The Talent farm's namesake brambles are bare under early spring skies, and its three squat chicken coops huddle close to the earth.
As the former hay fields slowly return to life and their animal residents summon the strength to forage, one aspect of Ken and Susan Muller's business, Rogue Valley Brambles, is hard at work. Three car-sized solar panels are soaking up the energy needed to power heat lamps in the nearby barn, where hundreds of hatchling chickens and turkeys are growing into poultry for roasting, grilling and frying.
"We figured energy was one of the most visible and effective ways we could become sustainable," says 30-year-old Susan Muller.
The Mullers became farmers when Susan's father, Douglas Krout, died about a year after purchasing the Tarry Lane property in 2004. His wife, Margaret, couldn't farm seven acres on her own and offered the Mullers, both employed at California grocery-store chains, the chance to change careers.
"I got tired of selling pallets of Lucky Charms," says 27-year-old Ken Muller.
"I said, 'You could do whatever you want,' " Margaret Krout recalls.
The family already had a stake in berries, which Krout, 60, preserves in jams and jellies. But the Mullers wanted a more active role in the life cycle of their food. A detailed description of rotational grazing in Michael Pollan's best-selling "The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals" piqued their interest in pasture-raised poultry.
"We read about that and said, 'Well, duh,' " Susan Muller says.
Founding its flock in 2007, Rogue Valley Brambles initially sold eggs at local farmers markets. But the larger demand was for locally raised chicken, which the Mullers view not just as a strategy for successful farming but a way of contributing to the community. They plan on raising at least 1,000 chickens this year, more if they can obtain state certification as a commercial slaughterhouse.
"Eating meat that's grass-fed is huge, as far as health and the effect on the environment," Susan Muller says.
"I think they've cornered something here that nobody else is doing," Krout says.
Although Krout isn't fond of the chickens, the farm has plenty of fans. Orders already are rolling in for the year's first slaughter, slated for May. More will follow every 12 weeks, with the turkeys' turn coming shortly before Thanksgiving. Slaughtering equipment was reclaimed from a Petaluma, Calif., turkey and pheasant operation that retired with Susan Muller's grandparents.
The Mullers' slow-broiler chickens, which usually weigh 3 to 5 pounds cleaned and dressed, sell for $4.75 per pound. The operation is not certified organic, but the chickens' diet primarily consists of protein-rich bugs, seeds and blades of grass, fertilized by their own manure, which is evenly distributed over the fields daily when the Mullers relocate their coops.
"They can shake our hand, and they don't need that little seal," Susan Muller says of customers' confidence in the poultry's purity.
State regulations prohibit the Mullers from selling meat anywhere except from their own farm, but if they gain official approval, they may eventually ply their poultry to locally owned grocery stores like Ashland Food Co-op.
"The most powerful thing you can do is buy your food from a local place," says Susan Muller. "That will help all of us keep our jobs."
For more information about Rogue Valley Brambles pasture-raised poultry e-mail email@example.com or call 541-210-2278.