Hens for the hungry: Brothers’ chickens provided shelter with 500 dozen eggs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 8, 2017

By Mark Wineka


SALISBURY — You could say this was a Grade A student service project.

Twin brothers Drew and Tyler Heald recently made their last delivery of eggs to the Rowan Helping Ministries kitchen. The eggs, courtesy of the Healds’ backyard chickens, were part of many a breakfast served to shelter residents since October 2015.

Over that 20-month period, the Healds furnished about 500 dozen eggs to RHM. Do the quick math, and that’s some 6,000 eggs.

“They have been a dedicated twosome, and their senior project has gone way beyond the typical one,” said Kris Mueller, director of resource development for Rowan Helping Ministries.

Last Friday, Drew and Tyler graduated from Gray Stone Day School in Misenheimer. They had made their service project presentations — individually — in March.

At those presentations, the brothers recounted how they built their chicken coop, added a chicken run, bought chicks at Tractor Supply and made their brooder boxes.

The Healds had their first egg by Sept. 20, 2015, and they made their first deliveries of eggs to RHM — 11 dozen total — on Oct. 22 and Oct. 29, 2015.

After those initial deliveries, they were in business, so to speak. One to two times a month, the brothers delivered eggs to the shelter, continuing until that last delivery May 25.

The great chicken project had other moving parts, of course. The chickens had to be fed and watered daily. Eggs had to be collected, washed and packed into cartons. The coops had to be cleaned now and then.

The brothers dealt with mud and chicken poop. As needed, they protected their chickens from the cold and snow. The summer heat of 2016 cost them a couple of their layers.

Drew and Tyler consistently updated their project through a blog they called “Hens for the Hungry.”

After a while, Tyler said, looking after the chickens and processing the eggs they produced became part of their daily routine, “another part of our day.”

“It’s a bit of work,” Drew said, “but (the chickens) give you a lot of stuff out of the effort you put into it.”

Gray Stone invites people from the community to attend the student presentations on their service projects.

“And one of the community panel members told the boys’ mom that he had been hearing these presentations for a lot of years and that he had never seen a project like this one,” Mueller said.

Nate Valentine, food manager for Rowan Helping Ministries, was impressed at their first meeting by how eager the boys were to help the shelter, then how dependable they were once their chickens started producing.

“They were consistent; they were like clockwork,” Valentine said.

The Healds always delivered on a Thursday afternoon. Once, that happened to be Thanksgiving, and another time, Christmas Eve. So those deliveries seemed extra special.

The eggs Drew and Tyler provided made a big difference at the shelter. Before their contributions, Valentine said, groups coming in to cook breakfast usually had to buy or provide their own eggs six out of seven mornings.

After the brothers began their deliveries, “I would say maybe one or two” times a week cooking teams would have to provide their own eggs.

“It was a humongous impact,” Valentine said. “It was pretty awesome.”

The 18-year-old Healds are now getting themselves ready for college. Drew will be studying computer engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and Tyler will be majoring in computer science at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Their parents, Susan and Peter Heald, will continue living in the High Rock Lake community of Crane Cove and tending to the chickens the boys raised, not to mention the 10 Susan looks after in a neighboring hen house.

“Now what do we do?” said Susan, standing in the driveway with her sons. “Reality is setting in. We were just talking about that last night. … They don’t stop laying eggs, and there are just so many quiches you can make.”

Drew and Tyler said they are happy their service project  turned out as well as it did, and they praised the cooperation they received from Rowan Helping Ministries, including Valentine and volunteer coordinator Katie Murdoch.

Rowan Helping Ministries provided most of the egg cartons the boys needed. Otherwise, that would have been an added expense.

“It was a good project,” Susan Heald said. “It helped a lot of people.”

There were a couple of bumps in the road, besides losing two of the hens last summer. During the winter months, the hens’ egg production went down drastically, so the family bought some grocery store eggs to supplement the boys’ normal deliveries to the shelter.

Other than the losses from last summer’s heat, the Healds’ chicken stock remained pretty constant, even though they have observed predators such as a coyote, a few foxes and a chicken hawk.

For the whole month of July 2016, the boys were attending a summer camp at Appalachian State University, so Susan had to make the deliveries then.

“Then, of course, everyone would say, ‘Where are the boys?'” Susan said.

The brothers found it easy to share the responsibility of tending to the chickens. They would rotate duties. One day, Drew might provide the feed and water, while Tyler collected eggs.

The roles would reverse the next day.

Once you’re around chickens for a time, it becomes easy to identify their egg song — the particular clucking a hen will do before she’s going to lay an egg. And overall, they’re a pretty comical bird.

On a recent day, the Healds laid out remnants of watermelon and cantaloupe for the chickens to dine one.

“It’s just so hilarious,” Susan said as the chickens rushed up to inspect the food. “I love the way chickens run.”

She jokes that goats might be next in the family’s future.

Tyler said when he, Drew and the rest of the family realized how important eggs were to the shelter, they considered establishing some kind of nonprofit organization that could maybe keep the egg pipeline going.

“We thought about making it bigger than it was,” Tyler said.

That might not be a bad idea.

Valentine, the food manager for RHM, said there will be a demand again to have a good egg supply at the shelter. Before the Healds’ service project, eggs were always an item placed on the monthly needs list distributed to RHM supporters.

Eggs will have to go back on that list now.

“I was a little sad that (the Healds) were coming to their end,” Valentine said. “Yeah, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.