Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food

243 Paul Greive – How the biggest exit in regeneration led to millions of more chickens on pasture

August 18, 2023 Koen van Seijen Episode 243
Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food
243 Paul Greive – How the biggest exit in regeneration led to millions of more chickens on pasture
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A conversation with Paul Greive, founder of Pasturebird, about rising millions of birds on pasture per year, selling to one of the largest chicken producers in the world, the positive impact of chickens, and much more.

Can chickens ever be regenerative? With Paul we discuss the impact on degraded farmland, replacing fossil fuel and toxic fertilisers and, of course, one of the biggest exits in the regen space!

Not many can say that they build a successful pasture chicken operation, sold it to a 8 billion a year chicken company and, after this successful exit, continued from within this massive corporation to scale pasture-raised birds to millions of chickens. So, do we need big ag in the regeneration transition?

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Speaker 1:

Imagine you want to grow some healthy food for your family and friends and order somehow I don't know, I know it sounds weird 50 chickens through Facebook. You sell them and sell them all actually very fast, and you do the next batch and the next batch and it's getting a bit out of control. So soon you're doing 600 birds a week, but of course you're running into trouble. You're selling quite a lot to chefs and the sales part is not the issue, but you're very dependent on an expensive feed, broilers, processing, slaughter, and then you take a very difficult decision you sell your at the time the largest pasture-raised chicken company in the US says more about the sector than about this company to one of the largest chicken producers in the world. Yes, it's family owned this one, but it still does 8 billion in revenue. It's a very large organic producer but has also 21,000 employees and is definitely not pasture-raised. So what happens next? Many can guess this because we've seen it so many times before. The founder leaves the company as soon as he can or she can. The senior management does the same. The big corporate ticks over and starts to cut costs, downgrade the practices and basically the long way down starts. But in this case that didn't happen. The founder is still there. We talked to him today. The impact has been enormous. Millions of birds are raised on pasture every year because of this accident sale. And of course, it's not been without downsides. We cover them as well in the interview. But overall it seems like it had a net positive outcome, a very successful one of the few exits in general in the regenerative space. So we dive deep into the positive impact of chickens. Can they ever be regenerative? We still have a long way to go. The impact on the graded farmland, replacing fossil fuel and toxic fertilizer, of course, the nutrient density of pasture-raised birds. And one of the biggest exits in the space Enjoy. What are the connections between healthy farming practices, healthy soil, healthy produce, healthy gut and healthy people? Welcome to a special series where we go deep into the relationship between regenerative agriculture, practices that build soil, health and the nutritional quality of the food we end up eating. We unpack the current state of science, the role of investments, businesses nonprofits, entrepreneurs and more.

Speaker 2:

We are very happy with the support of the Grandham Foundation for the protection of the environment for this series. The Grandham Foundation is a private foundation with a mission to protect and conserve the natural environment. Find out more on grandhamfoundationorg or in the links below.

Speaker 1:

Welcome to another episode Today with the founder of pasture bird. Welcome, Paul.

Speaker 3:

Hey, thanks for having me, kahn, I'm excited.

Speaker 1:

There is so much unpacking here, but let's start for anybody. Of course, I'll put the link below and other interviews you've done as well, but just for people. This is an audio medium, so let's try to talk visually. Let's get into what is pasture bird first, and then we get into your journey. What is pasture bird? We're currently recording May 2023. I don't think it's changing that much, but if you had to edit in a party, somebody asks what do you do exactly, paul? And then you had to, in between the dishes and in between the different plates, explain it.

Speaker 3:

What do you normally say. So in the grand scheme of things we're a very small poultry company and we're probably the world's largest pasture raised chicken company. So we operate in this very weird sort of in between space. But our secret sauce is all around raising broilers so meat chickens outside on pasture and moving them to fresh pasture every single day. The birds are allowed to forage and pick and scratch for bugs and worms and also heal degraded cropland. So that's kind of what we're into. We sell chicken as a byproduct.

Speaker 1:

And so the service is regeneration. And how did you get into that space? Because it's not that you can tap into a family history company of pasture bird at scale, because it just wasn't there, like at some point. You, you with other people obviously, but you created that. What made you create the world's largest pasture raised bird company on the planet?

Speaker 3:

It was a. I'm a city kid, born and raised in Seattle Washington, and I went into the Marine Corps after college and I contracted Lyme disease during sniper school and started having a bunch of health problems. And my family wanted to eat better and we were looking for organic produce and pasture raised meats and we could kind of find almost everything except for pasture raised chicken in our area. So on a whim, ordered 50 chickens for our backyard, just for ourselves, like as a little hobby.

Speaker 1:

Because it was the minimum 50, because otherwise you do 10 or something just to keep them alive?

Speaker 3:

That's actually, yeah, it's a great question. For some reason the story actually goes. We were joking around about getting some chickens for the backyard and my brother-in-law took it seriously, left the room for about 10 minutes and came back and he said hey, I ordered those 50 chickens that you guys were talking about. And we said what are you talking about? We weren't talking about really ordering those, you know. And yeah, 50 came. We were big fans of what Joel Salatin does in Virginia here in the US and we followed kind of his daily move. You know, covered principles from scratch and it was never meant to really be a business, it was just a hobby for our family. But one thing led to another and it blossomed into what it is today.

Speaker 1:

But I mean there are a few steps there. And how did you stumble upon the Joe Salatin of this world and because that's I mean Michael Pollan made him pretty famous with the Omnivore Dilemma. But still you were going deep into the health side and somehow went into that specific part of the health side animal protein, et cetera. You could also take another exit Totally. Do you remember, how you like, why the protein side became so important to you?

