Raising beef on the range
David Evans with a few of his charges at his Point Reyes ranch.
Photograph by Lane Johnson
Spend five minutes with David Evans and you’ll see he is a farmer at heart, but with a businessman’s brain. Cost-and-benefit ratios figure prominently in his conversation as he talks about “pasture finishing” cows, the drawbacks of running a traditional beef operation, and the amount of time it takes for cows to turn over, or be ready for market.
At 40 years old, Evans is the owner of Marin Sun Farms, a grass-fed beef and chicken ranch in western Marin County. On Evans’ 382 acres of rolling grassland, a few miles from the Pacific, cattle graze on nothing but grass for their entire lives.
“Our animals choose what they eat; we don’t feed them,” Evans says. “They eat from a poly-culture pasture that has different types of grasses with different root depths. When an animal gets to choose what it eats, it can better round out its diet.”
Local ranchers sell Evans their young calves that are too small for harvesting. He fattens them up on grass for about two years, then sends them off to the slaughterhouse. The process is known as “pasture finishing,” and it’s made viable by the Bay Area’s demand for grass-fed beef.
Marin Sun Farms’ cows are trained to Evans’ call. “I say, ‘Here, boys; here, girls’ and they come running,” he says. “It allows me not to have to use horses or dogs. I can call the cows and move them anywhere I want them. It keeps them very calm.”
Evans knows his way around a cow. Ranching has been in his family for four generations.
“I grew up on the ranch next door, the historic H Ranch,” Evans says. “When I started Marin Sun Farms, that was where we were located. But it was also my parents’ home and my sister’s home, and it was a little crowded…. So it was really a blessing when my uncle retired and offered that I take over his lease on this land.”
The 100 Hereford and Angus cattle currently on Evans’ ranch share the land with about 3,000 chickens, a mix of laying hens and meat birds. Like the cattle, the chickens range free, pecking at grass and insects. Evans believes raising animals on grass is an earth-friendly alternative to traditional ranching.
“It’s not all about getting the animals fat. That has to happen, but we also treat the ground and the grasses right, so over time we’re building more and more productive pastures.”
Treating the land right is of great importance to Evans’ landlord, who happens to be the National Park Service.
“We’re part of Point Reyes National Seashore,” Evans says. “When my great-grandfather bought this land in 1939, it was private property. In 1960, legislation was passed to form the seashore. Eventually our lands were bought by the government and we negotiated lease-backs for our family.”
In addition to running the ranch, Evans hosts farm tours from April to September.
“The whole idea of a local food model is to provide transparency. Our farm tours are the pinnacle of that. People can come and talk to me, the person who is producing their food, and ask me any questions they want. We need to get back to a better relationship between the person producing the food and the person consuming it.”
To taste the grass-fed meat from Marin Sun Farms, stop in for lunch at its Point Reyes Station café and butcher shop (415.663.8997, www.marinsunfarms.com), or look for its products at farmers’ markets in San Francisco, Marin, Kensington, and Montclair. Marin Sun Farms also has a retail shop in Oakland and a nearly 500-member CSA.