A swine geneticist by trade, Maura Eddy loves to raise chickens in her rural backyard near Pratt. She sells eggs and garden produce at the Merchant Park Farmers Market in Pratt, weekly.
Maura Eddy, an international swine geneticist, grew up in the city limits of Omaha, Nebraska, but she now lives on a farm north of Pratt with her husband, Zach Eddy (a wildlife biologist with KDWPT). Together, with friends Jeff Seim and Sam Pounds (also KDWPT employees) who live in Pratt, they raise a wide variety of chickens and productive vegetable gardens.
On Saturdays, all four can be found selling their produce at the Merchant Park Farmers Market, downtown Pratt, under the farm name Pickins 'N Chickens. But Maura readily admits, the chickens, and the eggs they produce, are her specialty.
"I just got really immersed in anything agriculture when I was a student at K-State," she said. "I got some internships with the swine industry and really enjoy that, but I can't raise my own pigs because of biomedical concerns. I got started with chickens and just really love them."
Eddy, who has several purebred lines as well as some experimental projects, said the best thing about raising chickens was just taking the time to watch them every day.
"They can be so funny," she said. "They will let you know when they lay an egg, and they have quite their own society. It's fun and relaxing to come out and watch them interact."
Though Eddy just planned to keep a few birds, it quickly became interesting to her to try to breed for certain colored eggs or feather-color patterns.
"I've got some new young chickens, Langshans, that are supposed to lay purple eggs, she said. "I can't wait until they are old enough to start laying."
Many of Eddy's older hens are currently in peak egg production, giving her a variety 20 or so colored eggs every day.
"The eggs sell really well," she said. "We always have a waiting list for farm-fresh eggs, and sell out every farmers market. Once a person has had farm-fresh eggs, there is just no substitute. The yolks are darker and taste better when the chickens are fed fresh items from the garden and get to forage free-range."
Having productive gardens and a chicken flock works well because they each enhance production of the other, she said. The Eddys have several compost piles where chicken droppings are mixed with grass clippings and garden waste. This compost is spread on the gardens, which in turn produces more abundantly, with extra items from the garden getting fed to the chickens. The chickens utilize the fresh, organic garden matter and turn it into top quality eggs.
"It all works together," Eddy said. "The chickens love the fresh greens and items from the garden."
A knee-high fence around the main garden keeps the chickens from getting into the tomatoes, squash and beans before they are ready, but a pumpkin or two from the out-lying garden has had to be sacrificed to keep the free-rangers happy.
Breeds allowed to free-range on the Eddy's property at 50337 NW 20th Ave. include Lavenders, Blue and Mottled Orpingtons. Eddy is letting them intermingle in hopes of creating Mottled Lavender offspring.
Other breeds are kept in separate breeding pens to keep purebred lines clean. Those include the Jubilee Orpingtons, which can sell for $50 per bird because of their dual-purpose (egg and meat) production capabilities. Zach Eddy said the breed, created in the 80s, was once considered the diamond jewel of the Queen of England’s chicken flocks.
A "pet pen" on the Eddy farm holds other breeds like Mille Fleur, Silkies, Cochins and a lone Polish. A Silver-Laced Cochin, named Angela, loves to be held and petted, obviously the recipient of kind attention from her owners.
"They do come in the house sometimes, if we have baby chicks or the weather is bad or one of them is sick," Maura Eddy said. "But for the most part, I just enjoy them out here."
Though she travels internationally to China, France and other places for her work with swine genetics, Eddy said her favorite place to be is in her own backyard, caring for her chickens.
"It's a lot of hard work sometimes," she said. "But it's always worth it."
Pickens 'N Chickens sells garden produce, like tomatoes, okra, green beans, watermelon, cantaloupe and pumpkins, when in season. And, homegrown eggs, of course, but they go fast. Orders can be placed ahead of time on their Facebook page, Pickens 'N Chickens, for pickup at the Saturday market.