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The chicken whisperer

Gabriella Cook starts egg business with beloved fowl

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Posted: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 3:31 pm

Her long dark-blond hair streaming over her back, Gabriella Cook scrambles nimbly over the gate of the 20-foot container in her Pescadero farm yard.

Inside, it is dark, cool, calming — and teeming with life. One wall is lined with shelves of pine shavings, divided into spaces in which hens sedately roost.

Gabriella gazes with shining eyes at a chicken. She gently props up the chicken’s buff-colored tail plumes, and holds her breath as a smooth brown egg, moist and warm, emerges and slides into her palm.

That miracle of life is the heartbeat of “Gabriella’s Eggs,” where this 10-year-old entrepreneur tends 19 chickens, seven ducks and a breeding pair of geese that produce eggs she sells at $10 per dozen, at the farm or delivered by her father around the Coastside.

Her eggs take their place on the menu of at least one local restaurant.

“They’re just these beautiful birds I get to look at, pick up and pretend they’re babies,” she said.

It may sound cornpone that the color of a chicken’s earlobe shows the color of its eggs. But it’s true, as Gabriella points out.

Blue-green dashes in her Americanas’ earlobes are echoed in the delicate green of their eggs. Her docile Rhode Island Reds with beige earlobes lay beige-colored eggs.

She also has Buff Orpingtons, Russian Orloffs, silver-laced and golden-laced Wyandotts, black and golden sexlinks, Coco Morans, Buff Cochins, California Grays, white Brahmas and more, and a “turken” — turkey and chicken — with a long, ungainly, naked neck.

A bright golden rooster named Rosington stalks the yard as if he owns it. A handful of ducks waddle to and fro and the geese strut honking — following Gabriella. Nearby, goats Meg and Primavera, who came from Harley Farms in Pescadero, wander about, nibbling at shirt sleeves. A dark brown Shetland pony stands drowsing and Molly the black-and-white border collie, oversees it all.

Their owner may be young but she’s a caring spirit whose simple business credo is: “From the happiest hens in the world come the best eggs in the world.”

They happily and freely roam a large yard full of tasty bugs and grasses, with nutritious pellets, chicken scratch and crumbled oyster shell for calcium, served by their loving owner. “I feel I’m a mom,” she said.

Her mom, Andrea Cook, tells stories of how Gabriella hand-raised, named and socialized each chick, gave them rides in her pink Barbie van and took her first two — a Rhodes Island Red named “Princess Fiona” and a Buff Orpington, “Buttercup” — to visit her grandparents.

It all began four years ago when Gabriella discovered chickens at Elkus Ranch summer camp.

“They were cool,” she said. “You could carry them around and pretend they were babies.” Indeed, the docile chickens fall asleep as she carries them around on their backs.

Andrea and dad Bill Cook supported her interest in chickens — as long as she thought in terms of business and had them earn their keep. Chicken feed, after all, averaged $30 per week.

So she sold the eggs — keeping careful expense and income records, with help from her parents. Andrea worked on Quicken while Gariella did the data entry.

“I’m the sales department, Andrea is the back office accountant and Gabriella is the CEO,” said Bill proudly.

For Gabriella, the eggs hatched business skills and responsibility. Besides keeping track of the numbers, she gets up on cold mornings to feed the birds.

“It’s a good lesson, that we all need to push through fatigue,” said Andrea.

But though her profits may come in handy, Gabriella looks beyond the business end. “I’m a little selfish,” she said, “because I really like my babies.”

Her family likes what the babies produce. “It tastes completely different,” marveled Bill.

“The first time I tried a goose egg, it was so rich, it blew my mind,” said Gabriella.

Their free-range, home-laid eggs, with richly orange-golden yolks high in Omega 3, contribute to health and provide “lots of different kinds of food,” said Bill. The family has pulled eggs off their shopping lists, and Andrea said she put salt and pepper away because the eggs’ flavor “is so lovely.”

But since the hens’ laying life is only a couple of years, will they end up as soup?

No. Bill added that their chickens would never be killed unless they were injured and suffering.

What will chicken-keeping hatch for Gabriella?

She hopes to keep birds in her future, and maybe have “an affectionate zoo.”

“I’d like people to know how beautiful and grand (chickens) are, and see how affectionate they can be,” she said.

Gabriella’s Eggs can be reached at 879-9616 or bill@williamhcook.com.

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