The Hain's 31-acre certified organic operation combines 20 acres of walnut production with a Joel Salatin-style poultry system. Paul and Leti decided to make the transition to organic walnuts after finding pesticides to be toxic, expensive and ineffective. The Hains currently raise 4,000 free-range broiler chickens with a pastured egg-laying flock. They believe that it is much more satisfying to work with nature and are dedicated to farming techniques that maintain and enhance the environment. At Hain Ranch approximately 9 acres of the property have been left in a natural state, with coppices of oaks and a riparian zone adjacent to the creek.
Wild Farm Alliance and Wildlife Conservation Board Project Overview
The ranch is part of the Tres Pinos Creek Watershed in the San Benito River Valley. Flood events in 1995 and 1998 resulted in the loss of 4 acres of walnuts to the river floodplain. Growing up near the creek inspired Paul to invest in improving the riparian areas on his land and in 2012 he and Leti began a three-year restoration project with Wild Farm Alliance and Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Funding for this project came from the California Wildlife Conservation Board, and the planting phase incorporated volunteers from Boy Scout Troup 436, staff from Pinnacles National Park, and students from the outdoor education group Naturalists at Large.
Clearing the exotic Giant Cane (Arundo donax) added to the site's ecological value, and new creekside plantings act as a riparian buffer for stabilizing the stream bank while also providing food and shelter for local and migrating wildlife. An existing hedgerow was filled in with native trees and colorful blooming shrubs to better attract pollinators and predatory beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and small parasitic wasps that assist with pest management in the walnut orchard.
Management Practices and Irrigation
Keeping the hedgerows adequately watered initially involved monitoring the plants on a regular basis and setting up a customized irrigation system. While the native plants will eventually survive without additional water, they need three years of summer watering to give them a strong start. A section of orchard has been planted with permanent pasture to supply green forage for the chickens during the seasonal production period (May through November), and in exchange, the chickens help with pest control, and their manure contributes to soil fertility. The Hains have not needed to spray for pests in over ten years, and their codling moth and husk fly head counts are at an all-time low.
Lessons Learned and Project Outcomes
The landowners envision managing their ranch in ways that are both economically viable and supportive of healthy ecosystems. Drought conditions have not only placed stress on farmers and ranchers, but also on wildlife.
When the irrigation system was first installed thirsty cottontail rabbits began chewing holes in the drip tape. Raising the drip lines 3 feet above the ground on stakes (similar to what is done in vineyard systems) fixed the issue of animal damage to the drip tape and placing water pans below some of the emitters offers a supplemental water source for wildlife.
After the plants were established, a daylong field tour was held to highlight the farm's biodiversity and this event included the expertise of the Xerces Society and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The Hain family has been involved with conservation for over 100 years, and in 1908 Paul's great grandfather Schuyler Hain led the effort to preserve what is now Pinnacles National Park. A strong conservation ethic led Paul and Leti to put the land into a living trust that eventually transfers ownership of the land to their children. Hain Ranch Organics limits distribution of their products to a local (100 miles) market thereby promoting regional food systems and reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change. Humanely raised chickens and on-farm processing provide customers with the highest quality fresh chicken available.