ST. ANSGAR | Initially, Mervin Beachy purchased his chicks from Hoover Hatchery, in Rudd, and raised them in his barn. When the pullets were between four and five months of age he moved them into a mobile coop, so they would adjust to their new surroundings.

Along with the pullet chicks, Beachy also purchased several Red Ranger rooster chicks, which have developed into very large deep red roosters.

“I wouldn’t need the roosters, but they are protective of the flock. I have read where roosters have chased off coyotes,” Beachy said who added with a smile, “The name of our farm is Red Rooster Ranch, so I need some of them around.”

Beachy, with his wife, Cherlyn, and young daughter, have invested in several enterprises, besides producing eggs from their free-range hens. The couple, who lives west of St. Ansgar, are also kept busy with raising of market goats, as well as feeding out market hogs and cattle. Mervin is also a seed dealer for Byron Seeds, which specializes in forage crops. He is also a partner in Clear View Ag, which sells foraging equipment.

The Beachys recently began marketing their fresh farm eggs to local customers, and Red Rooster Range eggs are also available at Randy’s Neighborhood Market in Osage.

“Our eggs are not organic, but I call them all natural, non-GMO,” Beachy said. “I could be organic, but I haven’t got the certification yet. I like the term 'pastured' for our eggs.

“The term 'free range' is over used a lot. 'Free range' means a chicken has access to the outdoors, but it could be just a dirt lot.”

The Beachy hens roam freely in a grassy field, around the barnyard during daylight hours, and are locked up for the evenings, so they are safe from predators. The Greyish-Black Barred Rock, and white with a tannish tint Amber-Link hens produce brown shelled eggs. The chickens forage for grass and insects throughout the day.

“I save a lot of feed having the chickens out there running around,” Beachy said

To house his flock, Beachy build a 16-foot-by-10-foot portable chicken coop, which has an extended roof as for shelter in bad weather. He hitches his tractor to the coop every other day so the hens always have access to new grass. The coop has a wagon running gear beneath it, and a ramp, which allows the chickens to access the building.

The coop has wooden nests attached to one wall, and roosts on the other wall.

“I use wood shavings in the nests, it keeps the eggs cleaner,” he said.

Screened openings on two ends of the building provide for ventilation in warm weather and can be closed during colder months. The coop is also insulated for the winter months.

Beachy waters and feeds his flock outside.

“I buy all my chicken feed from Riverside Feeds in Riceville,” he said. “They only process non-GMO and organic feeds.”

“When you produce eggs this way, rather than in layer houses, you get a yellower yoked egg with more anti-oxidant power, which comes from the hens digesting insects and grass,” Beachy said. “You also get more vitamin D, because the hens are in the sunlight. Even when it’s 10 degrees and the sun is shining, the hens will be out all over the farm. These eggs are a lot higher in omega-3 and fatty acids, and according to studies, eggs produced on pasture have a very high source of choline.”

The Beachys strive to connect with their customer base.

“Today, people want to know what they are eating,” Beachy said, “and being responsible to my customers, I want them to feel free to come out and visit our farm.”

In the future, Beachy hopes to obtain more farmland, so he can grow his own grain and produce the rest of his livestock with non-GMO crops.

“If plans hold out, next spring I am going to raise broilers,” he said.

He added many of his egg customers would like to purchase broilers that have been raised on pasture.