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May Egg Month —

By Staff | May 14, 2016

JULIA HUMPHREY with her chickens in her backyard in Story City.

STORY CITY – How fresh do you want your eggs; 45 days or 45 minutes?

“The average grocery store egg will be at least a month old,” said Julia Humphrey, of Story City, a backyard chicken owner and egg producer. “Not only are my eggs fresher, my chickens live a happy relaxed life. The impact on the environment is little since I’m not shipping eggs to get them to market.”

Getting fresh eggs in the hands of her customers is easy, since most folks drop by Humphrey’s neighborhood home, picking up their fresh eggs on the side porch.

Around the porch corner, past the garden of lilies in the backyard, sits a white chicken coop with nesting boxes. The carbon footprint for Humphrey’s egg delivery is about 50 feet of walking distance at a time when most commercial food products travel tens of thousands of miles before finally getting to the kitchen table.

“My chickens eat a varied diet including lots of bugs, grass and table scraps. They love hamburger,” said Humphrey. “It takes a lot of protein in their diet to produce the high quality nutritious egg I am offering my customers.”

THE ISABRAND FAMILY with their chickens in their Story City backyard are, from left, Marty, Dash, Chris, Rachel and Nora.

“Research suggests that farm fresh eggs are more nutritious because of the varied diet of the hens,” she added. “Yolks of farm fresh eggs will be almost orange in color whereas commercial store-bought eggs have very pale yellow yolks.”

The average chicken in a non-commercial natural environment will lay two eggs every three days, said Humphrey. Extreme temperature, molting, stress and age can reduce the number of eggs laid with heat being more stressful than cold.

“My chickens do well in winter,” said Humphrey. “I turn on a light starting September 21 (autumnal equinox) until March 21 (vernal equinox) because chickens need 14 hours of daylight in order to lay well.”

Humphrey uses a heat lamp in her chicken coop when winter temperatures get below zero as well as a heated dog water dish for drinking.

“I’ve never lost a chicken due to cold temperatures,” said Humphrey, who lost one during a hot summer. “In the summer when it is very hot I put electrolytes in their water – think Gatorade for chickens.”

MARTY ISABRAND, left, Nora Isabrand and Dash Isabrand stand in their hen house. All of the chickens have names and are pictured on a wall board in the hen house entryway.

Humphrey is the wife of Sam and mother to Anna, 17, and Ben, 20. She is a library assistant at the Ames Public Library and children’s librarian for Bertha Bartlett Public Library in Story City.

She does storytime and reading presentations at community schools and the Story City library, where her chickens are often part of the program.

Children are allowed to pet the visiting chicken and the floor is open for questions.

For one family, the experience had a lasting impression.

“This is where my children became interested in having chickens of their own, when Julia, our librarian, brought them to storytime,” said Rachel Isabrand, of Story City.

JULIA HUMPHREY said she brings her chickens to storytime, where she answers questions on raising chickens for egg production.

When the Humphreys took a vacation, the Isabrand family became chicken pet sitters. This started a chain of events.

“The kids asked and asked and kept asking if we could get chickens of our own,” said Isabrand.

She and her husband, Chris Isabrand, have three children; Marty, 8; Dash, 7; and Nora, 2.

Chris Isabrand grew up on a farm in Hubbard, which is still in the family.

“My fondest memory growing up is riding in the combine with my dad and grandpa every fall, having animals around; kittens in the barn, and when the pigs were born,” said he said.

In the spring of 2015, the Isabrands started a chicken coop dream board on Pinterest.

“We went through all of our chicken coop ideas, trying to incorporate what we liked best into building one of our own,” said Rachel Isabrand.

To operate their egg business and raise chickens within Story City limits, the Isabrands first had to get permission from their neighbors, since owning farm fowl could effect the surrounding views in the neighborhood, which is just a few blocks from Main Street.

“This was another reason we wanted a really nice looking chicken coop,” Isabrand said.

Next the family attended a city council meeting where they presented their plans for owning chickens and operating an egg business.

“Everyone was very agreeable,” she said. “Some neighbors even volunteered their extra lettuce and carrot peelings for our hens.”

The building of the Isabrand chicken coop became a family affair with both grandfathers – Mike Isabrand of Story City and Jim Martin of New Providence – involved, plus an occasional neighbor.

“We could hardly set up the saws and open the garage door without a neighbor wandering up the driveway to see what was going on,” said Chris Isabrand.

The Isabrand children perused through the Webster City-based McMurray Hatchery online chicken pictures and decided on 10 different breeds to begin their flock.

“We wanted to be able to tell them apart and also were looking for good layers,” Rachel Isabrand said.

The Humphrey and Isabrand family both purchase their chicks at one-day-old from McMurray, a family-operated business that began supplying day-old chicks, pullets, turkey, pheasants, quail, ducklings and other waterfowl to small farmers and rural egg producers in 1917.

Past customers include Loretta Lynn, George Foreman, Martha Stewart and the emperor of Japan.

“The girls are laying really well this spring,” Isabrand said. “We’re getting six to eight eggs a day and sometimes 10.”

The chicken operation also benefits the Isabrand children.

“More than a business, our chickens are really pets and a good learning experience for our three children on responsibility,” Isabrand said. “The kids help feed, keep the water dish filled and collect eggs.”

As an example, Dash Isabrand is the chicken wrangler, helping catch and hold almost every one of the fowl.

The chickens have also helped educate the family, according to Rachel Isabrand.

“I never really paid attention to the difference between store bought and farm fresh eggs until I started comparing the yolk color and size,” she said. “I had never picked up a freshly laid egg until we had chickens of our own.”

“Holding a warm egg in your hand that has just been laid was a new experience for my family.”

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