Speaker 3:

Yes, so, like you, my family was interested in Alan Savry's stuff before he was what he is today following the TED Talk and all that. So my father-in-law has been a general contractor pretty much his whole life but he always wanted to raise cattle and he had read Savry's stuff since the 1980s and he always had these weird books laying around and nobody really knew what he was doing in his office and reading all this weird stuff and I think we probably saw Omnivore's dilemma started to connect the dots that well, this stuff is the same stuff that my father-in-law, tom, has been talking about for so many years and it kind of just connected the two.

Speaker 1:

And then, okay, how do you go from 52? How many chickens are you raising, more or less? I mean, you're part of a much bigger company, which we'll talk about later. I don't know how much you can disclose, but it's safe to say you added a few zeros. And how do you go from 52 to add?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, we're raising millions of birds per year. Now you know, I wish it was this beautiful linear path where everything was planned out. We had a 10-year plan. It wasn't at all. We had a few breakthroughs, so that 50 birds which was meant for our family, we essentially listed them out on Facebook and kind of offered them up to friends and family, and all 50 sold out. So then the next time we decided to do 100, and then after that 200, and then after that, you know, 400.

Speaker 1:

Where did you raise them, Like how big is your backyard? Because you wanted to move them regularly, because that's what you read Like you need quite a bit of time.

Speaker 3:

My wife and I were living in Newport Beach I was working as a CPA and I was in grad school doing my MBA but her parents had a small place out in the country so they had about I would call it a quarter acre backyard so maybe a large backyard, but definitely not a farm, but it was enough space to do, like one, you know, two Joel Salatin style coops and move those every single day. And then our big breakthrough probably came in 2013, 2014, when the LA Lakers, which is a really influential basketball team out here Kobe Bryant was on the team and some of these guys they reached out because they wanted our protein for their players' meals and they sent their team chefs out, kind of this whole thing and we got to start working with the Lakers and then, right after that, the LA Dodgers, which is our big baseball team out here, and that just it's not that the orders were huge, but it really gave us this like vote of confidence that what we were doing was impactful and we wanted to scale.

Speaker 1:

Because at that point you already incorporated, you were an official company. You were not doing this only for family and friends anymore.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it had gone beyond, but we we didn't. You know, in 2014 we quit our jobs, we moved into this little 1700 square foot house. There was like nine of us living in this little three bedroom house and we said we're just going to put everything on the table, reinvest all the profit that we can and try to grow this thing. So I think that that that contract with the two pro sports teams really like gave us the confidence to go for it.

Speaker 1:

And then you could have gone down the route of very high end I mean, let's say not too automated and all of that, but you didn't. You definitely like, when did the let's regenerate, let's say, hurt farmland and have chickens as a byproduct? When did that come into play? Because that's not the backyard of your family, a lot Like that's a different mindset. Okay, let's go into very big fields. You can see it on LinkedIn, you can see it on on the website as well. This is a different, almost almost a different company or different approach.

Speaker 3:

It developed, I think, over time. I didn't grow up in agriculture so I didn't even know a lot of the problems that existed in ag. And as we dove in and we started to study and understand the whole thing with the crop fields really came because, raising monogastric, we have a lot of grain inputs into our system, so we buy a lot of you know, monocrop corn and soybeans that feed our system. I said, well, this can't really be regenerative as long as we're buying all these off farm inputs. That doesn't really make sense. So then the mindset started to become well, how could we eventually produce our own grains in this like circular system in a regenerative way? And the other thing that happened is we just you know, I didn't come up with money, nobody in my family came up with money and we're raising this small scale, very niche product selling to people like the Lakers and the Dodgers and, you know, wealthy people around Southern California. And it was just this weird feeling like my parents couldn't have afforded what we're producing right now. And how are you really going to move the needle and change the world if you're basically producing food for rich people? And it became really this like interesting confluence of wanting to impact large scale monocrops and heal these crop lands and also bring down the cost of nutrient dense. You know, pasture as poultry and we started to develop this idea of like. I think this space needs scale in order to be like, viable.

Speaker 1:

And then do you remember bringing out the birds for the first time on one of those fields and how did that go? Because of course the size needs to be different than your typical gelatin-style, like chicken caravan, like, did you contact the farmer? Did the farmer contacted you? Is that a guy of a service to offer, or how did that even start?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so we we'd probably at least six different farms. You know, we didn't have any money again so we weren't going out and buying land or anything like that. We were just always looking for good places to lease. And I remember driving by this old potato field that was about 40 minutes from where we were farming and I looked out and it was just this dusty old field. You could tell it was just devoid of life and it had been fumigated and you know all the different chemicals had been sprayed on it for the last 50 years. And the agent that I was with said, oh, that's this old, you know historic potato family out here In Southern California. They said don't, don't really bother calling, there's nothing going on here. You know you're not going to get the spot. And I said I'm just gonna give it a try Found the phone number, called him up and, as fate would have it and this has happened many times throughout our business, just this kind of lucky breaks or God's looking out for us, you know and they said you know, it's funny, you called right now. We decided not to plant potatoes anymore and we just wanted to look for somebody to lease the land from us, and I mean this, this field. The first day we got out there your boot, you know, when you step into this sandy, dusty field your boot would drop like 12 inches into the soil or dirt is really what it was.

Speaker 1:

I just even after your chickens into that? Yeah, for sure.

