Did you know that hens caught colds too ? I never knew that until I visited the farm at Ammapalayam that is owned by Mr. S. Umapathy and family. It’s situated about an hour and half’s drive from Coimbatore city and is part of the Farm Made Foods– a family owned and operated venture .The daily running of this farm is managed by his sons Ram Mohan and Ram Prasad .The National Egg Committee credits eggs as being a well rounded source of nutrition. With so many kinds of eggs filling up the shelves at the department store ,we are often left to wonder what is it that goes into ‘manufacturing’ these different kinds of eggs ! Whatever happened to the kind that are laid by a hen that goes off wandering in search of food ? Such questions posed by consumers is what set the brothers thinking on a different path.
They have been managing layer farms where the hens are cooped up in cages and fed just to lay eggs.Though they do not resort to using any steroids or antibiotics they do admit that the birds are not really allowed to roam free ! A year ago,they felt that they needed to start on a more ethical kind of ‘egg-farming’.A plot of land bought by their father seemed like a good place to start off their free- range method of egg procurement. The brothers owe their education to Universities in Scotland and Mumbai. Travel and exposure to the world has had a favourable impact on their mindset of coming back to the family business and starting afresh.They credit their parents for giving them the opportunity to pursue this alternative thought process pertaining to farming.
Six months later ,the lessons they learned were many. Not only did they have to figure out which type of native bird will thrive best in this environment but also how to deal with illnesses in a natural manner. When the hens catch a cold for example , turmeric powder is mixed in with the water for them to drink. Another important lesson was to stick to the same water source for feeding these birds. The change in seasons are kept in mind while caring for these birds. Water feeders are placed at short distances to help them deal with the heat of the summer months.
The two acre grove is home to dwarf coconut palms along with fig,moringa and other fruit trees.This cool shady spot is where the 750 plump ,brownish-red hens cluck about,busily involved in their individual activities. Looking at them , it’s very easy to believe that they do indeed have a voracious appetite.A team of youngsters from an agrarian background are employed to help with the daily running of the farm. On entering the space,the thought that strikes me almost immediately is how happy these birds are!They also have absolutely no fear of us humans violating their space. A couple of naughty ones even decide to leave the worms alone and peck us instead.I’m not sure if they preferred my toes to their boss’s slippers but there was no way I was standing still to figure that out !
The brothers say that that keeping free-range hens is also greatly beneficial to the farm. The tiniest of bugs and errant shoots are pulled out from the ground by the sharp red beaks. This keeps the weeding work to a very bare minimal !
Ram Mohan points out that the colour of the eggs depend entirely on the variety of the breed. The native breeds tend to be of a certain colour and that mindset is what makes us consumers think that brown eggs are better. It’s actually not true to say that brown eggs are always superior to the white,it’s just the type of hens that lay it and not really how they are reared that makes for the difference in colour.There are wired enclosures to separate the younger hens from the older lot. The younger lot still need to develop immunity to the environment and get comfortable with laying.The eggs are not fertilised due to customer preferences. The farm does however have a separate enclosure for the roosters.
Patches of native greens are planted in large numbers for the hens to feed on when they tire of their worm protein ! It was at one such green patch that I actually saw a hen jump up and down like a little child.It was fascinating to watch her trying to reach spinach leaves that were dangling from a coconut frond.
In the middle of the open space there are a couple of bamboo structures filled with a layer of fine saw dust that allows the birds some respite from the heat. It’s here that many of them like to lay their eggs in quiet corners.The interiors of this hut were clean and devoid of any bad odours. Also surprising was the fact that the birds didn’t go into a panic and start fluttering about when one entered.They were quite comfortable and calm even when picked up.Ram Prasad carried one and the hen even allowed itself to be stroked like a pet.Inside the enclosure they also scatter a variety of grains like corn,paddy and millets. It’s an added precaution in case the hens aren’t able to find adequate food.
It’s for this reason that the brothers shy away from using the word ‘organic’.Though the grains they buy from smaller farms are free from chemicals and pesticides,they aren’t organically certified. What they do promise however,is proudly announced on their beautifully packaged egg-case. “Free –range , happy hens , happy eggs , no pesticides, natural feed”-all the things that define wellness.It looks to me like Farm-made foods is off to a great start.
Oh ! before I forget…and how does one know when hens catch a cold ?! It’s very simple , the incessant clucking goes goes hoarse and takes on a more croaking tone . Thankfully they aren’t prone to sneezes 😉
Outlets where you can buy these free-range eggs from Farm-Made Foods
Amma Nana (Teynampet)
Terra earth food (Neelangarai)
Gormei Market (Mylapore , Adyar)
Organic Paradise ( Adyar)
Vear organic shop (R A Puram0
Dhanyam organic (T-nagar)
Natrinai Organic Store(Saravanampatti)
Nilgiris ( R.S. Puram)
Vaiyagam Store (Trichy road)
Vaiyagam organic store