We raise poultry to produce the most nutritious eggs, and
we teach others how to do the same. By Lisa Jansen Mathews
My husband, Kevin, and I live on a small
farm in northern California named Far Out Farms. Although
our property is only two and a half acres, its large enough
to produce several cash crops, including apples and
supernutritious eggs from pastured chickens and ducks.
We moved here seven years ago, but I first saw the property
at least a decade before, when my two young sons and I
drove by on the way to our favorite state park. We saw an
old sign for the Far Out House hanging in a cedar tree at
the driveway gate. The property was so heavily forested
that we couldnt see the house from the road, but there was
a hand-painted hippie bus parked outside. For fun, we made
up stories as we drove by. We pretended that the Far Out
House was everything from a hideout for secret agents to a
I was a single parent for many years, but the boys are
grown up now. One day, one of my sons introduced me to
Kevin, an older friend he worked with. Sparks flew, and
Kevin and I got married. Shortly afterward, he noticed that
the Far Out House was for sale. Kevin had heard my sons
stories about the house, and just for fun, he grabbed a
real estate flier and brought it home. His jaw dropped when
I started seriously scanning the flier. Six months later,
the Far Out House was ours.
It didnt take much to stir my farming genes. My family has
been farming in California for more than 100 years, ever
since 1889, when my great-grandfather and his two younger
brothers came over from Germany. They purchased a 40-acre
farm that supported our family for several generations. I
discovered my own love of growing crops in junior college,
when I paid my way through school by working in the college
greenhouse. Since then, I have gardened on campuses, in
wading pools and in the grassy strips between parking lots.
I love being able to feed my friends and family from any
available patch of dirt, but when we purchased the Far Out
House, it was my first chance to raise food on a larger
Fixing up the Farm
The first thing we did after purchasing the property was to
hit the books and learn more about rural living. The house
is so far out of town that it is completely off the
electrical grid, and everything on the property is
solar-powered. We knew we would have a lot of work to do
because the property was unkempt and generally run-down, so
we read about wells and pumps, sewage systems, generators
and solar power.
The Far Out House was not built for beauty; its builders
had function and conservation in mind. To the best of
anyones memory, the house was built in the 60s. The lumber
was milled on-site from cedar trees cut from the property.
All the windows and fixtures are secondhand. There are no
bedrooms, only sleeping lofts accessible by ladder. The
previous owners added a kitchen and dining room in the 70s,
and a small office and a bathroom sometime during the 80s.
The fixtures are even older than the house. The bathtub is
from 1915, the bathroom sink from 1941 and the cookstove
from about 1930. The property also has numerous
outbuildings, including a small, rustic cabin. Our six
75-watt solar panels were here when we moved in, and they
have been very dependable, requiring minimal maintenance.
I have been asked many times, How did the Far Out House get
its name For years we did not know. We thought it could
have been inspired by the popular 60s phrase far out, or
possibly by its long distance from any town. Just recently,
a long-time neighbor cleared up the mystery. He said the
original owners came up with the name because the outhouse
was so far from the house!
As we began cleaning, painting, repairing, pruning and
raking the property, I realized how much we could do even
with this small amount of land. We began by selling apples
from the orchard, farm-fresh chicken eggs and campfire
wood. Fortunately, our property is located next to a
campground, so we have a steady stream of customers who
enjoy coming to the farm.
A year later, we began selling duck eggs to two local
stores I had bought the ducks purely for enjoyment, but I
soon found that we had many customers who were eager to buy
them. In British, Chinese and Japanese cooking, duck eggs
are often used instead of chicken eggs. I also raised geese
and sold their eggs for a short time, but discovered that
geese require more space than we had available, so I gave
them to a friend with a larger pond.