Speaker 3:

Well, not only that, because it's kind of hard to call it pasture-raised chicken when it's just a bunch of dirt, you know, and it took several years before we could add cattle in, because it was just little weeds, you know, popping up here and there and it was really hard to get anything going. They had not farmed that field for a couple years, so it wasn't like we're putting them on to toxic chemicals or anything like that, but they had been definitely disking it and telling it for several years before we got there. So there wasn't much soil life left. It was actually less than 1% organic matter and we started putting the birds on, rotating them, moving them. You know, in hindsight the stuff sounds really easy, but it's like it just took many years to start to get that soil healthy and now it's at almost 4% organic matter. I mean, this year we have grass like waste high. We added a lot of cattle to help manage the ground because the chickens really don't like very tall grass, so we use the cattle as a lawnmower system and it's just this beautiful, complex, dynamic ecosystem with a bunch of deer and birds and coyotes and snakes and there's so many pollinators out there and we have resident bald eagles on the farm and it's like this really. You know, flourishing habitat, so it's been really fun. How many years is that and did you end up?

Speaker 1:

buying that, or did you do it for his old potato family?

Speaker 3:

Did it for the potato family man, and that leads into what's coming next for me and stuff that I'm focused on. Next is just it's hard to do regenerative when it's on leased land, because I just provided millions of dollars of ecosystem services that I paid for. It's like wait, why am I paying for this? That doesn't really make a lot of sense, but in a lease model that's just the way it goes. So it was over the course of about seven or eight years.

Speaker 1:

So you lease the land. How does the pasture bird model works these days, like how do you operate, how do you find the land, how do you integrate within rotations of the farms and farmers you work with, and then we unpack the other stuff you're working on, of course.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so there's probably two models or maybe three models in operation now. We've moved everything from California to Georgia to help with cost. The cost of farming in California is just ridiculously high. I think it's probably on par with some things you see in Europe. So we've moved everything to Georgia where the cost is a lot more competitive. We have probably the model where we own the land, we own the coops, we manage everything. We call that like a company farm. We also have more of like a contract farming model where we would put our coops onto another farmer's land and they would manage the coops. So there still are chickens, it's our feed, but they would actually manage the coops on their land. And so you could see like a row cropping model where these guys are integrating on, say, 100 acres out of their 1000 acres of row crop and they're putting it in just like a crop rotation, where they'll put corn crop or a soybean crop into pasture for three years, five years, they'll graze the birds on it and then they'll move it to another field later on in a true rotation with row crops. Or a hay model which is pretty popular in Georgia, where they're growing hay for cattle and they can actually stack the poultry right onto that hay field. Both models are really cool. I don't like have a preference necessarily on either one, but they're definitely these ecosystem services model, where you're getting a lot of fertility from the monogastric animals and then of course, we add in the cattle as well.

Speaker 1:

And you touched upon the feed before as well, like how have you tried to make that as circular, as regenerative as possible? And what are still exciting ways to push that further? Because, of course, as for, they're not ruminants, which means they need input and many people forget that, like, the feed part is very important, especially in these times as well, with crazy prices. Like what have you been doing there to reduce that as much as possible and not be so vulnerable?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, try to be as transparent as possible and I'm kind of the first one to say, like monogastric is so hard to do regenerative, and I think there's this misconception that like we're right there with the cattle guys. No, I would say cattle are much farther along on being truly regenerative, like whole system regenerative. We're doing some really important regenerative stuff on farm. As far as the grains, you know, the best that we've kind of gotten to is sourcing locally, trying to find farmers that are doing cover crops and doing some no till, which is probably 25% of our feed supply right now. But we've had a long ways to go before I would call the system kind of full scale regenerative because of the feed sourcing piece. There's a lot of room for improvement still there.

Speaker 1:

And then on the nutrient side, because you've shared some very interesting data on LinkedIn and other places. But you're also saying we're very early. Doesn't mean also those two systems like hay versus the other one? Do you see differences there? Or you're also saying, like maybe a nutrient density, we are super early still because we have so much more space to go in terms of different feed, different types, other quality, etc. Where do you feel we are? Sorry, this is not a very concrete question. Where do you feel we are in terms of nutrient density, because you have been quite vocal about it.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I mean I would say yes to everything that you just asked. Like, on the hay side, it's unbelievable when you see where the chickens have gone. I mean you could see this dark green, lush strip of grass behind where the chickens grazed. And then, in addition to that, the partner that we are doing the hay and poultry business with. He was using synthetic chemical fertilizer to grow his hay crop before and he's been able to completely wean himself off of the synthetic input and just use the chickens to fertilize his field. And so it's like I don't know. I don't have answers to exactly what that does for nutrient density, but I can imagine when you wean off of chemical inputs and you turn on naturals and biologicals, like fresh chicken manure spread in like a very responsible way, that's got to do something for the nutrient density of that grass that you're going to go back and feed to the cattle. It also does a big service to his bottom line because instead of spending for chemical fertilizer, we're paying him now to raise poultry for us, so it's a big win for him economically. You know, on the nutrient density side, with the poultry we have been able to study this, I would say, in depth, but there's still a lot more to go. So we worked with HRI labs and also several other labs to look at the difference of our chicken compared to like a barn raised bird or organic bird or an outdoor access or you know what I call like fake pasture raised chicken, which is getting pretty popular here in the US Now and it's it's pretty astounding. You know you talk about like omega threes, vitamin A, vitamin E, a lot of your micronutrients, supplement kind of stuff that people would take it's. It's shockingly higher between 50% higher and sometimes 12 times higher in a lot of key vitamins and micronutrients. The hard thing with the nutrient density piece is how do you convey that to consumers in a way that they understand and it makes sense to them in a quick retail environment? I think that's where I'm still trying to wrap my head around how to how to really explain that to people.

