Meet Your Ranchers: Skyelark Ranch

Delivery of the next round of our MeatShares will be starting soon. With that in mind, I drove just a few miles down the road from Farm Shop Headquarters, (aka: our pack shed at Fiddler’s Green,) and talked to Farm Shop employee Alexis Robertson. Alexis is the Wholesale Manager for Farm Shop and owns Skyelark Ranch with her husband Gillies. Alexis and Gillies have a diversified livestock operation where they raise lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Their chickens are a part of the MeatShares that we sell to you. All of their animals are pasture raised and grown without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. Therefore, I wanted to learn more about the challenges, risks, and rewards of raising animals in an ethical and environmentally friendly way.

SW: Tell me a little about Skyelark Ranch? How did it start?

AR: Well my husband and I both did environmental studies in college specifically agro-ecology; we really fell in love with it and knew we wanted to do something in agriculture. After college both of us did some internships. Gillies interned one winter at an organic carrot farm. He spent all winter digging up carrots in the rain. Neither of us have the green thumb, so that’s when we decided we we’re not going to do veggies. Livestock was our calling instead. So we started raising chickens first, and then sheep. After we found this property in the valley, we also started raising pigs because of popular demand for them.

SW: How long have you been at this property?

AR: This is the beginning of our third year here.  We are still just getting our feet wet and trying to figure out markets and enterprising.

SW: You also raise turkeys?

AR: We also raise turkeys.

SW: Is this your first year raising turkeys?

AR: This is our second year with the turkeys. They’re a lot of work. They are probably the most work of any of our animals.

SW: What’s the biggest challenge for you with the turkeys?

AR: Well the heritage turkeys are the biggest challenge because they fly and are very curious.  They would love to just follow us into the house and hang out with us all the time. It’s a constant movement of turkeys. They want to keep themselves occupied and us as well.

SW: What about chickens? How many chickens are you raising?

AR: We will raise about 600 chickens at a time. We get new chicks every other week so they are all of them in different stages of their life.

SW:  Do you have any lambs still?

AR: We had two lambing seasons last year: a fall and a spring lambing. Our fall lambs are now eight or nine months old now and are just about ready for harvest.Our spring lambs will be ready later so that will enable us to have lamb to sell throughout the year.

SW: And how many pigs are you raising?

AR: We have two sows, a boar, and nine piglets.The females in this liter we will keep so that we can keep growing our swineherd.

SW: What is your favorite animal to raise?

AR: We definitely like the sheep the most. The pigs have the best personality but they can also be very destructive. We like the sheep because of our background. All of our animals are pasture raised and we use our animals as environment management tools.  The sheep fit most closely to this model because they don’t require any additional feed except for hay at certain times of the year. We can move the sheep around the property and use them for star thistle management, thatch management, or as fire prevention tool because they eat brush.

SW: How is pasture raising different from raising animals conventionally?

AR: Every farm is different, but a pasture-raised system basically means that the animals are outside on grass. The animals are then able to forage for alternate sources of food.  The chickens are scratching around eating bugs and grass. That makes a huge difference in quality of life because they are not just standing in their own poo. They are able to run around in the sun and get vitamin A. It also makes a big difference in the quality of meat. It tastes better and the meat has more omega 3’s.

SW: Is it hard parting with the animals?

AR: People ask me that all the time.With the turkeys, we are pretty happy when they are going down the road; that’s a good day. But it is hard. It’s something that you get used to I guess, to a certain extent. You have to go into it with a mindset that they had a good life. You also know that these animals are not going to be pets. Their purpose is to make meat.

SW: What is the worst thing that can happen when you are raising animals?

AR: The worst thing that can happen is when (an animal) dies while you are raising it. If you make a mistake something dies and that is a really hard lesson to learn. This past week was actually really hard. We had something come and take a lamb, and the owls were after the turkeys. It was a rough week but we recovered.

SW: How do you keep owls from getting to the turkeys?

AR: We try a lot of things. This is a big dilemma for us because we are both really interested in wildlife. We like owls but we don’t want them taking our turkeys and chickens. One thing we tried was playing the radio at night to keep them away, but it is always a challenge finding wildlife-friendly solutions.

SW: What is your favorite cut of meat?

AR: I think probably lamb chops are my favorite, and I didn’t grow up eating lamb so it’s an acquired taste.

SW: How do you like to prepare them?

AR: I like to pan sear them on high heat for one minute on each side then reduce the heat and cook them for another three or four minutes or until they have reached the done-ness I prefer. I season mine with salt and pepper, some olive oil, a little rosemary and then you are ready to go!

SW: What else do you want people to know about raising animals and Skyelark Ranch?

AR: We love what we do and we love being able to provide great quality food to people. For people to say thank you and really appreciate what we do is really rewarding.  It is the best thing about it!

By Farm Shop team member Seth Wright

 

WHO WE ARE

We are a network of over 40 small, family farms that offers 100% local, seasonal food.

WHERE WE ARE

Our pick-up locations.
We currently serve the San Francisco Bay Area through public and private pick-up sites. Our public sites include: San Francisco Avedano's and Cheese Plus, Palo Alto Calafia Cafe, Redwood City The Grind.