The PEAS Farm’s first foray into selling eggs began three weeks ago with the delivery, via USPS Priority Mail, of 250 baby laying hens.
Ever since, project manager Heather McKee and University of Montana students have been pampering the chicks in their brooders, cleaning their little bottoms for two hours each morning to prevent “pasting up,” or clogging, which can be deadly. Eventually the chicks will begin laying eggs and take to the fields to control weeds and pests and fertilize crops.
The PEAS Farm, which stands for Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society, plans to sell “egg shares” this summer and fall. In November, many of the hens—along with mini coops and handbooks—will be sold to the public. This makes the farm an incubator for fledgling Missoula chicken raisers starting their own backyard flocks, now legal after the city’s contentious “urban chicken ordinance” passed more than a year ago.
“I think it was two-parted why I really cared to start this project—for education, and also to get regional-appropriate birds in peoples’ backyards,” says McKee.
The city’s granted more than 40 licenses for backyard chickens since the ordinance passed and “we’ve never really had any problems at all,” says animal control supervisor Ed Franceschina.
The PEAS Farm, a partnership between UM and nonprofit Garden City Harvest, has already sold about half of the 70 available egg shares. For $70, the shares provide customers with a dozen eggs each week from mid-July through October.
“There’s a lot of interest—and certainly a growing interest—in good eggs,” says Erin Barnett, director of Local Harvest, a food website with a nationwide directory of small farms and farmers’ markets. “The word is out that the ones in the grocery store, if you knew everything that went into making them, you’d be grossed out. And the taste is different—there’s all the omega-3s with farm-fresh eggs and all of that.”
The PEAS Farm’s breeds include Silver-laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, Dominiques and Light Brahmas.
“All super-fat, super-heavy breeds, very docile and very friendly,” McKee says. “But being cold hearty was the biggest reason that I picked these guys out.”
On Easter Sunday, anyone interested in buying hens can go to the PEAS Farm, pick out their favorites (for $20 each), choose a coop model, and return in November to bring them home and establish their own backyard flocks.
“We’ll wait and see how that plays out,” Franceschina says.