Cheryl and Mark Brickman raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW laying hens and geese outdoors on pasture at Dragonfly Farm in Mequon, Wisconsin.
Cheryl Brickman has lived near farms and helped with farm chores for most of her life. “I’ve spent time mucking out stalls for horses, baling hay, vegetable gardening and canning,” Cheryl explains. “While in college for biology at UW-Stevens Point, I raised chickens with a friend.” Mark came to farming later in life, but is now “king of the tractor” and mows all the trails around the farm, where the pair has now been farming for over 20 years.
Dragonfly Farm is located on 15.5 acres, including 13.5 acres which was put into a conservation easement in perpetuity with the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. “When we moved here it was post-agricultural land used primarily for grazing cattle,” says Cheryl. “We have since built our barn, restored a 1.5-acre wetland on the property, and worked hard to improve the overall ecology, including living in harmony with the wild inhabitants of our land.”
The farmland, kept primarily in meadow and pasture, is a perfect fit for the Brickman’s pasture-raised laying hens and geese. The birds have free range of the property, but stay primarily on 2-3 acres of pasture. “Our birds are out on pasture as close to 365 days a year as the weather permits. They are also very carefully locked up at night to keep them safe,” Cheryl says. “We tend to keep the older, heavy breeds that are good foragers, and being out on pasture gives them a really diverse and healthy diet. Our eggs are amazing, since we use high-quality feed and supplement with fresh garden produce.”
The Brickmans keep their laying hen population at around 70 laying hens of different ages, with a few roosters and a small flock of French Toulouse geese. “For poultry, the best care and animal husbandry practice is sanitation,” says Cheryl. “On pasture, our hens turn our compost, eat bugs under our fruit trees and fertilize the gardens with their manure. Fresh air, sunshine and pasture are great for keeping healthy birds”.
Cheryl is constantly reading and learning about best practices and ways to improve the farm. “Many farmers practice an ‘all in – all out’ method of raising chickens,” she explains. “We keep chickens of mixed ages and I find the older birds are very good at teaching the younger birds. Chickens and geese are very social animals. It is not uncommon for us to have hens well into their ‘teens.”
The Brickmans decided to pursue Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW to help improve their animal husbandry practices and to verify that they are raising their animals according to the highest welfare standards. “I always knew we ran a pretty good operation, but I also welcomed the guidance from our audit, and the opportunity to improve,” Cheryl explains. “What I get out of the certification is the knowledge that we are doing the best job we can. And for people who care about where they get their eggs, the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW label shows we are taking good care of these birds from beginning to end. We do not take them for granted, we treat them with kindness, and we allow our chickens to act like chickens.”
Looking to the future, Cheryl and Mark hope to keep the flock at a manageable size. They also hope to find opportunities to continue to improve their operation and share their knowledge about raising and caring for their birds with other producers.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pasture-raised eggs from Dragonfly Farm are available direct from the farm (no delivery service). Eggs are available most days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call for availability at 262-238-0208. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.