A Labor of Egg Love: Keeping Rare Breeds Alive


Don Tjossem

A white-crested Polish hen strikes a pose in Wauna. Don Tjossem, KP News

Becky and Steve Lodholm have owned and operated the Raregg Ranch near Wauna on the Key Peninsula for five years.

Raregg Ranch is a nonprofit poultry-preservation center dedicated to saving particular species of poultry. The focus is on breeds that are nearing extinction due to commercialization and strict regulations for keeping poultry.

Becky Lodholm founded Raregg in February 2012 following a trip to Florida, where she saw some interesting chickens and the colorful eggs they produced. She now takes care of approximately 350 breeder chickens, 1,000 chicks and 500 egg layers on a daily basis. There is no time for vacations or extended absences from this operation. She called it “Easter year ‘round,” as she and her sister do most of the day-to-day management of this biosecure facility. Her husband helps when he returns from Bristol Bay in Alaska between fishing trips.

It is “Easter year ‘round” at the Raregg Ranch in Wauna. Photo: Don Tjossem, KP News

The ranch is required to be biosecure so that strange diseases are not introduced into any of the 30 different breeds of chickens from all over the world that are being reared in this facility. To prevent the spread of diseases, new species are quarantined before being introduced into the main area with the rest of the chickens.

The Norwegian Jaerhons raised at Raregg are the only examples that can be seen anywhere in the world outside of a Norwegian zoo. A number of other species at the ranch are critically endangered, with less than 1,000 birds left worldwide. That is one of the main purposes of Raregg: to maintain specific species and ensure the best of their traits are carried on for future generations to enjoy.

Each species has its own pen and is released separately to be “range fed,” to prevent crossbreeding. Pens are moved when necessary to allow new dirt and fresh grass for the chickens to enjoy.

Raregg is not a mass egg or chicken-producing facility. With the daily care these chickens receive, many of them take on personalities and in some cases have given names. When eggs are taken from the pens and brought to the incubator, it is not unusual for the caretaker to be pecked in protest by the laying hen. The eggs that are not used to raise chicks are marketed locally at Local Boys in Purdy and Drive-Thru Feed in Vaughn.

Plans for the future include different and new pens that will depict a Key Center theme. The ranch is 27 acres, so there is plenty of room for expansion. Income is generated through egg sales and donations to maintain the viability of the operation.

Visits to the facility are by appointment only.

For more information, go to www.Rareggranch.com or Raregg Ranch on Facebook.