Speaker 1:

You know yeah, because that will unpack that in a bit. But you're so where do the chickens go to? In a sense, you're selling retail, you're. You say we grow millions of birds, so this is not a small operation. This is not you every Saturday on a farmer's market or some Facebook selling it to friends. And so how did that happen? And then it explains why you have a few seconds in the supermarket shelf and a bit of packaging to to explain that incredibly complex story. And let's get to. How do you get in supermarkets?

Speaker 3:

to begin with, we actually cut our teeth originally in a direct, you know, delivery and farm pickup. So back in 2012 to 2015, we would organize meet up spots and we would drive all over Southern California hand delivering. I mean, we had chicken, beef pork, you know, wild fish, honey, classic, sort of like CSA style model, and as great as that was, and actually that business still exists today. That's called primal pastures. It's a business that we're really proud of and my family still owns and operates. It felt like if we wanted to have a bigger impact, we needed to focus on something that we thought we could do a good job with.

Speaker 1:

So we said all right, you're still selling to rich people, yeah.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and we did this thing you know SWAT analysis. So what can we do that nobody else can do? We looked at our climate, we looked at land prices here in Southern California, kind of processing availability, and we came back to all these reasons why we felt like we could really make a dent with poultry and so we started to really focus on the poultry side. We raised some money on the poultry side and we went right into the restaurant business because we didn't understand retail, we didn't have the money for packaging and shelf space and all these different things. So we just started working with a bunch of really high-end chefs around Southern California and they loved the product. We were able to do it at a price where they could make it work and we would go in, we would hand deliver to the first maybe 10 restaurants. Then we started picking up some distributors, more or less because they got mad we were taking some of their business, and so these distributors came in and they said hey, let us distribute your product. That took us up to like I would say like 3,000, almost 6,000 chickens per week, which is a sizable I mean, that's already the biggest pasturized chicken business in the US 6,000 chickens per week.

Speaker 1:

They loved it for flavor. I can imagine they were all flavor. That's what they searched for.

Speaker 3:

You talk to a chef about nutrient density and they'll literally fall asleep while you're in their office. So it's like you only talk about flavor and you demo the product and story. They care about the story and the local piece and all that. It was really a healthy restaurant business for us up until like 2019, 2020, when the whole world pretty much took a crap. We always wanted to be in retail. We always felt like our customer is really in retail in the mid to high-end grocery. That's where they want to shop at, that's where they really care about it. So after the partnership with Purdue, that's what really unlocked retail for us and we've been probably 95% retail ever since 2020.

Speaker 1:

And Purdue came in. There was an exit came in because of COVID. That already happened before, or was it? I mean, I'm not saying forced, but of course restaurants closed. But how did that come about? Because there are not so many exits we can look at, let's say, in the region space.

Speaker 3:

Now we're incredibly fortunate with our timing. We closed the deal with Purdue in November of 2019. So it was just before the whole world went insane and I don't know what would have happened if that would have been delayed another three months. I have a feeling we'd be having a different conversation today. The thing with Purdue really started in 2015 when we raised some angel groups and we were out kind of doing these business plan competitions and trying to refine our business model but also win some grant money. We had a group from a local angel organization as a judge for one of those business plan competitions that said, hey, you really ought to come and present to our angel group, and we felt like we weren't really ready yet but we thought it would be good practice. So we went and we showed our deck to this group of maybe 100 angels and they were really interested in what we were talking about with scaling regenerative egg and scaling this poultry model, and nobody in the room had any egg experience at all. So it was more or less very confusing to them. But we ended up with an offer from them about three months later for a seed check pre-revenue kind of seed check and we ended up doing the deal with them in 15. And then I would say we never really got to a proper series A, but it was seed, a little bit of seed plus a little bit of debt financing. I'm happy to go into more of that. We probably raised like a total of 2 million total, something like that.

Speaker 1:

Because there's quite a bit of working capital in the berets and the coups and the tech.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it really is.

Speaker 1:

On the field.

Speaker 3:

In 2018, we realized that we're not going to have a big impact as an independent poultry company because we don't have our own hatchery, we don't have our own slaughterhouse, we don't have our own trucks. We're missing all of these really expensive, capital intensive parts of the business. So it'd be far more effective for us to try to partner with somebody who has all that, rather than try to raise 50 to 100 million dollars and build all that ourselves.

Speaker 1:

Was it a difficult decision joining, let's say, one of the big poultry companies that let's say, in many cases that don't operate the way you do or would like them to do.

Speaker 3:

I think it was probably one of the hardest decisions of my life the first four years of our business. If you would ask me, I would say Big Ag is the whole problem. It's the devil. I mean, everybody in there is bad. I would have said only bad things about it. As I got farther and farther into it, I think I came to the realization that A people are people, so the people inside of these organizations are actually probably good-willed people that mean well. We may see the world a little bit different, but I don't think that they're inherently like evil people or something like that. And B if we want to leave it better. If these big ag companies are genuine about wanting to do things differently, we should welcome the opportunity to help them kind of shift, the kind of tack the boat, or tack the Titanic, if you will. And so when we got the opportunity to start talking to Purdue in 2018, I was really skeptical. I thought they were just trying to steal our IP and probably go out and fake it or something.

Speaker 1:

But the better we got to know and that would have been fake.

