As animals on a true free-range farm, the chickens at Heritage Hen Farm are pretty self-reliant in finding their own food. “This is the original sustainable farming, where the chicken feed on the land and have no cages,” Svetlana says, pointing out some of the native herbs the chicken love to eat. With more than 30 native herbs on the property that the chickens dine on, their diet is bolstered by bugs and grubs (chickens love grubs!), fruit trees growing around the property, grow boxes Marty has constructed that have various herbs and plant species taking root (“They love sunflowers, picking them clean,” he says) and Whole Food’s bulk mix, which is filled with legumes, mixed nuts, berries and seeds. It's stored in cans near the main chicken coop, and when the lid is removed, chickens swarm from all over the property, recognizing the sounds of dinnertime.
“The food they eat directly affects the flavor of the eggs, so we try to give them all-natural, organic foodstuff. And as for protein, they eat all the bugs and grubs they can eat. They’re always searching for them,” says Svetlana, who is adamant on keeping foreign chemicals and poisons out of her farm. “We use no fertilizer, no pesticide, nothing. Everything is organic and natural.”
For the most part, “if you let a chicken be a chicken, they’ll be fine,” she says. The Simons help keep the ratio of hen to rooster in balance, usually about 12-15 hens per rooster. But the rooster pretty much takes it from there. Its job is constant: to find food, look out for predators, maintain a healthy relationship with the hens and reproduce. With more than 200 crows, roosters are always communicating with their harem, and when they find food, the hens always eat their fill first.
When it comes time to rearing chicks, the hens decide when and how many they want to raise, build a nest, preen their feathers to trigger fertilization (eggs need a constant 101 degrees to incubate) and sit on a determined amount of eggs. They communicate with the developing chicks throughout the process, rotating the eggs and lightly clucking.
Even with the hundreds of chickens running "afowl" (I couldn’t help myself) at Heritage Hen Farm, the Simons still cannot keep up with demand for their farm-fresh eggs. They limit the sale to the Delray Beach Green Market, an old-timey milk delivery service called Delivery Dudes (Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton) and their own farm store, Trés Frésh, which is open from 5-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. But they are still at capacity.
“We have had to ration our eggs,” says Svetlana, who aims to educate others on what goes into farming. “People who have never farmed are so far removed from what goes into raising these animals. They do not understand where this stuff is coming from, how it is raised. But when they taste these eggs, they start to understand.”
This drives to the crux of what Heritage Hen Farm is all about: a deeper understanding of the environmental advantages behind localism and the health benefits an all-natural diet promotes. What started as a hobby farm and blossomed into a full-time operation, Heritage Hen Farm is returning farming to a simpler, healthier and more local form. It also sends the message that this not only creates a more humane environment for the animals but also is a much healthier way to eat, is easier on the environment and supports the local economy beyond what is seen on just a few acres nestled in Boynton Beach.
In the end, it really all boils down to taste. Just one farm-fresh egg from Heritage Hen Farm will have you changing your shopping habitats and camping out in front of Trés Frésh in search of a multi-colored dozen.
- Heritage Hen Farm’s farm store, Trés Frésh, summer hours are Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. Along with farm-fresh eggs, other offerings from Marty and Svetlana include fresh raw honey raised from bee hives kept on property, raw milk; raw cream, raw butter, raw feta and raw kefir to make your own yogurt.
8495 S. Haverhill Rd.
Boynton Beach, FL 33436
*Photography by Diana Ramírez