Half-Wild Farm is a pasture-based egg operation run by Marty Renner. His folks, Peter and Heather Renner, lend a big hand in the day-to-day tasks (and occasional emergencies). For over 15 years, Marty has worked in sustainable agriculture, both directly as a farmer and farm laborer and indirectly as a historian specializing in the subject. While doing archival research in graduate school, Marty somewhat accidentally discovered the largely forgotten history of commercial-scale pastured poultry and became fascinated by the possibility of reviving it. In 2010, he began experimenting with pastured eggs on acreage at Singing Frogs Farm. Despite many initial missteps and mistakes, the experiment turned into a small business. In 2012, Peter and Heather bought the beautiful property next to the Laguna de Santa Rosa that became the new home of the Half-Wild Farm chickens. With the support of our customers, we've been tending and improving the acreage ever since.
At Half-Wild Farm, we have two goals. First, we strive to include wild nature as much as possible into the daily life of the farm. Agriculture, in our view, does not have to be a zero-sum contest between humankind and the rest of nature - both can be enriched at the same time. Second, we want to provide you with really good eggs. By really good, we mean eggs with outstanding flavor, texture, and nutritional quality that come from chickens raised as respectfully and naturally as possible.
Half-Wild Farm is pasture-centered. We rotate our chicken flocks onto fresh plots of pasture several times a year. Lengths of movable electrified netting make a temporary, four-foot high fence around the plots, which keeps out predators such as foxes, coyotes, and skunks. The electric shock is strong enough to act as a pain deterrent to animals (including tired humans who forget to turn off the fence charger), but weak enough not to cause death or injury.
Inside the pasture plots, the chickens are provided with certified organic feed, as well as water, supplemental minerals, and structures to provide shade and protection from the rain. During the day, the chickens roam around the plots, scratching and pecking for highly nutritious greens, seeds, and insects. They are also free to take dust baths, which aids in maintaining healthy plumage and controlling parasites. At night, the chickens sleep in mobile coops placed out on the pasture. Solar-powered automatic doors, timed to open at dawn and close at dusk, provide a second line of defense against potential predators.
OUR FARMING METHODS
One of the key elements in our farming program - periodically rotating the chickens off pasture plots - allows the vegetation there to grow back and reestablish itself. Insect populations, too, are allowed to recover. Keeping the flocks on only one portion of our farm at any given time also opens up the remainder of it to wildlife - we prefer to think of the boundary between our farm and nature "out there" as permeable and fluid. All the better for us, since bringing wild nature closer to our door makes it easier to observe and learn from!
In our experience, combining pasture and poultry benefits both. Chickens instinctively scratch the ground with their feet in search of food. This scratching, repeated day after day, breaks up mats of dead vegetation and aerates the soil surface, which prepares an ideal seedbed for the next generation of grasses, clovers, and herbs that are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals. The chickens distribute an even layer of fertilizer, also known as poop, in the course of their daily foraging expeditions around the pasture plot, helping these plants to thrive. As a result, the chickens are assured a nutrient-rich "pasture buffet" the next time they are rotated onto the plot. This buffet of greens and insects not only helps to keep the chickens healthy, it is also what makes our eggs so tasty and nutritious.
THE BIG PICTURE
Our farming methods provide wider ecological benefits as well. As the pasture vegetation becomes thicker and healthier, soil structure improves and organic matter builds up. This, in turn, improves the capacity of the ground to retain water, which means that the pastures stay greener, longer. Greener, richer pastures provide worms, pollinating insects, and other wildlife with more food. In addition, more carbon sunk into our fields in the form of soil organic matter means less carbon dioxide - one of the greenhouse gases driving anthropogenic climate change - in our planet's atmosphere. By giving our chickens certified organic feed, we are also supporting grain farmers who are committed to building soil, keeping pesticides and herbicides out of the environment, and restoring biodiversity to our agricultural lands.