Speaker 3:

Pastor Bird. Yeah, and they easily could have done that. To be honest, that's what a lot of companies are doing right now. It's sort of stationary houses with outdoor access and they call it Pastor Raise and they say it's regenerative or civil pastor or all this stuff. And I thought there was a lot of honor in them coming to us and asking us how we think about doing this stuff at scale and taking us seriously. I thought that was pretty cool. They also had led the industry by example. So within the big ag space, Purdue was the first to remove antibiotics full tilt. They were the first to really enter the largest player in certified organic in our country. They had acquired Nyman Ranch, which is a really well respected pork company that's well known for taking good care of their farmers and producing some really good pork. It's not regenerative and it's not Pastor Raise and they don't pretend that it is, which I really respect, but they do some amazing things on the Nyman side. And then they also acquired Panorama Grass-fed Meats, which is a certified organic, grass-fed, grass-finished beef outfit here in the Western US. So because of all those things and getting to know their objective team.

Speaker 1:

So you called them, I mean, I mean you called the Namans, you called the founders of Panorama, just to understand like, okay, looking back a few years, are you happy with this?

Speaker 3:

Exactly, and that was like a it wasn't a check in the box, it was like I really need to know have they taken good care of this? Have they stewarded it? Well, you know, are any of the original people still involved? And sure enough, you know a lot of them were and I think that that's probably speaks volumes. A lot of times you see these exits where the founders just want to disappear and go up and do their next thing. You saw a lot of these early type of people still involved in these business. I thought that was pretty meaningful to me.

Speaker 1:

So how, how is it changed? I mean everything, probably, but how has it changed since then? Like, what has it meant for for Pastor Bird, apart from the fact that getting into retail in a time where retail was very important. But, like, describe the A and B, the before and after?

Speaker 3:

Well, I'll start by saying what hasn't changed, which I'm I'm really proud of. The way that we're raising the birds has only improved since joining forces with Purdue. So a lot of people will say, oh, how do you maintain your integrity, how do you make sure they're not just going to take it and dumb down your standards and all that stuff? We created a very, very simple pass or fail model for Pastor Raise and that's that every bird has to spend the majority of its life on Pastor to be called Pastor Raise. And we built this whole protocol around it where it would be a violation of USDA principle for us to slap Pastor Raise on something that was not actually living on Pastor for most of its life. It can't be 100% of its life because chickens you know when they're baby chicks, they need climate control, they need brooding and all that stuff. So they can't be on Pastor for the first couple of weeks, but minimum 51% of their life, recorded every single flock. We record by a flock calculator and we mark every single day that they're on Pastor or not, and if that's not the majority of their life, that's fine. It's just not going to be sold as Pastor Raise. So I feel like that very clear black and white standard has helped us a lot within Purdue to make sure everybody's on the same page. What has changed? I would say retail has been an enormous learning curve for me. It's been really cool to build a team. It's been really interesting to be part of this. You know 100 year old, historic poultry company where I can call some of the best conventional chicken people in the world and I think the natural and regenerative and organic world often shuns the kind of conventional side and the conventional side often shuns the natural and regenerative side. And I think having this mutual respect and, you know, having some of these guys on speed dial where we can ask some of these more complicated technical questions and actually they do have a lot to add, especially in something like brooding for us Brewding is largely the same whether you're doing it conventionally or regeneratively. You know, taking care of these little baby chicks for the first couple of weeks that was the hardest part of our business, like once you get them up, old enough to be on pasture and you're just moving them every day. To be honest, it gets a lot easier at that point. So having these experts within the company that we can call on a daily basis, is like incredibly helpful.

Speaker 1:

It's being spread out and down. Yeah, so many more healthy birds out in pasture quicker, etc. Etc.

Speaker 3:

Processing. You know, the number one problem, as you know, with any protein business is the processing side. I always felt that we were one phone call away from being out of business. We had one processor. You know, when we're an independent poultry company. If suddenly he decided he didn't want to work with us anymore or he felt like we were too big of a threat or a competitor, it was one phone call and we would have nowhere to bring 6,000 birds a week. That's an insanely risky place to be with. You know 20 families that work for us and that's their sole income and we're providing, you know, payroll and all this stuff. So being part of the company that owns the processing like that's fully de-risk. Now they're also one of the best processors in the world. Like they know what they're doing on the processing side and so being able to work with these professionals, these people that have been in the processing game for 35, 40 years, that have really led that space, like that's a game changer for us too and it's allowed us to put out much better products than we could before. You know.

Speaker 1:

And what has been not so fun or what has been a downside of doing this, apart from the critique. For sure you're getting on social media, etc. But what has been the biggest downside?

Speaker 3:

I should add one more positive. I mean, obviously, the cost, right. So Purdue owns their own hatcheries, their own feed mills, their own slaughterhouses, their own logistics trucks. The amount of cost savings just from integrating, like over day one, it was profound. You know, something like just chicks alone we would pay $1.25, $1.50 per baby chick. That was cut, you know, by 80% on day one. It's stuff like that. That's like, and I'm getting the same quality, better quality, probably from within Purdue, within our own hatcheries. So, and multiply that by everything else, it's profound. What's not so fun? It's a big company, you know, 26,000 employees. Nothing happens fast. I think in a startup environment you can be very nimble, you can move really quickly. I could go out and raise money when I wanted it. Now it's a whole team to change things. It takes time to move the needle to get capital, even from within the company. It's not an overnight thing, it's not just my decision anymore. It's like not at the end of the day. We sold this to another company, so it's their thing now is I'm still super passionate about it, but it's not my sole decision at the end of the day, and that's good and bad. To be honest, I don't think that's all bad, but that's been very different, you know.

Speaker 1:

And so what's next? I mean you're working on a project, but for past year like what are big odd and other things? I see some tech updates every now and then on LinkedIn. I definitely recommend following the updates, but what are big breakthroughs happening at the moment, or things you're excited about in the past year, is bird space.

