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Buddy’s Farm proprietor discovers loss of hundreds of hens

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With less than two weeks to go before Easter, it’s hard to imagine a worse time for a guy in the boutique egg business to discover more than 200 laying hens missing from his chicken farm outside Sebastopol.

The birds were stolen is all that egg producer Gerald Leuschen can figure out.

The culprit, moreover, appears to have targeted birds that lay some of the prettiest eggs, with shells that come in subtle shades of green, blue, rose and chocolate brown, Leuschen said. “It has to be someone who knows what they’re doing and knows chickens,” he said Tuesday.

For Leuschen, owner of Buddy’s Farm, the theft is a financial blow — one that comes at a critical juncture in his effort to expand.

The loss of the multicolored hens he calls “Easter eggers” — birds he incubated and hand-raised as chicks — also means he’s without the pastel eggs that lend themselves to Easter colors even without dye, though they’re in demand year-round. He figures he’s out about $75 a day in egg proceeds, and about $100 invested in each chicken, for a total exceeding $22,000.

There’s also an emotional toll on his family, who still name many of their roosters and hens, though they generally have upwards of 600.

“I miss my birds,” Leuschen said. “They’re so beautiful!”

Buddy’s Farm — named after a rooster who wandered near his home a few years ago — is a family operation, where mom, dad, and their two boys, ages 10 and 13, all work in the business. Leuschen’s father-in-law helps out, too.

Leuschen leases about 6 acres of pasture off Blank Road, where the family has built a 1,100-square-foot coop for the hens out of recycled pallets and corrugated metal.

One morning — Leuschen thinks it was March 8 — he went out to the pasture to unlatch the coop and release the chickens for the day and he found one of the doors unlocked and some of the hens loitering outside.

He looked around for signs of a predator, but finding none, thought little of it and went on about his business not realizing the brood, divided between the coop and outdoors, didn’t add up.

Leuschen made a mental note to remind his boys, Sebastian and Gabriel, to make sure to secure the doors each day — a message sternly delivered before he found himself sick and away from the farm for several days.

About a week later, as the hens were outside feeding, Leuschen said he realized the gathered brood was much smaller than it should have been, explaining a decline in egg production, as well.

“At this point in the season, we should be hitting 30 dozen a day, and within another month, we should have been hitting 45-to-50 dozen a day,” he said. “And right now we’re only hitting 21 — on a good day.”

But it still took several days for him and his wife, Suzanne, to decide the chickens were truly gone.

Leuschen said he accepts that a bird or two will occasionally end up with a hungry predator, but “we never thought we’d have to protect ourselves against the five-fingered animals.”

The coop is now padlocked at night, and Leuschen filed a report Tuesday morning with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, but officials said it was unclear whether it would be investigated.

Leuschen is hoping someone may stumble across his hens, which are heritage varieties crossed with standard breeds, and thus unique. He’s asked friends and customers on Facebook to be on the lookout and plans to spread the word at feed stores.

He’s also offering a reward of $250 for information resulting in the birds’ return or prosecution of the chicken rustler.

“I didn’t want to be the guy crying wolf,” Leuschen said, surveying the farm Tuesday. “But, damn, we had a big wolf come in.”

Leuschen can be reached at buddysfarmsonomacounty@gmail.com or 326-4800.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary. callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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