2018-06-16 / Features

Dawnbreaker Farms

Farmer succeeds with intensive grazing model
STORY AND PHOTOS BY BILL WILLCOX
COURIER-TIMES STAFF WRITER


The sun rises over Dawnbreaker Farms, one of the inspirations for its name. The sun rises over Dawnbreaker Farms, one of the inspirations for its name. Tucked away in the rolling hills outside Hurdle Mills is a small 20-acre farm where an unusual model of raising livestock is proving to be profitable for its owner, while promoting contentment for the animals under his care.

Ben Grimes, owner and sole operator of Dawnbreaker Farms, is in the midst of his fifth season. He is honing an approach to raising livestock that he calls intensive grazing.

“We try to mimic natural systems,” he said. “If you think about the bison historically on the prairie, they were never on one spot for very long. They were bunched up tightly in big herds.”

The bison were always on the go, partly as a way to escape predation, but their form of grazing was also beneficial for the soil.

“We pursue that kind of grazing because what it does is it forces the animals to graze everything,” he said, “to trample what they don’t graze and heavily manure the areas where they are, and then they leave to let that area rest and regenerate.”


Ben Grimes moves a fence after releasing lambs into a new pasture enclosure. Ben Grimes moves a fence after releasing lambs into a new pasture enclosure. He will let his animals intensively graze one area and then reposition fences so they move on to another.

“One thing you get is more even grazing,” he said. “You get more fertility, and you get a lot of deep rooted perennials, which are better for the soil. It is also better, nutritious grass for the animals.”

Looking at the area the animals have fertilized, the result is obvious. Lush, green grass is growing, the soil enriched by the high nitrogen content of the manure.

Grimes will raise about 1,600 chickens, 50 pigs, 20 lambs and 200 Thanksgiving turkeys this year.

The chickens and turkeys are processed on the farm in a converted tobacco barn. The lambs and hogs are sent to Piedmont Custom Meats in Caswell County.


Lambs forage after being released into a new pasture enclosure. Lambs forage after being released into a new pasture enclosure. The final product is sold primarily through the Carrboro Farmers Market. He also sells through a buyer’s club in Raleigh, a small grocery store in Raleigh, and through Farm to Home Market in Roxboro.

Grimes came to North Carolina in a roundabout way. He grew up in Seattle Wa., around computers and video games and didn’t know the first thing about pigs and chickens.

“I kind of fell into farming through environmentalism,” he said. “I was interested in how the American food system was so degrading to the planet, and I thought to myself there has to be a better way and so I started looking at different alternatives and that led me to working on another farm, which ultimately led me to starting this farm.”


Thanksgiving turkeys graze in an enclosure at Dawnbreaker Farms. Thanksgiving turkeys graze in an enclosure at Dawnbreaker Farms. He is excited the economics of the farm have worked out so well.

“This is the fifth year of production and I am very happy with where it is and where it can go,” he said. “I started full time on the farm last June so it has been exactly a year. I am just really happy with the systems we have in place and business models we have in place and the profitably we have here. It is starting to provide a very nice livelihood.”



Ben Grimes interacts with one of his forest hogs. Ben Grimes interacts with one of his forest hogs.

A couple of forest hogs rest in the shade. A couple of forest hogs rest in the shade.

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