Speaker 3:

So in 2018, we started developing the automated range coop. That's our 6,000 bird system that moves chickens autonomously to fresh pasture every day. That was really a play towards scale so that we could build this template that we can hopefully take to millions of chickens a week. Our goal has always been 1 million chickens a week, and I really think the market's far bigger than that, so I think it can go well beyond. There's 9 billion chickens harvested in the US for meat every year. That's just in the US. I think that number is 60 billion worldwide.

Speaker 1:

I said because how has the market responded, Like on retail et cetera. How have people picked up this new slash, new thing? How has the response been from consumers in the middle to higher end range, what you mentioned?

Speaker 3:

It's on fire. We're so sold out. At the moment. Consumers are understanding it and wanting it. As much as I sit back here and I bitch about fake pasture raised and all the stuff that's going on.

Speaker 1:

Who needs that explanation of nutrient density et cetera? People get it Flavor.

Speaker 3:

I think so, but it's also. We're in medium to high end right now and we're not going to be able to play there forever if we want to put up the numbers that I think are possible. You were selling to early adopters right now that are already thinking about all this stuff. Luckily, pasture raised eggs have sort of paved a path before us, and there's at least a billion dollars sold in pasture raised eggs in the US right now. How legit those are, that's up for debate. Probably People think that they're buying pasture raised eggs and so, as a proxy pasture raised chicken, it has not been very hard to sell so far. What's next for us is just more.

Speaker 1:

Sorry. To get back to the automation, the automation piece 2018, you start working on this massive thing that moves by itself, with 6,000 chicks in it, and are you getting there?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, very live. Like any tech, the first couple of years the jumps were so big each six months we were vastly improving the system. Now we're five years in and the tweaks that we make are very small. What our system looks like, what we're constructing today compared to two years ago, is it looks almost identical, which means that I think that we're coming up to an efficient system and it's ready to scale.

Speaker 1:

Because before you basically used a tractor or some machinery to move them that's the beautiful line on your website and they all get moved once a day. One shot there, next to each other, not touching each other, obviously but there's an heavy machinery used to these are not the gelatin-style pens where you can just move them by yourself. Obviously, you need some machinery and that's the part you've automated now.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and then also gone. So we started in the 100 bird system salatin system, hand pull, moved to the 600 bird system, tractor pull, which was like a greenhouse on skids. Then we moved up to the 6,000 bird system that has its own 26 electric motors that drives itself to a new spot every day. That's more than just having to drive a tractor out there, which is time consuming and annoying. It's a compaction on the field but it's just so much more efficient to push a button or to have a timer move these birds automatically. We can move them a lot slower. That's a huge advantage. We can put in automated feeding, automated watering, automated climate control, because you're spreading those costs over 6,000 birds as opposed to 600. So it looks much more like a conventional poultry house, just on wheels, that moves itself every day. So I think we've taken a lot of cues from the very smart people in conventional poultry. Try to take all the good stuff from their system and essentially mobilize it to where it can move, to move itself to fresh pasture every day. It kind of try to take the best from both worlds. Now we have a system that I think is really scalable and it can be deployed, to be honest, all over the world, although we're like hyper focused in the us right now, um, and so I think the next five years will look like us deploying capital, um, taking down, you know, hundreds, if not thousands of acres at a time and and develop this poultry system. So it'll honestly look like much of the same for the next five years expanding into retail, probably developing some some food service business, but really focused on 60 to 80 percent of our business being breaking into um aligned retail partners that already have the customer that's looking for this, like. I don't think educating the customer on what we do is a very smart thing, um, from, like, a capital perspective. So you want to find people that already understand what we're doing and they're already looking for it, you know and on the feed side, are you dreaming about anything's there?

Speaker 1:

are you working on anything to to make it more regenerative? What are, or is that today just too complex?

Speaker 3:

no 100. It's another thing where I'm proud of our partnership produced, so they are really looking to lead within the feed side as well. Half of their business is actually in the grain side, so corn, soybean, wheat, sunflower, and they put up a lot of acreage. They have over a million acres um under impact and they're largest organic in the country. So shifting from organic to regenerative is not integrating some changes yeah, 100. A lot of these guys are already doing cover crops. A lot of them are already doing, you know, rotations, integrating with animals. I don't see as much. That's an area I really want to see expanded. Um, no, till is really popular in the southeast already, so try and explain that in a in C, more that being done. That's definitely on the. I'm not going to say dreams, I'm going to say on, like the action items list for us.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and then what? What kind of pushback do you get? Do you get it from the region space, as this is not region enough. Do you get it from, um, maybe also the plant based and and another space? What's the main, main pushback you get when you're loud on linkedin?

Speaker 3:

let's say, what I've been surprised about is I've gotten very little pushback on this sort of like partnering with big ag. I think anybody who's been in this space for a little bit realizes how actually critical it is that those of us in the grassroots regenerative space, if we get the chance to help big ag move the needle, that we probably should do it. And if you've been in the game for more than like five years, I find very few people saying, oh, that's a terrible move, you shouldn't have done that, you sold your soul. I think that there were some of those comments initially and now that I've been helping them for three and a half years and I'm really proud of what we're doing and we've been very transparent about what our systems look like, I hear very little pushback. The plant based space I mean good luck pushing back, you know. I kind of say like, like everybody's seen all the holes in those systems and the authentic folks within there are willing to admit their shortcomings. With the monocrops and with the, you know, hardcore kind of processed food side, the authentic people within there, I think, see a future where plants and animals are in a symbiotic relationship and helping each other out. So I don't see as much pushback there. Maybe the pushback is. I feel the need to call out a lot of the greenwashing that I see and I hate to do it. It's not really my personality to be like divisive in that way, but I do think the one thing that will end this regenerative movement faster than anything else is the kind of preponderance of a bunch of greenwashing. And when, when consumers realize that half of what's called regenerative is probably bullshit and just marketing, it seeds a lot of distrust and a lot of skepticism within consumers mind and I just I really feel the need to call it out when I see it and a lot of people don't like that, you know now, absolutely.

