Marguerite Whildon started Sweetbay Cottage Hens after a 30-year career in various aspects of resource management. Her primary focus was in land management for flood mitigation, wetland protection, and watershed planning. “Often the lands I worked with were farms with severely eroded banks and soil loss or former farms under development for housing or commercial purposes,” says Marguerite.
After retirement, she continued her conservation efforts privately under the Terrapin Institute, which is sanctioned to research and mark wild terrapin populations and salvage terrapin eggs from unstable nests for relocation to more hospitable, protected areas. The property she acquired made a perfect research station and terrapin nesting sanctuary, but Marguerite soon realized another venture could help fund her conservation efforts and make use of the property year-round. So she started Sweetbay Cottage Hens.
Drawing on her extensive skills, but having no previous experience in commercial egg production, Marguerite applied for AWA certification as a way to earn her customers’ trust. “It is important for me to be able to show proof of my credentials and expertise,” says Marguerite. “I want to sell my product at the local farmers’ market and other outlets—and I don't expect consumers to simply take my word for it.”
The flock at Sweetbay Cottage Hens comprises a number of different breeds, including Light Sussex, Araucana, Americana, Columbian Wyandotte, Salmon Faverolle, Cream Legbar, Golden Buffs, and a mixed bag of bantams. Marguerite selected traditional chicken breeds for their productivity, egg color, and suitability to the land. Pasture-based management was the logical choice for Marguerite: “For egg production, pasture-based management not only provides the highest welfare conditions but it is the simplest and cheapest method of keeping hens.” When hens are on pasture all day, their need for commercial feed is reduced. “The eggs we produce on pasture, which we augment with grated vegetables, cracked corn, scratch, and natural layer pellets, have a far superior flavor and better nutritional profile than conventional eggs,” she explains. Research shows that pasture-raised eggs contain three times as much vitamin E, seven times more beta-carotene, and twice the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids as industrially produced eggs.
Marguerite enjoys producing a high quality product that maximizes the flock’s relationship with the land. “When managed well, a flock of chickens on pasture can benefit wild flower areas, vegetable gardens, and ornamental plants. In return, cut grass and leaves are collected and reserved for coop bedding,” says Marguerite.
Marguerite’s future plans include acquiring more land, cooperating with other hen keepers to trade stock and compare notes, and learning more about how to keep her traditional breeds strong and diverse. With help from her neighbors, Alexandra and Monty, she will be selling eggs from her AWA-certified chickens at the farmers’ market this summer. “It’s important to me to be more than ‘cage free’ or ‘pasture raised’. The comprehensive approach used by AWA guarantees I’m raising my hens according to the highest welfare standards out on pasture.”
Eggs from Sweetbay Cottage Hens’ AWA-certified flock are available at Graul’s Market, local farmers’ markets, and by appointment direct from the farm. Call (410) 745-8359 for availability. To learn more about Sweetbay Cottage Hens, visit www.sweetbaycottagehens.com.