This is my column for Sunday's (Greensboro) News and Record. It's about A.J., my favorite little chicken farmer. I've mentioned him in my blog before.
Did you know that chickens have ear lobes and their color indicates the color the hen’s eggs will be? I didn’t until I was educated by A.J. Jorsey, an 11-year old chicken farmer from the Reidsville area. I first met A.J. at the Rockingham County Farmers’ Market where I was drawn to his cartons of eggs of assorted colors, shapes, and sizes. They struck me as eggs with character, their colors ranging from pure white to all shades of tan and brown to light green. They run very large to very small. Just looking over the cartons to choose a dozen was like picking out old-fashioned candy from a glass case. Quick to please a customer, A.J. will trade out eggs from one carton to the next. And he’s a natural born marketer. When he pulled out the photo album of 8x10 glossies of him and his chickens Sam, Elvis, Oreo, Ashes, Elmer, Silver, Phyllis, Daffy, etc., I was hooked. From then on, no other eggs would do for our breakfasts. But honestly, with their deep golden yokes and just- laid freshness, they taste better than any eggs I’ve ever eaten.
A.J.’s Farm is 10 acres, a half-mile down a country lane off of a narrow dirt road. His chickens share the land with horses and ducks. There are too many of them to count these days but A.J. reckons he has around 80 or so. They are turned out of the barn each morning in a long, noisy chicken parade to free range all day. In the evening when A.J. finishes his homework, he makes a bee-line for the barn. He feeds them their organic food, waters them, collects eggs, and “gets them ready for beddy-bye.”
“You have to pet and carry around and love your chickens. They lay more eggs if you love them,” he said. While he was away on vacation this summer, his chickens only laid about 10% of the eggs they normally lay. All of A.J.’s chickens with distinctive looks have names. He started with a baker’s dozen of 13 bought from Tractor Supply last spring. In July, his friend Maeren Honacher, also 11, of Madison, went in with A.J. to incubate some eggs given to her by a friend of her mother’s. The two didn’t know what kinds of chickens they were incubating but nearly all hatched. A.J. and Maeren split the chicks, taking 8 each. From there, A.J.’s flock grew. “We’ve made some cool crosses,” he said.
A.J. will sell his eggs at the Chinqua Penn Farmers’ Market until it closes and then go to the Greensboro Farmers’ Market. He usually sells between 15 and 18 dozen eggs per week at $3.00 per dozen but he’ll sell you 2 dozen for $5.00 if you bring back your egg cartons. Ever the businessman, A.J. laments the high cost of egg cartons. “$30 for 100 cartons,” he said. “That’s why I give discounts.”
Although his parents do help out occasionally with the 100 pounds of feed his poultry eat each week, A.J. usually pays for it from his sales. He does all the labor, except turning the chickens out on school mornings. On Thursdays and Fridays, he carefully washes his eggs, puts them into cartons, and labels them, getting them ready to sell at the market on Saturdays. He pays for his own booth and has to sell 3-1/2 dozen just to break even. But he still manages to save some money for things he wants. “The Beatles Rock Band [game for Playstation] cost me 2 weeks of eggs,” he said.