Speaker 1:

And then what do you see? I mean, you had a successful exit and and what would you say we? I often like to ask this question and to imagine, let's say, we're in the theater and the room is full of of financial world people either investing their own money or other people's money. What would you tell them obviously without giving investment advice, but where would you tell them to? To walk out of the room after the evening and and go dig a bit deeper or go and talk to that, or go and look there or go and explore this part of the sector more. And let's say, they get, they get out of the room excited, and then let's give them some direction. What would you tell them?

Speaker 3:

I mean I'm writing my own checks in the space now with my own money, so I'll tell you how I'm evaluating deals for myself. You know, um an over kind of obsession with philanthropic, slow, patient capital. I actually don't know that it's that helpful for the space. I think being able to evaluate businesses on sound fundamentals, um, I think I think it's actually very healthy, like traditional evaluation of the business model, the grit of the founder kind of mission, but also just digging into the balance sheet, the p&l and the cash flows, like understanding these businesses, is really important. I do think, after being inside of a large agribusiness for the last, like almost you know, four years now it's near and I love Purdue, like I really enjoy working for them, but I think it's near impossible for some of these big companies to innovate and create brands and create meaningful strategies to do regenerative in-house, and so as long as the consumer is demanding regenerative and they're demanding kind of something new, I think there's going to be a plethora of opportunities for exit with solid, sound companies that are doing something really unique and different. To work with some of these bigger companies because I don't think that they can develop this stuff internally, they're going to have to acquire it and buy it from the outside and to buy these talented teams, but it's largely comes back to consumer demand. You know, and that's why the greenwashing stuff really scares me and I think unwise investors, unsophisticated investors, they're going to be tempted into the deals where the founders are saying all the right things and they're talking about regenerative this and that and they're actually not doing anything that unique and you can get suckered into essentially investing in conventional ag rebranded and the problem with that is the big ag companies are going to see right through that they're not going to want to acquire those businesses. So it's like having this radar for greenwashing is super important for for investment and basically it sounds like a common friend of ours, anthony Coursaros.

Speaker 1:

Regen Brands focus like this this is a big space and it's going to be only bigger. And coming back to that point of the neutral density side and explaining or the storytelling or the sharing that piece with consumers, I feel like brands are uniquely positioned to do that. How, if you approach that as one of the very few retail or, let's say, accessible in many retail places brands that is explicit about soil and regeneration? How has been that journey on educating between brackets, because it's always weird, this educating consumer? or you said look, we're focusing on the early adopter. They don't need any education. We'll get there when we get there it's a really good question.

Speaker 3:

I think we've taken the approach that we shouldn't rely on any third party certifications for anything, and so there's all these great, great things, and I love lanta market. I think what they're doing is amazing, but I've not relied on them like we partner with them, but they don't go on pack. They don't go on our list of what you mean rely on them. It's the stamp on the packaging yeah, I think these certifications, third party approvals, verifications, all these third party things, we feel like we just need to tell our own story directly to our customers. That happens on social media, it happens on you know, on our own website. It happens a tiny bit on pack, but you can only do a little bit on pack and I see a lot of space and brands that just list you know 20 third party certifications and it's like they lose. They lose their impact when you, when you list out a million of them I remember what was it?

Speaker 1:

any any said like soil matters or something, but that's a long time ago. Yeah, like, what do you say in that tiny space you have?

Speaker 3:

I hate that, the packaging pieces, as important as it is. But going into retail, it's something that I've learned it, um, you know, we work with pearl fisher, which is just this amazing graphic design company out of new york and I think visually being able to tell this story through iconography and font and, um, in colors and in all these like artistic things, I didn't want to admit how important it actually is. But, dude, it's probably fifty percent of the game.

Speaker 1:

Like it's fifty percent you really enjoyed those meetings in the beginning painful dude like really we're gonna deal with?

Speaker 3:

What direction the chickens head is looking on the pack like why does that matter? But I've learned that Evoking is way more important than than explicitly saying and be able to catch somebody's eye and help him to understand a concept in the two, three seconds that you have in retail. It's so critical and so I'm really glad that we work with profisher and I think they did a great job on our brand. And you immediately look at that package and you think, okay, this is a something different. I don't know what it is yet, but I know it's something different. On our pack, instead of saying Free range and organic and all the terms that you're used to, you see a rotated daily and mobile coups as our headline Two things. Nobody knows what that means, so it's like this huge risk that we took stepping out. You see very few third party certifications, so right away you go wait what? What is going on right here? And I think we do sell to early doctors, probably sell to people have a bit of a sense of what's going on. But at the same time we had to step way outside of the normal chicken marketing stuff to explain how we're different, you know.

Speaker 1:

And coming to that connection healthy, so healthy chicken, healthy people, and what do you feel is missing there? You've shared the data, of course, in inside the bubble and linkedin, and but what? What's the role of brands there? Maybe there isn't to start explaining that, or is it? Look, flavor is is a good proxy of an often you can density, so let's not complicate our lives.

