Want to know if a farmer takes care of their chickens? Check out their combs.
Owner Sarah Miles of The Four Acre Farm in Lewiston is proud to say that her Swedish hens are all still looking sharp—no frostbitten tips here.
Miles had always intended to raise her young daughter on a farm, as she herself grew up on a hobby farm in Hastings. After being raised with a survivalist ethic, she wanted to “make sure that my daughter knows just as well as I know how to find food and water, and take care of herself,” she says.
Agriculture, she thinks, has many benefits for a growing child—it connects them to nature, gives them hard skills, and has endless teaching opportunities.
When Miles’ husband opposed that wish in 2016, she decided she could provide the full agricultural experience herself.
So she split from him and ordered a dozen chickens, four geese, and later, 120 ducklings—Golden 300s, which are in the Guinness Book of World Records for their champion egg-laying abilities.
Nowadays, Miles keeps roughly 35 chickens, a dozen geese, two pairs of turkeys, and still 120 ducks—though she’s on her fourth generation of the latter. And after around five years, she’s finally starting to feel established and turn a profit.
Miles’ first challenge was finding a market for all of her eggs.
Duck eggs, she says, are a little-known silver bullet in the kitchen. They’re nutrient-dense, contain healthy fats, have a larger yolk that enriches baked goods, and their whites whip up like a dream. However, not many people at local co-ops were familiar with their benefits. So she sells heavily to Asian grocery stores in the metropolitan area.
Chicken eggs had the opposite problem—the market is so saturated with “backyard chickens” and other coops that she couldn’t give extras away. So nowadays, Miles sells hatching eggs—designed to eventually turn out multicolored snow leopard Swedish flower hens (her “forever chicken”).
One interesting note: The whook-whook-whook of a brooding hen doesn’t just herald chicks, though—you can slip whatever eggs you want under a sitting hen, meaning it’s rare for hens to incubate their own eggs—or even that of their own species, at times.
Working around the cluck
Miles recently opened a consulting wing—heh—of her home business. Although she’s just starting to advise clients on “Poultry 101” and “How to Chicken,” she hopes to “tap into the metro area market for all things chicken.”
In the first talk, Miles invites interested people (usually homesteaders) to her farm to learn about proper shelters and get comfortable with the birds. She isn’t yolking about those shelters—chickens are originally jungle fowl, and need plenty of insulation. The big goal is making sure no one’s chickens freeze.
She’s also willing to make home visits and develop personalized plans for chicken coops and runs. She shares important information for suburban owners (avoid free-range chickens unless there’s absolutely no motor traffic nearby; dogs are the most dangerous predator you’ll encounter; and if you want your hens to thrive, feed them more than cracked corn).
It’s about more than money-making, she says.
“A small farm venture with big dreams,” is how she describes Four Acre Farm: “Selling eggs from different species and raw milk, as well as providing consultations on How to Chicken.”
Miles believes in regenerative agriculture, which prioritizes living an agrarian lifestyle outside of the capitalistic models that govern most of farming in the 21st century.
Of course, that can only go so far. “Going far from our current model … is dangerous, because you have to make money or die,” Miles says.
However, she’s tried to incorporate a pay-what-you-can system or even accept barters for farm consulting.
“If you have a family farm in danger of falling through the cracks of modernity, I can help come up with ideas for keeping it afloat and point you toward resources,” she says. “And no payment agreement.”
She also believes strongly in heritage breeds—“I’m not a fan of extinction,” she says, “so they need people to care for and raise them.”
There’s another resident on Miles’ farm with a hefty role—Tulip, her heritage-breed Jersey cow. Miles sells raw milk from the heifer for now, but hopes to one day open a microdairy on a larger plot of land, perhaps with a farm-to-table and cheese-making commercial operation.
“Big dreams,” she says. “Yes.”