Happy Hens Lay Thousands of Eggs

A third-generation husband-and-wife team have reimagined the family business to bring pasture-raised eggs to San Diego County and beyond, and secure the title of the state’s number-one egg.

Visiting Happy Hens Farm in Ramona felt more like visiting old friends at their country home than it did taking a guided tour of a highly productive regenerative chicken ranch. Luie and Chloe Nevarez, the husband and wife behind Happy Hens, exude the kind of laid-back familial warmth that makes you feel like you’ve known them for a hundred years. It’s so easy to get lost in the romance of the idea of running a chicken farm that one forgets they’re actually running a chicken farm; and running it like a well-oiled machine no less. 

Arriving at the Farm

I parked my car in the dusty parking lot outside the farm store and was greeted almost instantly by their llama, Dolly (yes, Dolly llama). I guess she wasn’t so much greeting me as she was approaching me as a predator. Dolly guards the hens along with two Anatolian shepherds, a type of “livestock guardian” dog bred specifically to protect the hens from any predators that might creep down from the mountain range above. The ranch is situated just below a mountainous nature reserve rife with bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes. 

Farm truck at Happy Hens egg farm
Old Ford farm truck at Happy Hens. — Photo by Nicole Litvack

“Predators were a real issue for us in the beginning. We lost so much to bobcats and coyotes. Our goal is to work with the ecosystem. We don’t want to trap or do anything to hinder the system around us. We really want to do things that are going to be beneficial to our entire environment. The dogs do great at just keeping things out, so we don’t have to do anything to hurt any of the animals around us.” Chloe wears a cowboy hat and worn Blundstone boots. Her kids run around the pasture, picking up whole hens more confidently than most adults would. 

Thousands of Hens

The pasture is lush with greenery at the moment after a particularly rainy season. There’s plenty of wild grass and juicy bugs for the ladies to enjoy as they graze around the pasture. In addition to the wild vegetation, the hens are given access to the highest-quality, completely organic-certified, non-GMO, corn-free and soy-free feed. The ingredients in the feed are sesame seed, alfalfa, milo, barley, and wheat. Not only are all of those ingredients verified and certified, but Happy Hens also conducts their own additional testing to make sure there is absolutely no GMO or glyphosate residue on the feed. 

While the hens spend their days totally outdoors, they do have access to mobile barns for laying and sleeping at night. Happy Hens actually coined the phrase “Truly Outdoors.” The mobile barns are equipped with open slatted floors, so that all the manure drops down to the ground. As the chickens eat the grass and bugs from the ground, they then deposit back into the earth. The barns, and hens, are then moved to another part of the pasture so the land can then regenerate. This practice helps to create nutrient-dense forage for the hens to graze on, and ultimately produces nutrient-dense eggs. “They really become like a golden egg,” Chloe giggles as a lone white rooster lets out a warning call. They’re trained to warn the flock of any predators overhead like hawks and eagles; although today the predator might have been me. 

Hens at Happy Hens egg farm.
Hens have access to mobile barns for laying and sleeping at night. — Photo by Nicole Litvack

The value of this pasture isn’t just in the open space or the access to wild-grown food and bugs, it’s also in the long days out in the sunshine. The hens do have access to shade and shelter whenever they want, but they love to sunbathe — and in Ramona there is usually no shortage of sunshine. Between their diet of healthy greens and their lifestyle of nearly endless sunshine, these birds are laying some super nutrient-dense eggs. Happy Hens produces eggs with exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene as well as vitamins A, D, E, K-2, and B-12. Chloe says these eggs contain about seven times the nutrients of a conventionally produced egg. 

Open space is no issue for these birds. At Happy Hens, the birds have 218 square feet a piece! The property itself is vast and expansive, spanning sixty acres. The pasture blends together with the mountain range behind it making it feel virtually endless. I imagine from the birds’ point of view that it is endless. 

What Does “Free Range” or “Pasture Raised” Mean?

The Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) “Pasture Raised” requirement is 1,000 birds per 2.5 acres or 108 square feet per bird. I was shocked to discover that there is currently no legal definition for “free range” or “pasture raised” in the United States, meaning that foods with these labels can be packaged and sold to consumers with no unilateral definition of what they mean. 

HFAC has created their own researched-based definitions and criteria for these labels: Their “free range” requirement is two square feet of space per bird and birds must be outdoors (weather permitting) for at least six hours per day. This is opposed to the USDA’s (and industry standard) definition that says “free range” birds must have access to the outdoors, which could be through a “pop hole” as opposed to full-body access. 

The HFAC “pasture raised” requirements include the aforementioned open space, rotating fields, and a year-round life outdoors (weather permitting) with access to mobile or fixed housing where hens can sleep at night. Chloe mentions their commitment to going above and beyond any certification standards that exist. “We’re here to serve people. We’re here to love people and give them this great experience of reconnecting to where their products are coming from.” 

Their devotion to excellence has not gone unnoticed. Happy Hens has been rated the number one egg in California by the Cornucopia Institute’s Egg Scorecard. They are also rated number two in the nation after Eight Mile Creek Farm in New York

Third Generation Egg Farmers

Luie’s grandparents moved to Ramona from The Netherlands in 1957 and started a small chicken farm not too far from where the Happy Hens farm is now. As a young man, Luie decided he wanted to do things differently, step away from conventional egg farming, and develop a truly sustainable and regenerative program that would be most beneficial for both the environment and the consumer. He earned a bachelor of science in agriculture and business from Cal Poly, and started the journey of building Happy Hens. 

Eggs at Happy Hens farm.
Happy Hens eggs have exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene as well as vitamins A, D, E, K-2, and B-12. — Photo by Nicole Litvack

As he was building the business, he continued to work on his family’s conventional chicken farm. “There’s usually a large building, temperature controlled, with thousands of birds packed together. You’re basically trying to get the most eggs you can by producing them on the cheapest possible route.” Luie is tall and slightly sunburned with ocean blue eyes. He wears a Carhartt vest over a flannel button-down and a gray hat that reads Happy Hens. “It was the exact opposite of what we are doing here.” He laughs. “We give our chickens the most room we can and produce way fewer eggs, but in the long run, your egg is way more nutrient dense and your chickens are way happier.”

Thousands of Eggs

A hen producing at a 100 percent production rate would lay approximately one egg every twenty-six hours. At Happy Hens, the birds average around 80 percent throughout their lifetime. With about 10,000 chickens on the farm, this means roughly 8,000 eggs per day. The team at Happy Hens daily collects, cleans, and packs that many eggs to get them out to stores as soon as possible. This workflow, combined with their network of local retailers, creates a unique distribution process for some, if not the, freshest eggs on the market. 

Rooster at Happy Hens egg farm.
Happy Hens has been rated the number one egg in California. — Photo by Nicole Litvack

What struck me most about the whole operation is how much of an open book the whole thing is. The first line on the front page of the website says they value transparency above all, and it is very clear to me that this is true. There is no curtain to peel back; everything is out in the open and open to the public. Luie says he has two main goals: to give hens the healthiest environment and to give customers the most nutritious egg possible. It’s clear that those two tenets are inextricably linked.

The Hen House farm shop is open Monday through Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm, and sells all kinds of wonderful locally produced products like kombucha and bone broth. There are also many grocery stores and restaurants selling their eggs.

Looking for a delicious way to use eggs and extra kitchen scraps? Read more at Cultivating a Zero-Waste Kitchen with the Quiche.

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Nicole Litvack
Nicole Litvack
Nicole Litvack is a San Diego–based cook, writer and ceramicist. The daughter, granddaughter, and niece of veteran commercial fishermen, she works as the Fisheries and Content Consultant for Local Fish and Saraspe Seafoods.
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