Roberto Le-Fort and Dolores Howard operate Le-Fort’s Organic Crops, a Certified Humane® farm, in Creston, California, near the city of San Luis Obispo in the Central Coast region of California.
Their organic farm grows vegetables, fruits and herbs and raises free-range chickens, some of which are heritage breeds, for their eggs.
Raised in Chile on his grandmother’s farm, Roberto received his degree in agricultural technology from Escuela Agricola San Fernando Chile. While working as an agricultural advising consultant for an agricultural extension program and INACAP, a technology institute in Chile, he made the decision to come to the U.S. He arrived in Hawaii, where he picked coffee, and then moved to California where he delivered pizzas until he could afford the down payment for the farm in 1997.
Dolores worked as a professor of English as a Second Language and Spanish at Santa Barbara City College. The couple met in 2011, and Dolores added farmer to her resume. At the time, the farm only had 25 chickens.
Roberto’s degree included courses in animal husbandry and the two wanted to expand their laying hen operation and provide the best and most humane life for chickens on the farm
When they heard about Humane Farm Animal Care’s Certified Humane Raised and Handled® program, they decided to implement the Animal Care Standards on their farm. In order to meet those standards, they applied for and received a small Fund-A-Farmer grant to make the necessary changes.
“We didn’t have to do too much,” said Dolores. “We handle the chickens well. We just needed more nests, more perches, and more shade for them. We got our rulers out and started making the improvements for the chickens.”
In addition, the couple also installed patio misters and planted cottonwood trees on the property to keep the hens cool and provide natural shade.
Le-Fort’s Organic Crops now cares for more than 350 laying hens under Humane Farm Animal Care’s Animal Care Standards. “We’re not doing this to increase egg sales,” said Dolores “We’re doing this to provide the best possible life for our chickens. Interestingly, though, people at the farmer’s markets tell us that they think our care improves the quality and taste of the eggs.”
Dolores and Roberto manage the entire farm themselves with occasional help from family, friends and temporary help. But the biggest helper might be Honey, a lab mix who showed up on their farm as a puppy in 2010.
“Honey thinks the chickens are her babies and really watches over them,” says Dolores. “She protects the chickens, barking and chasing away any predators, like raccoons, that she might hear around the chicken coop at night. She can find a chicken that has strayed away.”
Of course, the chickens don’t just lay eggs; they also help with the vitality of the farm. With the drought in California, the Le-Forts needed a way to nourish the soil for their vegetable and herbs, and the chickens have become “a serious partner in their drought-intensive composting effort,” said Dolores. “Sandy soil loses water quickly. Chicken poop helps us amend the soil to keep everything growing. And with 350 laying hens, we have plenty of that to clean up.”
The couple says the best thing about becoming Certified Humane® is that “we know we are treating our chickens fairly and giving them the best life possible in return for the eggs that they provide for us,” Dolores said. “We got expert advice on how to do what’s best for our animals. That doesn’t replace loving and caring for them, because that can guide you too, but we’re grateful that Certified Humane® has shown us what laying hens need on the farm to be healthy.”