Farmers Market Spotlight: Meet Hayden Fresh Farm
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In the business model for Hayden Fresh Farm, the eggs came first. They first arrived at Elk River Pet and Ranch by way of the efforts of the son of the supply store’s then-owners, Colby and Michelle Townsend — as well as, of course, the efforts of the chickens that made them.
“(Our son) bought the chicks (at the family store), took care of them and collected and sold the eggs at the store,” Michelle said.
The endeavor helped him earn extra money and learn responsibility, and the feed store’s customers enjoyed the easy access to small batches of local, fresh eggs.
“But once (our son) started driving, his interest in the chickens declined rapidly,” Michelle said with a laugh.
So, about four years ago, Colby — who’s been raising chickens since he was 13 — took over his son’s egg business and upped the number of hens. A feed store chat with Elk River customer and then-owner of Creekside Cafe and Grill Jason Landers led to the Townsends providing eggs for Creekside’s omelets and Benedicts.
In September 2018, the Townsends sold the feed store and “went pro” and full-time with the egg business, five miles south of Hayden. They currently have 2,000 laying hens.
The hens’ days begin around 6 a.m., when Michelle opens access to the roosts and opens the barn’s four doors, so the chickens can roam, run and fly around the 3-acre fenced-in yard as they please. After an hour or so, Colby gives the hens their morning meal of non-GMO feed, and then it’s time to collect the “floor eggs.”
“There are always some hens that decide they want to lay on the floor instead of the box,” Michelle said.
Mid-day, the hens get their lunch, and then, in the late afternoon, the Townsends conduct a “full-scale egg collection,” during which 95% of the total eggs are gathered. Finally, the hens eat their dinner, and the Townsends do the final egg collecting and putting up of the roost for the night.
What: Hayden Fresh Farm at the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market
When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14
Where: Seventh and Yampa streets between Sixth and Eighth streets
It’s nearly non-stop work, but the Townsends find the humor and fun.
“Chickens doing chicken things — it just makes you laugh out loud,” Michelle said. “They’re just goofy. They’re quirky little animals.”
Colby calls them “little dinosaurs.”
Between the tasks of tending to the chickens, Michelle and Colby clean and crate the eggs, deliver them to restaurants and work with the farm’s additional residents: hogs, beef cows and turkeys. They also crop and sell hay.
In a typical day, the Townsends’ hens lay about 1,900 eggs. In addition to Creekside, the farm also provides eggs to Winona’s, Taco Cabo, The Laundry, Drunken Onion, Harwigs, Colorado Mountain College, Mountain Brew and Hayden’s Wild Goose Coffee at the Granary.
“Compared to some operations, we’re extremely small scale,” Michelle said.
When the Townsends were first exploring a full-time farm operation, they visited an organic, cage-free facility of 20,000 birds in Delta County — an experience that Michelle says was striking and highlights the importance of how Hayden Fresh Farm runs.
“If you see ‘cage-free’ and ‘organic,’ you’d think those would be good eggs to buy,” Michelle said. “But I was appalled at the condition that those chickens had to live in. It wasn’t dirty. They were cared for, fed and watered, and there was no mishandling. However, it was 20,000 birds in a facility. The birds weren’t in cages, but they were wing to wing to wing to wing, and they couldn’t even move. They didn’t have feathers. They couldn’t even be chickens.”
In contrast, Hayden Fresh Farm’s goal is to grow its operation to 3,000 chickens and no more.
“With our eggs, the chickens have a good life,” Michelle said. “We take pride in that.”
She notes that Hayden Fresh Farm doesn’t use hormones or antibiotics.
Top seller: “Definitely the eggs and the pet food rolls.”
Favorite part: “My favorite part of all this is delivering the eggs to the restaurants. It’s really fun — the restaurants around here, the people work really hard, and we have some amazing restaurants in this town. All of our accounts are just great people — friendly and fun to work with.”
Coming soon: “People have asked if they can come out and see the chickens, so that’s one thing on the horizon that we’ll offer, some allocated times and days where people can come out and check out the ranch and the chickens, and if they want to, collect their own eggs,” said Michelle Townsend.
Another benefit of a small, local operation is a short turnaround time. The Townsends deliver their eggs within a day or two of the egg being laid. The restaurants the Townsends supply with eggs can consistently say their eggs are less than a week old. Compared to larger facilities, according to Michelle, the time between an egg being laid and being delivered to a grocery store is four weeks, minimum.
It’s a lot to balance the day-to-day work of running the farm with bringing products to the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market, but last Saturday, Hayden Fresh Farm made it happen for the first time, and they’ll be back this Saturday, Sept. 7.
“I have been trying for five years to get eggs and chicken (to the Farmers Market),” wrote Main Street Steamboat Executive Director Lisa Popovich in an email.
Alongside the cartons of eggs, Hayden Fresh Farm’s market stand also offers frozen chickens and a pet food roll of ground, pulled chicken and egg in a sausage roll for dogs and cats.
Find Hayden Fresh Farm at the Steamboat Farmers Market on Saturday, Sept. 7. Learn more at HaydenFresh.com.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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