JACKSON, Wyo. — Sustainable food, including your breakfast eggs, provide ecosystem services to regenerate our Wyoming lands, according to Melissa Hemken, owner of Melissahof farm.

Melissahof’s poultry flocks – Buckeye, Wyandotte and Faverolles – live in mobile coops and day pens to rotate frequently to fresh pasture, with its forage, insects, and nutrients, near Lander, Wyoming. A fourth flock, the Dominique, free range the farm.

The laying hens move around the pastures behind the cattle. They tip over cowpies to eat the burrowing bugs, which spreads out the nutrients to fertilize the grass and forbs evenly to regenerate the pasturelands. The hens stuffed themselves with the over-populated protein-packed grasshoppers that covered the farm at biblical plague level due to drought the past few summers.

Photo: Melissahof

Chickens’ appetite for insects replaces the use of synthetic pesticide chemicals.

Three times a week, the hens enjoy discarded food from a local grocery store and food bank for a holistic food system. This reduces landfill waste while simultaneously generating more food. The hens are also supplemented with a grain mix – corn, oats, barley – locally grown in Fremont County. Buying local grows resiliency in our Wyoming economy.

Want to eat eggs from happy hens? Melissahof heritage chicken eggs can be found at:

Photo: Melissahof

Melissa also created her own hatchery, called Melissahof Hatchery. She raises heritage breeds, three American, Buckeye, Blue-laced Red Wyandotte, Dominique, and one French, Salmon Faverolles.

Living near Lander, Melissa discovered that the rural expansiveness of Wyoming hindered the mail shipment of healthy baby chicks. Melissahof Hatchery was established after Melissa chased down a postal delivery truck at 3 p.m. on a Sunday morning to rescue a mail order of chicks that had been in transit for 83 hours – some were, unfortunately, dead on arrival.

Chicks absorb the yolk of the egg right before hatch, and can subsist on it only for 72 hours. Then, they require water and feed. The truck driver was happy to see Melissa, because he regularly delivers boxes of silent, expired chicks on his rounds across the Cowboy State.

Photo: Melissahof

Recognizing that other Wyoming folks also need healthy chicks for their flocks, Melissa raises dual-purpose heavy breed poultry from which to hatch purebred chicks. The chosen heritage breeds produce both eggs and meat, and have plumage and small combs suitable for cold winters.

The Buckeye are the only US poultry breed developed by a woman, Nettie Metcalf, who did so in the late 1800s. With only 5,000 registered world-wide, the Faverolles are listed along with the Buckeye as “threatened” by The Livestock Conservancy. The first record of the Dominique, the oldest poultry breed in the US and on the “watch” list for low population, was in the 1750s. Fittingly, the Dominique was the first breed represented by Melissahof Hatchery.

When eggs are incubated into chicks, every newly hatched laying hen likely has a brother. Most customers purchase the female chicks – called pullets. Melissa raises the male chicks on pasture to harvest as meat birds.

Melissa considers the ecosystem and entire lifecycle of her poultry in her holistic farm management. The eggs from the hens are set in the incubator to hatch into chicks or are served as nutrient-rich eggs at your table. The pullets, healthy and stress-free from avoiding out-of-state shipment, thrive in egg-laying flocks across Wyoming. The rooster chicks happily run the pasture eating grasshoppers until they “meat” their destiny as flavorful, nutritious food.

In this way, Melissahof produces hearty poultry and holistic eats for you.

To keep up with what’s crowing follow, @melissahoffarm on Facebook and Instagram.