Head of the Flock
By Anne Ross, JD
Chloe Nevarez emerges from Happy Hens farm store with an 18-month-old strapped to her back and a toddler by her side. They are ready to show me their egg farm located in Ramona, California.
About nine years ago, Chloe became interested in producing eggs on her family’s land just over an hour away from Happy Hens.
She sought the guidance of Happy Hens’ owner, Luie, who was managing a flock on pasture. After some convincing, he assigned her odd jobs and demonstrated how he rotated his chickens so they didn’t destroy the land. The mentorship led to a marriage. Today, Chloe and Luie co-manage Happy Hens, guided by the motto “truly outdoors.”
Chicks arrive when they are one day old, beaks intact. The operation’s birds are well adjusted and don’t require beak trimming, a practice used by some farmers to prevent aggression — even though most aggression, and the resulting injuries, are caused by a stressful living environment.
Around 12-16 weeks old, the birds leave the barns for pasture. At this age, they are big enough to be less vulnerable to predators. Coyotes, owls, and hawks are a frequent threat to the flock. The birds’ greatest protectors are the farm’s livestock guardian dogs. Milo, the donkey, also steps in when coyotes approach — stomping, kicking, and carrying on. The roosters in the flock stand watch and warn of aerial predators.
The birds are rotated every one to two days, depending on how much vegetation is left. They get a lift on one of 20 mobile barns built by the Nevarezes to give the flock access to pastures filled with barley, clover, and plenty of bugs.
The operation’s birds thrive in this enriched environment.
“You can see it in the way they look and observe differences in their psyche. It’s remarkable — outdoors is better,” Chloe says.
Behind the idyllic setting is a lot of hard work and resilience in the face of unpredictability, especially when it comes to the weather. The lush green pastures where the birds roam are not taken for granted, nor was the recent deluge. Irrigating the pastures may be necessary in the future.
Not every customer will know the level of attention and detail that goes into the 9,000 certified organic eggs that are packaged by hand daily and delivered to retail locations throughout southern California up to the central coast. That’s why the Nevarezes value Cornucopia’s Organic Egg Scorecard and the vital consumer information it delivers about the varying practices within organic.
Happy Hens earns its position at the top of our scorecard. For anyone lucky enough to visit, its namesake birds are proof of a product worth every penny.