At most grocery stores, there are only two options when buying eggs: white or brown. But did you know that hens also produce eggs that are blue, olive green, pink, dark chocolate, and numerous shades of buff? Some eggs are even freckled.
Just ask Donna Simons, the owner of Pound Ridge Organics in Northern Westchester County, New York. She raises a diverse bunch of chickens on her historic two-acre property.
“I specialize in Heritage breeds with lineages that go back 200 plus years,” she says. “I collaborate with breeders, so the birds can hatch here and be hand-delivered to local farms.”
Simons’ flock reads like a who’s who of the Livestock Conservancy’s priority conservation list, which includes New Hampshire Red, Plymouth Barred Rock, Andalusian, Wyandotte, Australorp, Jersey Giant and Sussex breeds. Her French Black Copper Marans (who are not on the list) are the hens that lay the dark chocolate brown eggs.
But some of the birds are around “purely for comic relief,” says Simons, not their egg laying ability. “Take Chickie Chick, a Polish Crested hen (see photo in slide show below) who walks like Mick Jagger, lays yolkless eggs, and has such a large tuft of feathers on her head that she can’t see a thing going on around her.”
Simons loves opening the hen house door each morning and greeting her flock. “The birds are so excited to be outside they literally stampede – cackling, squawking and running so fast that they take flight,” she says. “It’s a sight to behold.”
Simons also admits, they are hysterically funny to watch. “One hen will get a berry or cherry tomato and then run away like a thief while the others chase her,” she says.
(Check out this slideshow to see some of Pound Ridge Organic’s hens and roosters.)
Caring for her pasture-raised hens
Pound Ridge Organics is nestled in 16-acres of protected wooded wetlands and home to deer, coyote, fox, bobcat, owls, eagles, hawks and more. Because of such an active ecosystem so close to her hens, Simons takes extra measures to ensure her pasture-raised hens are safe.
She wove a fishing line into a spider web pattern to create an outdoor pasture cover to keep nearby birds of prey from swooping down on the hens. “My birds still are completely outdoors, but protected from the hawks,” she says.
Simons also feeds her flock a nutritious diet of organic grains, vegetables, greens, fruit, and probiotics, which she makes for the birds herself. Because they are pasture-raised, they also forage for insects, chase, catch and eat frogs and field mice, and even jump into the air to catch flying insects like moths. She says this healthy diet is the reason her hen’s eggs have a “rich, orange yolk and taste considerably better than store-bought eggs.”
From designer to farmer
Simons wasn’t always in the farming business. A graphic designer and illustrator by trade, Simons returned to school in 2009 to update her skills. A lecture about antibiotic use on factory farms and its deleterious effect on the environment sparked her interest and eventually became the subject of her thesis, a visual art exhibition entitled ‘Bon Freakin’ Appétit” (see slide show).
“From that point on, I began to purchase food locally from farmers that I knew personally,” says Simons. “My studies inspired me to start my food Co-Op and ultimately my farm.”
Unlike most farms that slaughter birds when they are past their productive age, Simons allows her birds to live out their natural lives on her farm. “We create an environment whereby the elders can mentor the babies, even if the babies are not their own,” she says.
Simons strong commitment to humane care for her hens and roosters made her an ideal candidate to become Certified Humane®.
“I understand poultry behavior and what they need to live happy lives, and I want consumers to know exactly how I care for my hens,” says Simons. “I work hard every day to ensure they are raised according to my own ethical standards, which also meets Certified Humane’s standards.”
Working to change the food system
In addition to raising poultry, Donna runs a robust organic food Co-Op that supports numerous local farms and provides ethically-raised meat, sustainable fish, dairy and cheeses, organic and biodynamic produce and locally produced baked goods for economically diverse families in two states.
“I believe that changing the food system starts with education and positive experiences,” says Simons. “I encourage my Co-Op members to come see the birds and invite their children to peek into the nests to see and touch their eggs.”
Simons teaches heritage cooking and homesteading classes at her farm and is frequently called upon as an educator and inspirational speaker at food and farming conferences throughout the region. With her passion for all things ‘Good Clean and Fair’, Simons is chairman of her regional chapter of Slow Food. She represented the US as part of the 2016 delegation to Terra Madre International Food Conference in Turin, Italy, and will be a delegate to the 2017 Slow Food Nation’s Conference in Denver, Colorado this Summer.
Pound Ridge Organics Certified Humane® eggs are available direct from the farm by joining their Co-Op. Visit www.poundridgeorganics.com for more information. And, they can found at Certified Humane’s Where to Buy page or by downloading our free Certified Humane® App.