Raising Healthy Animals
My grandfather always said that farm animals should be
given a good life. Practices such as locking birds in small
cages or feeding them stale bakery goods an ingredient in
some poultry feeds just did not meet Grandpas standards. I
wanted to raise our chickens and ducks with access to green
pastures and sunshine. Our heavily forested land had little
pasture space, but we increased it by pruning and thinning
some of the trees. Old apple trees, maples, pines, madrones
and cedars perked up while the sun warmed the soil, and the
natural grasses began to revive.
In college I majored in nutrition, so I began applying that
knowledge to raising poultry. I have been studying how the
nutrient content of eggs is influenced by what the birds
eat. According to the latest research, eggs from
pasture-fed birds are lower in cholesterol and higher in
vitamin A and vitamin E. (For more information, visit The
Chicken and Egg Page at www.MotherEarthNews.com/eggs.
Mother) The eggs also contain more omega-3 fatty acids,
which are essential for heart health. Our eggs are
lab-tested for their fatty acid content, and the results
are the benchmark I use to make feed and management
choices. We cant keep up with the demand for our
omega-3-enriched chicken and duck eggs. Last year we sold
about 700 dozen eggs, at $3.25 a dozen for chicken eggs and
$3.50 a dozen for duck eggs.
When we started raising poultry, I began to experiment with
different pasture grasses and seed mixtures. Using the
right seed mix in a pasture where you keep free-range birds
will increase the omega-3 content of your flocks eggs.
Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply sells one of my
omega-3 seed mixes in its catalog. Some of the seeds I am
currently using in the pasture include purslane, clovers,
vetch, alfalfa, cowpeas, mung beans, flax, oats, buckwheat
Our hens eat as much wild food as is available pasture
grasses, seeds and bugs and then we supplement their diet
with high-quality organic feed. The ducks eat a mixture of
grasses, vegetables and commercial waterfowl food. We dont
push egg production with antibiotics. Our birds live long
lives, and I believe keeping the birds healthy leads to
more nutritious eggs and a longer production cycle.
After we began selling eggs, I started getting questions
from other owners of small flocks, ranging from Do I need a
rooster to get eggs (the answer is no) to Why do my ducks
lay soft-shelled eggs (often the problem is diet chicken,
turkey or wild-game food does not meet the nutritional
needs of waterfowl).
I decided there was more than enough interest to teach a
poultry-care class, and I now offer a regular course that
teaches everything from making inexpensive brooding cages
to postmortem examinations. We also offer longer-term,
hands-on learning. These guests stay for a few days in our
cabin; some of them come to stay because they are
interested in our egg production system, and some want to
learn more about solar power and rural living.
Guests at the cabin begin each morning with two fried eggs
one chicken egg and one duck egg. Many of our guests claim
they do not like duck eggs, but then decide theyre
delicious after trying them.
Next, the guests come along on my morning rounds, so we
head to the duck pond in waders and gloves. We discuss
bloom, a natural coating on the egg that acts as a barrier
to bacteria. Then we move on to the chicken coop. We
discuss keeping nest boxes clean and how to keep roosters
separated so they wont fight. Someone always asks about the
two ducks living with the chickens. We have a Buff
Orpington hen that hatched two Indian Runner ducks, Hansel
and Grettle, who insist they are chickens!
The year 2002 brought some serious changes in my life. I
had two strokes followed by 10 months of seizures. I
thought my farming days had come to an end. I struggled to
walk, my speech was impaired, and my memory and recognition
abilities were damaged. But slowly, I have returned to
farming, employing adapted techniques. I never would have
guessed it the first time I saw the Far Out House, but this
place has had a profound impact on my life. Living here has
not only put me in touch with my farming roots, it has
given me incentive to heal.
Farming is in my blood and in my soul. I have long been
convinced that, as a culture, our nutrition can be no
better than our farming practices. This farm is an ongoing
science class. Right now, we are working on increasing the
conjugated linoleic acid content in the eggs and trying new
types of forage. Here, on this tiny piece of the planet, I
have a place to test my theories and live my dreams.
Visit www.faroutfarms.com to learn more about Lisa Jansen
Mathews farm and poultry-care workshops.