings. Some of the products they are reselling include beef from a farmer in Apple Valley who has 4,000 acres of pasture land on local native grasses with a running river, pork from Cook's Pig Ranch, and eventually lamb.

We also met their neighbor Dana, owner and baker of Primal Bakeshop which is a 100% paleo bakery. Her most sold product is the Primal Bread, which she had on sale during the tour, composed of "Almond Flour, Pastured Eggs, Ground Pecans, Organic Coconut Flour, Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Raw Honey, Raw Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Himalayan Pink Salt." We tried, however, her pumpkin chocolate chip bread and boy was that a treat. We also got to meet one of their dogs, Vijay, at the first site of the tour which was the original farmgrounds of Primal Pastures. A mix of Anatolian Shepherd and Great Pyrenees, his function was to protect the chickens from wild predators...but he looked like he was tormenting them himself every once in a while. I suppose we can't blame him - they are fun to chase sometimes and he was only a pup at the time at ten months old!

So after learning a bit about Primal Pastures' history, we moved into more detailed chicken speak, going over exactly what the stages are for these birds. There were very distinct sections designated for each group of birds based on their ages. Predictably, the house with the two-day-old chicks was the most popular among the children who were along on the tour too because the yellow fuzzballs were too adorable not to fawn over (okay, I snuggled with one myself as well...). After they have grown up a bit, the chickens were moved underneath a covered space for which I have no words (see picture). Under the protection of corrugated metal, wooden beams, and chicken wire, these young ones made tittering noises constantly but were safe from predators who constantly have been jumping their electric fence. Rob noted that they were moved once in the mornings and once in the evenings to rotate their space. From there, once larger at about six weeks of age, the chickens are moved to larger hoophouses and some are kept as meat birds while others are layers.

"We don't feed or supplement them with anything we wouldn't put in our own bodies."

Overall, it was comforting to see that the chickens mainly had free range once more matured. The layers "put themselves back in at night" and the meat birds had vast areas to roam about with the protection of a structure. The white meat birds are a Cornish crossbreed bred for their large breast meat (a favorite in America) and were the choice after multiple breeds were tested including other heritage ones [Update 1/17/14: they are now using a heritage breed called "Freedom Ranger"]. The egg layers are not sold until they are done with their duties (approximately 2-3 years' time) and even then are mainly stewing birds because they are tougher. These were a mixture of 10-15 breeds including Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and others. For both types, 60% of their diets come from picking and scratching at the ground with some soy-free, GMO-free, organic supplements (made from alfalfa, organic corn, minerals, etc) given to the meat birds. That's something you can get behind, no? If you were curious as to how picking and scratching at dirt is manageable by chickens, it's because of their gizzard, an organ that stores rocks to crush grains as they pass through during digestion.

Now if you were cooing over the pictures above of the birds from chick to chicken, you'll have to keep in mind that they are ultimately being raised for slaughter. Our next walk-through that morning was to learn about how they are processed for sale. Here were the more technical details that I was not aware of. On the property, their processing equipment was out for everyone to see and all of their chicken processing is done on-site in as humanely as possible, they explained. There was a rack of "kill cones," common for chicken slaughter was chickens go into a twilight state when placed upside down. The artery is sliced at the throat and the blood drained before the birds are placed through a scolder in 145-150F water to loosen feathers. Then they are rotated through the plucker which can pluck four chickens at a time in 10-15 seconds. That sounded unbelievably fast! It looked like a washing machine and apparently some people do convert old machines into pluckers. Cleaning/rinsing is next then with plenty of water and vinegar before air chilling for 2-3 days (to "loosen them up and make them tender") and then freezing. Voila - chickens ready for market! (I found this really cool picture-by-picture tutorial here! Warning: graphic images.)

In terms of age, factory farms often slaughter at 4-5 weeks because the aging process is quickened whereas Primal Pastures processed at 8-10 weeks. These chickens when cleaned are guaranteed to be about 4-6 pounds in weight and can vary due to gender. Also, no, the males don't start showing their stereotypical rooster features until about six months old which these birds never reach. Curious about how much feed goes into this type of operation? About a ton every 5-6 weeks. Wow.

Oh as for Vijay, he has brothers. Cuddly ones at that. We drove over to the other property and were met with Bo and Duke who were always striving for attention. These hunks were taking care of the large flock of sheep that happened to fall into Farmers Paul and Rob's hands on their 250 acres.

"Poop is the lifeblood of an organic farm operation - best fertilizer you could ever ask for."

The new property where the sheep roamed is an Olympic training and qualifier ground for equestrian events, used twice a year for horses but not cared for in terms of soil fertility. The land was dead but thus just encourage the farmers to take up the challenge. Using drills to install stakes in the ground for their fencing and spreading grass seed, the farmers envisioned a better space to raise their animals to engage in holistic land management. A pond will be added in the center of it all for future ducks. Flocks of grazers will be rotated to encourage grass growth, dropping natural fertilizer. As we looked out over the land and listened to Paul speak about the 15 sheep they wanted to use when they first bought the land, I wondered why there were so many more than 15 out in the field. The backstory:

"New Frontier Family Farm said they were moving to Virginia for a homestead thing and needed to get rid of sheep. We said we'd take them but then they explained, 'We have 100 sheep and don't want to break them up so we'll cut you a deal on 100 since you remind us of them when we started.' So, we got them in May."
As for Bo and Duke, their jobs are the same as Vijay's - keep the predators away from harming the livestock.

The sheep we saw that day were Dorpers, a South African breed that was created specifically to be raised as meat. The wool looked off hanging off some of the flock but apparently this is natural and sheds off without much intervention (it's also not really worth shearing so no, you cannot purchase a Primal Pastures-sourced sweater in the future). We spotted some lambs in the mix that were about a month old too who were transitioning from breast feeding to grazing. With the sheer number of animals in the pen, it was surprising when Rob noted that there was only one ram in the lot (his name is Hans). Lucky guy.

"We've made lots of mistakes but it's good because we're still learning and not stuck in any old farming ways. We started fresh."

With so much unused space at the time, we were curious about their future expansion plans. Having run a successful Kickstarter campaign not too long ago, the duo were certainly looking to bigger and better things, some even already enacted since our visit! Eventually you will see Primal Pastures start to integrate cows into the mix at about 6-10 for dairy. There will be more sheep for grass-fed lamb. Chicken and ducks will be around for both meat and eggs, and turkeys will make an appearance for the Thanksgiving feast enthusiasts. All of this from a dream for better food out there.

We had a great time getting to know both Paul and Rob (and the rest of the Primal Pastures team), discussing the future of food and where we hope to see it all headed. Though this operation all seems lovely now, it is really only inspiring and motivational because we have become a world dependent on factory farming and big box meat; isn't this model they have going on how our past generations used to eat? We look so forward to keeping up-to-date on all that they are doing for agriculture as they move forward. If you want to join in, find them on Facebook here or take a wander around their website here. Shoot, if you get the chance, make a trip out to Temecula to visit them during their tours. We sure loved ours.

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.



  1. What an inspiration! I am glad they are doing so well. I would really like to open up a farm someday too!