Raising Chickens

Raising grass-fed chickens provides tasty eggs on a family farm.

Tips for Raising Chickens

Raising Chickens

Poultry in motion. Eggs are fresh and hens are pampered on the Rapphuns' family farm.

Raising Chickens

Raising Chickens

Spreading her wings. Cindy sells eggs from her grass-fed hens at farmers markets.

Raising Chickens

Raising Chickens

Going to egg-stremes. Son Robert and daughter Anna collect a bounty of fresh eggs from hoop houses.

Raising Chickens

Raising Chickens

A picturesque pasture on the Rappuhns' farm is framed by green grass and a rainbow.

 

Chickens are at home roaming the range on Cindy and Brent Rappuhn’s farm near Sultan, Washington. Cindy told Country Woman you can’t beat their eggs!

How did you decide to raise chickens?

Brent and I are the third generation to farm his family’s land in the Skykomish River Valley. First and foremost, we consider ourselves grass farmers. The animals we raise—hogs, cattle and poultry—are our primary helpers in keeping our soil and sod healthy. We play a sort of musical chairs with livestock in our pastures. Pigs are strategically placed in areas we want deeply tilled and rid of weeds. We use cattle as lawn mowers; they eat the paddock grasses to a reasonable length so it can be easily gleaned later by our poultry. We keep our chicken flock to 1,000 and ducks to around 150.

The poultry do a great job cleaning up insects and fertilizing the soil. When the time is right, they hop into their nesting boxes and lay wonderful fresh eggs as a bonus.

What’s special about eggs from pasture-raised chickens?

The eggs our hens lay have bright-orange yolks—thanks to a diet of grasses, legumes and clovers rich with vitamins A, D and E. The protein-heavy whites stand up nice and tall, and look beautiful on the plate.

Customers and chefs tell us our eggs are tasty and excellent for baking and cooking. Believe it or not, when my parents moved to the country in my high school years, they had to buy supermarket eggs for me until I got used to the rich flavor of farm eggs. Now I’d have a hard time eating anything else.

Since you don’t coop up your hens, how do you house them?

Our hens are kept on pasture from April until November, in grass paddocks with space to roam. For shelter, they have portable, open-ended hoop houses with roosts and nesting boxes inside, and electrified netting all around to protect them from predators. The houses are on skids, so we use a tractor to move them to a new patch of pasture every three days or so. That way, no one spot becomes overused.

This time of year, the hens stay in more permanent greenhouses, out of the cold, wet wind. And we increase their rations of grain-based chicken feed. Egg production goes down from the peak season, when each hen lays five eggs per week. That gives our chickens a chance to rejuvenate for spring—kind of a vacation.

What’s your plan for marketing eggs?

We don’t keep them all in one basket! For diversity, we sell at Seattle-area farmers markets, small specialty stores and restaurants, and as part of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares.

One of the best things about farming is meeting our customers, so we have appreciation days a couple of times a year, when we invite families to visit our 40 acres. Recently, Brent and I mentored a young couple thinking of starting a chicken operation. Every three years, when we rotate our flock, we give mature hens to backyard chicken farmers. (Get some advice on raising chickens.)

In spring, we get a new crop of mail-order chicks—usually experimenting with different breeds, such as Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds and black-and-white crosses. We keep a couple of Araucana hens, too. Because they lay blue, green and even pink eggs, they’re sometimes called Easter egg chickens.

How are your children involved?

Son David, 21, helps with construction and tractor work, and Anna, 18, assists with chicks and egg collection. They both balance farm chores with college. Our youngest, Robert, 15, pitches in with egg washing and grading, and staffing our farmers market booth.

We feel immeasurably blessed to be caretakers of a small family farm. And we’d recommend it to anyone willing to be a hard worker and a perennial student. You’d be amazed what you can learn from a chicken!

 

Karen 1 February 7, 2014 at 9:58 am

What do you wash your eggs with?

Reply

sharon 2 February 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

Hi, Karen,
We checked with a poultry expert. Here’s her advice:
• Collect your fresh eggs in a metal basket or plastic-coated metal basket that you can easily disinfect.
• When you get the eggs in the house, take off all the dirt you can with your fingers. If dirt remains on the egg, take a soapy sponge (that you’ll use only for the purpose of washing eggs) and clean off the remaining dirt. Dishwashing soap would work fine.
• Next you’ll want to rinse the egg. The temperature of the water you rinse it under needs to be higher than the temperature of the warmest egg. Assuming the eggs came fresh from the hen, the egg’s temp will be around 107°F (a chicken’s body temp). That means the water needs to be around 110°F, but not scalding. If you rinse the egg under cooler water, and the egg reaches room temperature, the liquid inside it will contract and draw any remaining bacteria that’s on the egg’s shell inside through its pours. Rinsing the egg under warmer water will do the opposite, and will force bacteria out away from the egg.
• Let the eggs air dry, or hand dry them and then refrigerate.
• Do not immerse eggs in water.

Reply

MaryJo Bruns 3 August 22, 2014 at 6:36 pm

With plain water. Unless very stained then they are house eggs,/vs ones for sale

Reply

Donna Allgaier-Lamberti 4 November 11, 2014 at 2:46 pm

You can also use Braggs apple cider vinegar. Those eggs will shine!

Reply

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