Something to squawk about
Hadji Paul’s Chicken and Feed stays sunny side up
It was like something out of a horror movie. Paul Schouweiler was going about his day-to-day business when the mesh-wire flood gates opened. He was surrounded by a ravenous, blood-red, multibeaked mass of chickens.
“Back, ladies!” Schouweiler shouted, struggling to close the gate and prevent chickens from escaping. The chickens rushed his feedbox. He reached in and grabbed as many vegetable scraps as possible. It was pure chaos as Schouweiler showered the flock with over-ripe pineapples, tomatoes, lettuce and other scraps.
But Schouweiler is used to much more intense war zones. His stint in 2008 and ‘09 as a hotel contractor in Iraq gave his farm, Hadji Paul’s Chicken and Feed, its namesake. In Iraq, “Hadji” is an honorary term for “old man,” a nickname Schouweiler picked up when he turned 50 during the trip.
Schouweiler and his wife, Joy, bought the farm in Palomino Valley nine years ago. In 2007, Joy traded a dachshund puppy for around 80 chickens and started selling eggs to friends and neighbors. Then Paul lost his job in the hotel industry and went overseas. Pretty soon, Joy couldn’t produce enough eggs to keep up with demand and started expanding. By the time Paul returned from Iraq, the farm had grown to about 300 chickens. To support themselves, the couple decided to concentrate on their egg business and bought about 700 more chickens last winter.
About 1,000 chickens now spread across five outdoor coops. They produce roughly 50 dozen white, brown, spotted, blue and pink eggs a day—their natural colors. Paul now spends his days waking up at first light, feeding chickens, collecting eggs, repairing fences and tending injured hens, while Joy hand washes the eggs and drives into town to sell them to Whole Foods, the Great Basin Food Co-op, restaurants and in the parking lots of real estate agencies and banks.
The couple also opened a feed store on the farm, selling chicken feed and pet food for their neighbors, who have to drive 16 miles to get to the next nearest source of pet food.
“We know a lot about chickens now, but at first we didn’t know anything,” Paul said.
At first, it took Paul a whole day of chasing chickens to learn that moving chickens is best done at night, when the chickens can’t see.
Managing different species of chickens also took some getting used to. Golden Comets are an orange-red bird and much more “organized” than the Araucana and Brown Leghorn breeds on the farm. Usually chickens run around in scattered disarray with random clucking that sounds more akin to Velociraptors. But Golden Comets move in a singular mass and cluck in eerie waves of “boooolllllllkk, booooollllllkkkk.”
Another important lesson: Not all chickens get along. Paul thought his chickens could coexist peacefully, but when the Golden Comets started killing some of the other chickens, he rushed to separate the warring poultry. Things can get pretty ugly in the chicken coop: If a hen is pecked too much and starts to bleed, the other chickens will peck that bird to death and eat half of it before Paul can get it out. The couple also learned that chickens will eat almost anything, like bugs and grass clippings.
“They’re funny because the mice will run through there, and it’s like chicken football. They grab that mouse, and they’re just chasing each other and eating it.” Joy said. “Chickens are omnivores. People say, ‘I want vegetarian eggs,’ and I’m like, ‘Good luck with that.’”
But the Schouweilers have gotten the hang of chicken farming. The farm has reached a stable place, and they don’t see the farm expanding too much in the future. They might add another coop or two and start a nursery so they can sell chickens as pets. The couple isn’t too worried that selling pet chickens will cut into their egg sales.
“The more the merrier,” said Paul. “We’re not getting rich being chicken farmers. It’s a good, wholesome thing to do, and I like being outdoors, and I don’t have to run into town everyday.”