The Good and Tasty Life at Backyard Birds
By giving their animals space to graze in pasture and feeding them organic grains, Pete Lowy and Jen Hashley produce some of the freshest eggs and meat in town.
If Pete Lowy is tired at this point, he sure isn't showing it.
Lowy never stops bouncing around as we meet the 40 pigs and around 525 egg-laying hens he keeps with his wife Jen on the aptly named Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds on Wheeler Road. Whether Pete is crouching low to give one of his piglets a healthy slap on the back, or making sure every last water tank and giant feed container on the hen pasture is full, the hop in his step and wide smile on his face are constant.
Lowy has reason to be a bit exhausted --after all, he's spending his precious lunch break from his other job as assistant farm manager at Verrill Farm next door talking to a reporter. But as the midday sun beats down on the hen coops, and the pigs a mile down the road amble back into the shade, one gets the sense that Lowy will never get tired of talking about this experiment turned full-fledged operation.
"We never intended to live like this," he said, grinning. "It just kind of, you know, happened."
When Pete and his girlfriend (now wife) Jen Hashley moved to Concord in 2002, neither of them had any experience farming livestock. They started the farm with eight laying hens, as a fun side project to their other jobs --Pete farming vegetables at Verrill, and Jen working at the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at Tufts University, which helps people with limited resources start their own small farms.
Pete and Jen's has grown substantially since then. Besides the pigs, the first one of which was used in the couple's wedding on the farm in 2007, and laying hens, the couple also raises around 2,000 meat chickens on pasture down the road on Route 2, and hosts a few rabbits and a one-acre vegetable garden in their backyard.
The couple's work-intensive farming philosophy, and commitment to making both the animals and the customer happy, means the job never ends.
"I'll wake up at 5, 6 a.m to go move the coops and make sure that the water and feed tanks are fill," Lowy said. "Then I'll work at Verrill all day, and when Jen gets home from work she'll help out. Sometimes we don't eat dinner until 10."
Unlike in mass-produced factory farming, where birds are often cramped in close quarters, Pete and Jen are constantly moving their hens and chickens to new patches of green pasture, always surrounded by a layer of electric fence to protect them from predators like coyotes. That way the birds get new grass to eat, and space for their manure to spread around, which benefits the soil, the animals and the customer, who gets to eat a rich orange-yolked egg (the farm harvests 35 dozen of them a day).
The pigs get to live large as well. Pete and Jen grow rows of plants specifically for the pigs to snack on or "hog down," including recently a field of peas. And even the baby chicks are pampered. Lowy and Hashley have the chick coop currently near a small patch of grass, where the chicks can feel safe to take their first delicate steps under the cool shade of wiry Jerusalem artichoke plants.
When the chicks grow up and go out to pasture, Pete and Jen will eat the tasty artichokes. It's the perfect example of what this farm is all about --making these animals' lives as happy as possible, and keeping their customers' stomachs happy as well.
Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds and Farmyard is located at 159 Wheeler Road. You can buy their eggs at Verrill Farm, Hutchins Farm and Deborah's Natural Gourmet, as well as at their walk-in store on the premises.