Chickens, Llamas and Gardening
What do free range chicken eggs have to do with gardening? A little bit. They’ve actually got more to do with great flavor and nutrition and one of Windsor’s best hometown attributes. (Skip to the end if you just want the eggs-and-roses tip.)
That would be Wise Acre Farms on Arata Road – a farm-fresh “craft egg” free-range operation complete with guard llamas, dogs, tours and an always-open fresh egg vending machine (credit/debit cards, Apple pay, coin and cash friendly).
Wise Acre owner Bryan Boyd will be the presenter at the Windsor Garden Club’s free “Third Tuesday” speaker session Feb. 21. Meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. with speaker presentation at 6:45 p.m. at the Windsor Senior Center community room, 9231 Foxwood Drive. (Photo courtesy Wise Acre Farms.)
Boyd and Wise Acre made headlines in 2015 thanks to a squabble between neighboring landowners that cut off access to Wise Acre’s operations and farm stand on 15 acres of lush, leased land and threatened to force him out of Windsor.
After the winery next door announced plans to expand, Boyd found his Wise Acre customers – and himself – barred from using the winery’s driveway to get to his operations through the winery’s driveway – a short but key easement he’d been using since launching there in 2012.
With no access, Boyd scrambled to find friendlier pastures for his hens – but found most of them tied up with wine in north county. He was scouting Petaluma (where his father owns Able Fencing). But Windsor and Healdsburg egg-lovers squawked in dismay, kicking up a fuss on social media and local newspapers.
BoDean Asphalt and Empire Asphalt and a local engineering firm came to the rescue, donating between $6000 and $8000 of labor and materials to build a new driveway for Wise Acre’s operation at 651 Arata Road. March 1 is the one-year anniversary of Wise Acre’s re-opening after a seven-month shutdown. He’s thankful for the support of the community, local businesses which sold his eggs in the meantime and the customers who stuck with him.
To celebrate, Boyd is starting “Thankful Thursdays,” a sort of “Taco Tuesdays” for $2 discounts on every pack of fresh gourmet eggs at the Wise Acre stand.
You can see the stand under its tin-roofed shed from the road. Drive by most any day and you can also see a field full of happy chickens, sparkly silver-roofed coops and maybe a guard llama.
Drive in, and you can pull up to a vending machine and buy some fresh, amazing eggs. Sure, they may be a little pricey. But they were laid by hens living the good life in what’s pretty much chicken luxury. Wise Acre hens get to cluck around on soft earth in fresh air and sunshine, nibbling on worms and bugs and grass and seeds and nibbling on natural grains. Boyd rotates his flocks and their moveable coops around his pastures year-round to keep them in fresh grazing and let the fields naturally recover.
A fluffy 170 lb. Great Pyranees dog named Buddy hangs out with the chickens 24-7 and keeps the hens and their eggs safe from the foxes, raccoons , red-tailed hawks, owls and bobcats plentiful around Windsor.
Buddy’s partner is a guard llama. The duo has done a great job chasing away all of the chicken-eating and egg-loving predators in the area. The leased farmland actually came with four guard llamas previously used for guarding sheep from coyotes. (The llama pack is now down to one due to age-related attrition.) The llamas were popular with the neighbors, but needed more help when it came to crime-fighting.
“We were actually hit really hard by bobcats, foxes and red-tailed hawks before we got Buddy. Now we’re not losing anything,” Boyd said. Not even from aerial attacks. “Buddy keeps everything away.” Except the customers, who tend to love him.
Wise Acre farms is still in a state of evolution; so far craft farming organic eggs is not a high-profit business.
“I’m still trying to figure out how to make money at it,” Boyd explained. “I love having to improve things and be innovative. There has to be a way to create a healthy product in a humane way that can sustain the farmer too.”
Windsor, Healdsburg and Sonoma County do allow homeowners to raise “backyard” chickens. That may sound great at first, but they do have their drawbacks. They cluck a lot (the neighbors don’t always love that), they don’t lay eggs all the time (winter is not a big egg-laying season), and townfolk frequently find themselves bonding with their chickens as pets, not producers.
“Actually that’s good for me. People get attached to their chickens, and they develop a taste for quality eggs. Then they become my customers,” Boyd said.
If you develop a habit of buying Wise Acre farm-fresh eggs, here’s one way to wring every penny out of them: save the egg shells. Then rinse them and grind them in a food processor (a mini-Cuisinart works great) until they’re fairly powdered. Scratch them into the earth around your roses. They’ll love it. The calcium in the powdered egg shell is great for strengthening rose plant cell walls, helping them stand up to pests.