Michelle Livingston, Chicken Farmer
David Livingston, Infrastructure & Mill Man
Sunshine Mesa Farm is located in the beautiful North Fork Valley of Colorado, about an hour southeast of Grand Junction.
Produce humanely raised, environmentally sustainable food
Educate about the inhumane treatment and environmental issues associated with factory farming.
Provide resources for other aspiring mid-size chicken farmers.
Support options for middle-class farming to thrive and grow.
We hope others will choose this path and help us rebuild middle-class agriculture.
Michelle and David lived in the city. Michelle fell in love with chickens, got pissed at factory farming and decided to do something about it. She made David pack up everything and move to the Western Slope to raise chickens in a humane and environmentally sustainable manner while encouraging others to do the same.
We started Sunshine Mesa Farm in 2017, but our journey began a year earlier. That’s when David, innocently looking for a winter project, built a cute little backyard chicken coop in our suburban Aurora home.
This Chipolte ad was a major inspiration for our farm. We hope others will join us and "Go Back to the Start."
We convinced our homeowner’s association to allow the birds, and finally, it was time for our new feathered tenants! We brought our first two girls home, Goose and Pepper (still living a happy life here on Sunshine Mesa).
Goose and Pepper were far more interesting creatures than either of us expected. They had unique personalities, charm, and intelligence far above what the industry would have consumers believe. Chicken Math being what it is, we soon had seven happy little hens providing us with daily eggs and entertainment.
The coop that started it all.
We both started watching documentaries and becoming more aware of the horrible realities of factory farming. Over the last 80 years, chickens have become one of the most exploited, mass-abused animals on the planet. Easily confined, easily hidden away, they’ve become a pure commodity with no regard to their needs, drives, or well-being despite being intelligent, social creatures. Not only is factory farming horrible for animals, it’s terrible for the environment. We started reading about alternatives; ways to produce food without negative impacts on environment or animal welfare.
Our very first chickens, Goose and Pepper.
During this time, Denver was getting more and more crowded, and we started day-dreaming about a change. We both love the outdoors and Colorado wilderness, but were spending more and more time on the roads just to get away from it all.
In the fall of 2016, we explored the Western Slope and the beautiful North Fork Valley. Located about an hour southeast of Grand Junction, this area is known for its milder climate and high concentration of organic farms, vineyards, and fruit orchards.
I’m not sure either of us really thought we were serious about upending our life. David had a great, full-time job, and was doing some good work with nonprofit consulting. Still, we drove around and saw a few farms for sale, pondering the possibilities. On our last day on our way back home, we made a last moment decision to turn up a gravel switchback road to check out one last house I’d put into the “not worth checking out” bucket. We pulled up to a gorgeous stone faced house, and we turned around and looked at a stunning view across the valley, with Mount Lamborn and Landsend’s tall silhouettes rising to the east.
“I could live here.” David said.
And that was that…three months later we were the proud owners of a 20-acre farm with a house and property that needed a ton of work. We moved here permanently in May 2017, and we have no regrets. We have become part of a wonderful, supportive community, and it turns out small-town living suits us.
We have built our flock up to about 400 layers who have helped me learn chicken husbandry on a larger scale. I have learned so much, and I still have so much to learn. We’ve had great days, good days, bad days, and sad days. But my dedication to the birds is still at the center of what we are building, which is why our tagline is “Where the Chicken Comes First.”
Our current barn is adjacent to the pasture, and the birds have a large area of outdoor access 365 days a year. We have a mobile shade shelter that encourages them to hang outside and visit the pasture. Our long-term plan is to build greenhouse-style housing on our pastures and use a spoke-system of rotational grazing, eventually building the flock up to around 2,500 layers.
In addition to building our own farm, we share our methods and experience with others interested in raising chickens. The number of birds we raise is teeny-tiny part of the industry, and many others must join if we are to combat factory farming and revitalize middle-class agriculture.