Editor’s note: Our series Enterprising Spirit documents how businesses and workers are managing the economy’s slow return to life after its sudden shutdown in March – and adapting to new challenges ahead.
Mike and Mary Haggerty had a rough last year. Their chickens went into an early moult, causing them to lay what Mary calls “quirky,” inedible eggs.
Their cardboard cartons with “Haggerty’s Happy Hens” handwritten on the side and smiley faces drawn on top disappeared from stores, and the Haggertys began to struggle financially.
Then the coronavirus hit right when the hens started to lay large volumes of good eggs in early March.
People were panic buying, and many stores put limits on the number of eggs customers could buy.
Mike went into a few stores that had said in the past they didn’t need Haggerty’s eggs and asked if things had changed.
The managers said, “Yeah, how many can you bring us?” Mike recounted.
So the couple went from selling just a few dozen eggs a week to nearly 500 dozen.
Mike and Mary moved from Idaho to Spangle about 10 years ago with a few dozen chickens in tow.
They started getting chickens when Mike heard about four that needed rescue.
“We just wanted a few chickens,” Mike said.
It turned out that one of those chickens was actually a rooster, and the four turned into a dozen.
Then Mike started doing more research into different types of chickens.
“They had these packs you could buy from the hatchery, like the fancy feather flock, the colored egg layers – ‘Oh, I gotta have those’ – but they all came in 25-packs,” Mike said.
But Mary wasn’t as keen on all those chickens, especially with Mike gone most of the week working for Avista.
“I’m watching him get more and more chickens, and I’m like, ‘Honey, this is not my idea of fun,’” Mary said.
But when the couple got settled on their Spangle farm, Mike bought 300 more chickens, then 1,200 more a few years later, and Haggerty’s Happy Hens became a full time business.
“As a mom-and-pop, we can’t go over 3,000 chickens,” Mary explained.
While contracting for Avista working on power poles, Mike was working in the Rocket Market parking lot. He walked in one day and chatted with the owners. Just a few weeks later, Haggerty’s Happy Hens eggs were for sale at the market.
“We really developed a loyal following there,” Mike said.
The couple started selling Triple H eggs at local farmers markets and developed a consistent clientele.
Part of building that clientele was building community.
Mary would donate the small eggs that the chickens lay either when they first start laying or at the beginning of each season to local homeless shelters.
“My scale calls them peewee,” Mary said of the eggs.
The shelters would boil them and call them “protein pops,” Mary said.
The shelters, along with Rocket Market and the cafeteria at Mary’s children’s school started putting their vegetarian food waste into “chicken buckets.”
Haggerty’s hens are fed a mix of whole produce and layer feed. The chickens aren’t given antibiotics and are pastured, mainly because the Haggerty’s had a coyote problem when the chickens were free range.
As they got more chickens, the Haggertys expanded into Huckleberry’s and Main Market.
Mary said one thing that makes their business unique is the turn around on their eggs. Legally, you can put a best-buy date of 45 days after the eggs are processed, but Mary “can’t stand the idea of old eggs.” So she uses 30 days from when the eggs are laid as her best-buy date.
While business has been booming for the Haggertys, they have run into one major problem: The couple started running out of cartons last week.
After hours on the phone they were able to order 4,500 more cartons, which were set to arrive late last week.
Luckily, eggs sold at farmer’s markets have fewer restrictions on the types of cartons allowed to be used.
Last week at the Perry Street Thursday Market, Mary sold out of every single egg she brought.
As she was breaking down her tent, a woman who looked a bit disheveled came up and started staring at the booth, Mary said.
Mary asked her if she would like some eggs, and the woman said she didn’t have any money.
All Mary had left were the display eggs, which she doesn’t normally sell anyway.
“As I’m handing it to her, she takes it and her hands are shaking,” Mary said.
The woman started tearing up and didn’t know what to say.
“It’s okay, I understand,” Mary said.
The woman walked away crying, and Mary left without a single egg.
With all the increased business, the Haggertys hired a family friend to write on the cartons and help package eggs.
The fact that a pandemic has helped get their business back on track has left the Haggertys reeling but has been a step toward only working for themselves, a goal Mike has had his whole life.
“A lot of it is just because, even though I keep getting set back and everything, I don’t want to work for somebody else,” Mike said. “I just want to do my own thing at home – something I’ve got my hands all in.”
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