by Lyn Vandebrake
How fresh do you want your eggs – 45 days old or 45 minutes?
“The average grocery store egg will be at least a month old,” says Julia Humphrey of Story City, Iowa, a backyard chicken owner and egg producer. “Not only are my eggs fresher, my chickens live a happy relaxed life. The impact on the environment is little since I’m not shipping eggs to get them to market.”
Getting fresh eggs in the hands of her customers is easy, since most folks drop by Julia’s neighborhood home, picking up their fresh eggs right from the side porch. Around the porch corner past the garden of lilies in the backyard, sits a white chicken coop with nesting boxes. The carbon footprint for Julia’s egg delivery is therefore about 50 feet of walking distance at a time when most commercial food products travel tens of thousands of miles before finally getting to the kitchen table.
“My chickens eat a varied diet including lots of bugs, grass and table scraps. They love hamburger,” said Humphrey. “It takes a lot of protein in their diet to produce the high quality nutritious egg I am offering my customers.”
“Research suggests that farm fresh eggs are more nutritious because of the varied diet of the hens,” said Humphrey. “Yolks of farm fresh eggs will be almost orange in color whereas commercial store-bought eggs have very pale yellow yolks.”
The average chicken in a non-commercial natural environment will lay two eggs every three days, says Humphrey. Extreme temperature, molting, stress and age can reduce the number of eggs laid with heat being more stressful than cold.
“My chickens do well in winter,” said Humphrey. “I turn on a light starting September 21 (fall equinox) until March 21 (spring equinox) because chickens need 14 hours of daylight in order to lay well.”
Humphrey uses a heat lamp in her chicken coop when winter temperatures get below zero as well as a heated dog water dish for drinking.
“I’ve never lost a chicken due to cold temperatures,” said Humphrey who lost one during a hot summer. “In the summer when it is very hot I put electrolytes in their water – think Gatorade for chickens,” says Humphrey.
Humphrey is the wife of Sam and mother to Anna (17) and Ben (20). She is the Library Assistant for Ames Public Library and Children’s Librarian for Bertha Bartlett Library in Story City. Humphrey does story time and reading presentations at community schools and the Story City library where her chickens are often part of the program. Children are allowed to pet the visiting chicken and the floor is open for questions.
“This is where my children became interested in having chickens of their own, when Julia, our librarian, brought them to story time,” said Rachell Isabrand, Story City. Rachelle’s son Dashiell, age 7, also known as Dash, was fascinated. When the Humphreys took a vacation, the Isabrand family became chicken pet sitters for Julia. This started a chain of events.
“The kids asked and asked and kept asking if we could get chickens of our own,” said Rachel. Chris and Rachel Isabrand have three children; Martin (8), Dash, and Eleanor (2). Chris grew up on a farm in Hubbard, Iowa, which is still in the family.
“My fondest memory growing up is riding in the combine with my dad and grandpa every fall, having animals around; kittens in the barn, and when the pigs were born,” said Chris.
Spring 2015 began with Chris and Rachel starting a Chicken Coop dream board on Pinterest. “We went through all of our chicken coop ideas, trying to incorporate what we liked best into building one of our own,” said Rachel.
To operate their egg business and raise chickens within Story City town limits, the Isabrands first had to get permission from their neighbors since owning farm fowl could effect the surrounding views in the neighborhood just a few blocks from Main Street.
“This was another reason we wanted a really nice looking chicken coop,” said Rachel.
Next the family attended a city council meeting where they presented their plans for owning chickens and operating an egg business.
“Everyone was very agreeable. Some neighbors even volunteered their extra lettuce and carrot peelings for our hens,” said Rachel.
The building of the Isabrand chicken coop became a family affair with both grandpas involved and an occasional neighbor.
“We could hardly set up the saws and open the garage door without a neighbor wandering up the driveway to see what was going on,” said Chris. Construction helping grandpas were Mike Isabrand, Story City, and Jim Martin, New Providence, Iowa.
The Isabrand children perused through the McMurray Hatchery, Webster City, online chicken pictures and decided on 10 different breeds to begin their flock. “We wanted to be able to tell them apart and also were looking for good layers,” said Rachel.
The Humphrey and Isabrand family both purchase their chicks at one day old from McMurray Hatchery, a family-operated business that began supplying day-old chicks, pullets, turkey, pheasants, quail, ducklings and other water fowl to small farmers and rural egg producers in 1917. Past customers of the Hatchery include Loretta Lynn, George Foreman, Martha Stewart and the Emperor of Japan.
“The girls are laying really well this spring. We’re getting six to eight eggs a day and sometimes 10. More than a business, our chickens are really pets and a good learning experience for our three children on responsibility,” said Rachel. “The kids help feed, keep the water dish filled and collect eggs. Dash is the chicken wrangler; able to catch and hold almost every one of the chickens.”
“I never really paid attention to the difference between store bought and farm fresh eggs until I started comparing the yolk color and size,” said Rachel. “I had never picked up a freshly laid egg until we had chickens of our own. Holding a warm egg in your hand that has just been laid by one of your very own chickens was a new experience for my family.”
For more information on McMurray Hatchery visit their website www.mcmurrayhatchery.com
To meet Minerva Louise, the egg-laying hen who does educational programs, contact Librarian Julia Humphrey for Minerva’s story time schedule or visit the website www.storycity.lib.ia.us. To book a story time for your school with Minerva Louise, and learn more about the all-important egg, call 515-733-2685.