When Manuel Ruiz-Conejo of Lima, Peru, saw a documentary about how conventional farms raised hens, he couldn’t believe it. “These birds were confined to cages all day,” says Ruiz-Conejo.
Ruiz-Conejo looked for kinder ways to raise hens and thought a cage-free, free-range model would be more beneficial to the overall health of the bird.
“It doesn’t just benefit the birds’ overall health, but produces an egg with a higher nutritional value,” he says. “I know many people who care about animal welfare also want healthy and nutritious foods, too.”
That’s why he started Happy Free Hens in Lima, Peru.
A business engineer by profession, Ruiz-Conejo began studying how to raise hens free-range because his dad, in 2015, bought 100 hens to produce eggs for his family and friends. “I felt someone should be an expert on hens, so they were fed and cared for properly,” he said.
While his dad’s farm inspired him to start his own laying hen farm, it was the documentary he saw a few months later and “the cruel reality of big conventional farms,” he says, that motivated him to raise hens humanely and show other farmers in Peru how to do it.
At 24, Ruiz-Conejo launched Happy Free Hens in 2016 to fulfill that philosophy. “I wanted to show people it was possible to raise happy and free hens and, therefore, produce a more nutritive and healthy egg for the community.”
Ruiz-Conejo currently raises more than 2,000 Hy-Line Brown hens, who sleep in a barn at night where they can perch, eat, drink, and lay eggs. During the day, they have a special yard where they can dust bath, and a pasture where they can forage for worms and insects.
“I love when the hens run from one place to another,” says Ruiz-Conejo. “When I compare the image of a hen in a cage to how happy and free my hens look, I feel good about what I am trying to do in Peru with humane farming.”
Ruiz-Conejo says animal welfare is at the heart of Happy Free Hens, and what differentiates his farm from many other farms in Peru. He joined the Certified Humane program to let consumers know his farm’s commitment to animal welfare.
The Certified Humane label appears on “Happy Free Hens – Huevos de Gallinas Libres” which is distributed in grocery stores and restaurants, and even home delivery for local residents.
“Animal welfare is the heart of our company,” says Ruiz-Conejo. “It’s like Certified Humane was created especially for Happy Free Hens. When you love and care about your animals, you know in your heart if they are happy – and these hens are definitely happy. It’s something I personally check on every week.”