Speaker 3:

Where we say like, yeah, well, all we're really doing is posting the stuff on our website. Social media and even linkedin for me, has been Surprisingly you know the reaches like surprising. There's millions of impressions made monthly between those three channels. So between like, our facebook, instagram, linkedin and our website, it's millions of impressions made every month and so it doesn't sound like a big deal to be posting the stuff constantly and sharing it there, but it's actually, I mean, and we're showing it to Byers and early adopters and people that really care about this stuff. So I think that that actually is our strategy, even though it doesn't sound like a complete strategy, probably is our strategy right now showing them these more complicated new stories and then also like, really leading with transparency. You can go on our package, on our qr code on pack will take you to either live feed from inside of our chicken coop, which is no bs. I mean, it's not a marketing shot, it's not one of our special Coops for tours or something. We just put an iphone running a live feed inside of the coop. You know, twenty four, seven, one day a week, and it's not always what people think they're like. Sometimes people like, oh, wow, that's a lot more birds In a space that I thought it was gonna be. I didn't realize they have a roof over their head and they don't have sunshine hitting them twenty four hours a day. You know, there's always like Sort of harder new on stories but we always just say it's the screw it marketing approach. I'd rather have you see exactly what we're doing, exactly how we're doing it, then be misled by some stupid photo shoot that we wanted to Take some birds and stick them outside and take. You know these like fake glamour shots of the chickens or something. So I think the transparency pieces really resonating with people you love it and you're gonna buy our birds. Are you hate it? You're not gonna buy it. So I kind of like that transparency piece that we've been able to lead with as well.

Speaker 1:

yeah, and I wanna be conscious of your time and ask if you quick work depending, quick final questions and what I mean. You mentioned your, your writing your checks in in the space as well. And let's say you you're actually managing a slightly larger portfolio or slightly larger investment amount of $8 billion dollars. What would you focus on? Would it be the protein side? Automation side, brand side are completely different. If you had not saying unlimited resources, but like a significant amount to put to work, nothing is exact dollar amount, just looking where would you prioritize? What would be the sector she would focus on?

Speaker 3:

It depends what the, what the money's appetite was for, like risk and return. You know family office money I would only fully flexible. Patient capital would love to own ground. You know, ground in water that's being managed generally. I think that that's unbelievable long term investment. It's not gonna get the 10x Return like a vcs gonna need, you know. But if it's slow patient capital just think land being managed with equity stake. For these really Hi pro five not pro five but high power regenerative managers I think that's gonna be unbelievable twenty year investment, you know, building soil health, producing good returns, a healthy model for land management. I would love to deploy a bunch of capital Under that type of management for the more traditional like ten year time horizon kind of 10x target venture capital stuff. I'm really passionate about the biomemetry technology. So tech that looks to nature as the lead and then tries to replicate that like a more scalable way, that's what's really really interesting to me. Brands are also really interesting. I'm writing, I'm an investor in white leaf provisions. I think what they're doing like on the sourcing side, in the, in the product side, is really really unique and special. You know, I think I think that they've got A lot of potential to grow. But I think tech is super interesting when it's Look at nature is the template. Now how do we replicate what nature is doing. I mean, I feel like that's all we did with past your bird. In nature, animals move. How do we get chickens to move? Because right now there is no solution to move a bunch of chickens efficiently. Vents, you know, some of these like automated kind of techs for moving cattle. Anything that looks to nature is the solution, and figure out how to replicate that. I think that's super interesting and it will probably have as good of a chance of any is Kind of these really high, solid, high returns.

Speaker 1:

And then, as a final question, if you had a magic wand and you could change one thing overnight, I have an idea what could be, but I will give you the complete power. One thing only, so really one thing. But what would it be? In the food and egg or the broader system, change in terms of sustainability, regeneration. But if you had a magic wand, what would you change?

Speaker 3:

I'll be surprised if you're able to guess it, but maybe you will be able to. I would end the grain subsidies, would just cancel them, like today. I think it would be or phase amount over a very short period. I think that they skew so much of the ag that happens in our country. I'm not an ag economist, I'm not like classically trained in that space and I know it would come with a significant amount of short term pain. But where corn and beans are planted where I think cattle should be grazing, the fake low price of chicken and pork in our country, the the almost necessity to finish cattle in a feed lot on corn and soybeans, I think it all. I guess it goes away, but I think it's vastly improved with true pricing for grains and right now is it completely fake price that happens for grain in our country. Totally bastardize is so many decisions that are made. I think I think millions of acres of corn and beans would go back into prairie and back into pasture land If prices were real and I'm a major free market guy. I don't like this kind of idea of like salvation by legislation and the government needs to fix this and that. But I do think Pulling back some of these ridiculous policies and incentivize bad behavior. It would go a long way.

Speaker 1:

I think it's a perfect and to it's. I would have guessed it was something about make sure animals that have to move move, but this is sort of enables that, and it's not the first time people have mentioned it here. I want to be conscious of your time and thank you so much for sharing. Today feels like we literally, as a chicken, just got your service and but there might be other moments, so thank you so much. What you do and what you have done, and, of course, we're coming here to share about.

Speaker 3:

Thank you call. It's been a pleasure, man. Thank you.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for listening all the way to the end. For the show notes and links we discussed in this episode, check out our website investing in regender agriculture dot com. Forward slash posts.

Speaker 2:

If you like this episode, why not share it with a friend or give us a rating on apple podcast? That really helps.

Speaker 1:

Thanks again and see you next time.

What is pasturebird
Why are you doing what you are doing? Why Soil?
What should smart investors, who want to invest in regenerative ag and food look out for?
What would you do if you were in charge of a 1B investment portfolio tomorrow morning?
If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing overnight