“Come on, girls,” Josh Koehn said tenderly as he coaxed his flock of heritage breed hens across a vast expanse of green pasture at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains. A son of farmers, Koehn has been raising hens in Willcox since the age of 10, when he began caring for the family flock. “I’ve just always loved chickens,” he said with a shrug. Ten years ago, after realizing that the cost of land and equipment would prohibit him from farming the way his parents did, Koehn started Josh’s Foraging Fowls, a small company that sells pastured eggs laid in Arizona.
You’ve likely never eaten an egg like the pastured (not to be confused with pasteurized) eggs from Josh’s Foraging Fowls. Imagine the ideal of an egg: one laid from a hen that’s lived her entire life grazing on open pasture, with a strong, light brown shell and a yolk as bright as a summer marigold. It’s likely that many have never eaten an egg like this because most eggs sold at the grocery store (even Whole Foods) are one of three kinds: conventional (laid from hens in stacked cages fed grain and GMO corn), cage-free (laid from hens living in compact hen houses fed grain and GMO corn), or organic (laid from caged or cage-free hens fed organic grain and corn). However, Koehn’s love for chickens has led him away from the methods used by conventional chicken farmers.
Koehn’s chicks arrive at his farm from a hatchery when they’re one-day old. The chicks, of a French variety that grow slowly and thrive on pasture, are protected in an outdoor pen for the first two months of their life. From there, the hens are moved to pasture—acres of open land on which Koehn grows seasonal oats, rye, turnips, and clover for his 1,200 hens to forage. Their diet is supplemented by non-GMO corn grown down the road by Koehn’s cousin. It isn’t the vast views of the Chiricahua Mountains that make the hens so happy. “They just love to be out on pasture … that’s how you make the highest quality product and the chickens love it,” Koehn said. Both health and taste-wise, these eggs are superior to those laid by hens not raised on pasture. “Most of the benefits in grass-fed meats and eggs are in the fat,” Koehn said. Because of the diet and exercise that the birds receive, their eggs are higher in healthy fats like Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acids. The eggs, with a deep-orange colored yolk, also taste richer than the conventional variety. To prepare the eggs for market, Koehn washes them in a natural vinegar solution rather than the more traditional chlorine bath that most egg producers use.
Koehn’s farming practices necessitate higher prices than most people are accustomed to paying for eggs. “We as Americans spend less of our disposable income on food than probably any other culture … and it comes at a cost,” Koehn explained. Spending the extra money to buy eggs from Josh’s Foraging Fowls is to invest in a local company that’s changing the way that eggs are produced. You can order eggs from Josh’s Foraging Fowls online or find them at Tucson CSA every Tuesday and Wednesday.