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AgFocus: Sinclair Family Farm

Multi-faceted business started with 4-H project
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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A rooster crowed loudly at Sinclair Family Farm, ignoring the fact that the sun had been up for hours. Owner Karin Sinclair laughed as she reached over to pet her cat, at the same time hushing the dog disturbed by the rooster. It?s all just part of life in the country, she laughed.

The Sinclairs raise sheep, chickens, pigs and cattle on two farms in Penryn, and also run a cold-storage operation for themselves and local farmers who would otherwise have to travel to Roseville and farther for refrigeration.

?She?s such a down-to-earth person, and absolutely loves, loves, loves what she does,? said Karen Killebrew, a family friend and past president of PlacerGROWN.

While Karin and Keith Sinclair are hardly Oliver Wendell and Lisa Douglas, they were not farmers before moving to Placer County in 1992. Karin Sinclair had horses before, and her husband raised cattle as a kid, and the couple had raised their own meat and produce for their family, but a full-scale farming business wasn?t on the agenda for them while living in Citrus Heights.

?My husband and I were kind of tired of the rat race down where we were, and wanted to raise our kids in a little bit more country setting,? she said.

And so they came to Penryn, where Keith Sinclair still works as a concrete contractor in addition to the farm business. When daughter Tina turned 9, Karin Sinclair said, she wanted to get involved with 4-H Club and, after looking through one of her mom?s old FFA books, decided on the sheep program.

 

A family affair
?Sheep was kind of a new thing, and then we just kind of progressed from there,? Sinclair said as she walked through the vibrant green pastures, two bottle-fed lambs following her every move, knowing that with her comes food. ?We had some horses, and we ended up selling our horses, and we had the sheep, and then both our son and daughter got to fighting over whose sheep were better, so we ended up expanding into the cattle.?

Son Matt, now 20, is in charge of the cattle, in operation at the family?s second ranch in Penryn. Tina Sinclair, now 22, lives next door to her parents, and an array of extended family comes out on the weekends to help herd cattle, give vaccinations and whatever else they can do to help.

The Sinclairs have about 70 sheep, mostly the Dorset breed, along with Dorset-Dorper crosses and Corriedales. They are raised for food, and spend their days roaming the lush pasture, munching on grass and hay, along with black-eyed beans for protein. That diet, Sinclair said, makes all the difference in taste, but the term ?grass-fed? can be misleading.

?If you have a cow that is out on dry land pasture, and it?s eating manzanita and sagebrush, it?s going to taste like venison,? she said. ?It?s going to be very gamey-flavored, because that?s what it?s eating. A lot of people are very intent now on they want grass-raised meat, but they aren?t thinking that everything is basically grass-raised. They?re thinking they want it grass-finished, which is completely different-flavored than grain-finished or hay-finished, or any finish. It?s a learning process that we as producers really have to explain.?

Sinclair responded with an enthusiastic ?heck yes!? when asked if her product tastes good, and said her family does not consume commercial meat. If they?re not eating their own product, she said, they?ll purchase junior livestock animals from local fairs to support youth agriculture.

One of Keith Sinclair?s favorite ways to prepare a leg of lamb is to pierce it with fresh rosemary and garlic and soak it overnight in apple juice. The next day, he?ll slow-cook it on the barbecue.

 

Business expands
About three years ago, the Sinclairs purchased CC Family Farms, which got them going in the chicken business. About 600 chickens roam the property during the daytime, mingling with the 22 pigs ? two species that should not normally live in such harmony.

?One of the biggest things that amazes people is the pigs and the chickens living together,? Sinclair laughed. ?Most pigs will eat the chickens.?

The poultry is raised both for meat and eggs, and Sinclair said the meat birds are more profitable, given the time spent laboriously collecting and cleaning eggs and keeping the hens clean and stress-free.

The most profitable business arm has been the pork, she said. The laid-back porkers spend their days sleeping and hanging out with the chickens, rooting and snacking on the broken chicken eggs Sinclair gives them. When slaughtered, they?ll garner about $5.50 a pound. Lamb is sold, cut and wrapped, for $8 a pound, or $7 per pound for a whole carcass.

Those prices, Sinclair admits, are nowhere near what a chain grocery store can offer, as she has seen tenderloin sold for $1.99 a pound (?I can?t sell the foot off these things for $1.99 a pound,? she laughed). But people who buy their meat from big chains don?t get the peace of mind that comes with knowing the food came from a local farmer who knows exactly what goes into the meat, and the process used to slaughter and package it, she said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture standards require the family to take their meat to outside facilities for slaughter. In the case of cattle, that means traveling as far as Reno or Orland. The lambs go to Dixon, the chickens to Sacramento. Still, Sinclair knows exactly how the meat is treated, and that it?s not processed using nitrates and preservatives, resulting in a tasty meal.

?If you were to buy homegrown beef, nine times out of 10 they age it for about three weeks at the processor, and the grocery stores will hang it for maybe a day or two,? she said. ?And that is such an important part of the flavor of that meat.?

 

Going cold
In 2010, the Sinclairs saw the need for cold storage in the area, and installed a refrigerator-freezer unit at a warehouse in Penryn. Farmers started renting out space for their products, and as the need grew the storage expanded. Today the Sinclairs operate three units, giving local growers a space to store here instead of having to drive to Roseville or farther for cold storage.

This year, the Sinclairs were honored with an award at the Placer County Economic Development Summit for bringing cold storage to Placer County.

?This was something that was really needed in the area,? said Killebrew, who nominated Sinclair for the award. ?And that?s the way it?s going. She has dozens of people who use it either on a very short-term basis or a long-term basis.?

Craig Thomas, of Thomas Ranch in Lincoln, said having the cold storage available made it possible to start selling his Satsuma Mandarin Barbecue Sauce. He used to have to drive to Yuba City to store his backup fruit for the sauces he sells in Raley?s and smaller markets.

?When Karin opened her facility up, that was a lot more convenient than driving all the way up there,? Thomas said. ?I?ve been using them for a year and a half now, and they?re really good about working with people.?

 

What?s the secret?
Sinclair said she is often asked what her business plan is, and said that, really, she doesn?t have a formal one.

?I think it?s more of just a gut feeling, and talking to the family and seeing what they want to do,? she said. ?We are a very involved family ? we do a lot of stuff on the weekends and a lot  of people really give their input.?

One of those ideas was to get into the pork industry, something that Sinclair hadn?t considered before. But the family saw a community demand for pork, and so she gave it a try.

?I love it,? Sinclair said of her family farm. ?It?s never the same thing ? there?s always something different. You?re caring for something, and you watch it grow, and it?s a very rewarding thing.?

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter, AuburnJournalAE.

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Sinclair Family Farm
Where: 
7375 Callison Road, Penryn; cold storage open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 7209 Church St., Penryn
Info:  (916) 663-3990; karin@sinclairfamilyfarm.net; www.sinclairfamilyfarm.net