July 20, 2013: Salmon Creek Ranch Tour

(This is a report from the Sonoma County Weston Price potluck and tour at Salmon Creek Ranch in Bodega)

Lesley and John Brabyn bought the 400 acre property in 2007. It was originally part of a 600 acre ranch that has forest, lots of hills (which makes it not ideal for grazing) and 2 miles of Salmon Creek.

They have New Zealand Kiko meat goats that are grazed rotationally to clear the brush from the certified organic land. Their only food is foraged. Lesley told us that goat is the most widely eaten meat in the world! They offer Halal slaughter at different times throughout the year.

They have 26 cows, Scottish Highlander and Angus, that freely roam and forage around the property. It was quite a sight to see these huge animals casually walk past the house, past our tour and up the road. Stormy, the bull, is walking past the farm store below.

They have Pekin or Pekin Hybrid ducks that are raised for 8 weeks before being processed at a USDA facility in Stockton. To be organic, poultry feed can not contain animal products but they do eat bugs and worms in the pasture. Some soy feed is used because it’s difficult to provide enough protein for their growth. While the ducks are raised organically, they cannot label the meat as ‘certified organic’ because the wax used by their processor, that is required to remove the pinfeathers from waterfowl, is not certified organic. There are no other custom processors of duck in California. Salmon Creek Ranch is the sole provider of duck to Chez Panisse and they also sell to Terrapin Creek, Peter Lowell’s, One Market and John Ash restaurants.

Their Khaki Campbell duck layers produce 40 dozen certified organic eggs/day which are sold at Whole Foods, farmer’s markets and shipped all over the US. Ducks lay their eggs early in the morning but if not contained, they will randomly lay their eggs anywhere! The ducks are herded into an enclosure at night so the eggs can be easily retrieved in the morning. The eggs are often quite dirty because the ducks will cover them with mud to keep them moist. Lesley used to hire highschoolers to wash the eggs but recently bought a $12,000 commercial egg washer to do the difficult job.

They are experimenting with raising Emden geese and possibly using them as guardians.

Their biggest challenges are weather and predators. A bad storm can easily wipe out many ducks. Anatolian shepherd dogs guard the goats, geese and ducks from mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats. The only predator that they are unable to guard against are ravens and crows. The ravens and crows will peck and eat a duck alive! They found the only deterrent to the ravens and crows is a dead one of their own species nearby.

Lesley and John also raise and show their Anatolian guard dogs and Saluki dogs.

Their daughter works for them and sells at local farmer’s markets. They are at the Wells Fargo market every Saturday, the Sonoma Valley market every other Friday, and the Bodega Bay market in the summer. And they sell off the ranch from their cute farm store. You just need to call first to let them know you are coming! Lesley and John were generous with their time and information and very gracious hosts.

By Karen Hamilton-Roth