Chickens to crow about: They’re ‘living the life’ at Parshall’s Happy Chicken Ranch |

Chickens to crow about: They’re ‘living the life’ at Parshall’s Happy Chicken Ranch

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand County, Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

The chickens flee to the protection of their coop at the sign of a hawk, but a 2,000-pound car coming up the drive causes about as much alarm as the bugs they eat for breakfast.


No reaction.


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Ever-so-slowly, the car crawled forward; I prayed four chickens hidden by my front hood escaped the tire’s path.

First impression at the Happy Chicken Ranch at Corral Creek near Parshall was that “Happy” must come from freedom.

Chicken farmer Jerry Gioia once found eggs a hen laid on the backseat of his pick-up truck, a whole new level of “free range.”

Chickens could access all 20 acres of the Gioia-family land if they chose.

Instead, they stick fairly close to the coops, according to Jerry.

In a word, he said, they’re “chicken” of going beyond the radius of home base, so coops are temporarily located where vegetation is plentiful.

In Carhartt and a cowboy hat, Elijah, 2, wobbled after a chicken and laughed.

Earlier, he and his brother Wesley, 4, were admiring a clutch of chicks kept warm in a bed of sawdust.

Jerry and wife Tanya entered into the grass-fed chicken business around the time Elijah was born.

“This isn’t about making money; this is about eating decent foods,” said Jerry.

Prior to developing their small-scale poultry operation, the couple dove into learning everything they could about pasture-graze chickens to produce “healthy animals that do not need too much intervention to stay alive,” Jerry said.

Jerry has worked in the culinary business his whole life and is employed as a cook at a restaurant – on top of caring for 250 foraging chickens at home.

“As cooks, we are searching for a superior product all the time,” he said.

Natural black sage, wildflower leaves, snakeweed, clover and varied species of grasses on their land provide for heartier chickens, and for dozens of eggs laid that day, it doesn’t get any fresher.

“There’s only two ways to harvest energy from the sun,” Jerry said. “You go out to your garden, you pluck a carrot out of the ground, and you eat it. That’s the most direct way. The only other way is to send a grazing animal out to eat the things that you cannot, and then eat it. It’s the benefit of chlorophyll that we don’t get.”

Range-fed eggs have a better ratio of omegas, he said, and they taste better.

“The integrity of the yoke is dramatically stronger. It takes 100 whips to get scrambled eggs.”

Tanya said she’s noticed a difference in her baking. For recipes that call for two eggs, she uses just one.

Having started out with 25 chickens, the Gioias’ goal is to expand the operation to 5,000 birds.

“I swear, it’s like a natural anti-depressant, eating healthy food,” Jerry said.

That brings us to the name of the farm.

“I call it Happy Chicken because if I was reincarnated, if I believed in that kind of thing, man, I’d want to be one of these guys,” Jerry said.

As a flock forages nearby, the family boxer Griffin similarly picks at vegetation.

“He’s like an alcoholic in a bar,” Tanya said of the dog, banned from chasing chickens after he killed eight in two days.

“These guys are living the dream. Like my dog, they’re just living the dream,” Jerry said.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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