In 1935, Giuseppe Baffoni founded a chicken farm in the heart of Johnston, and 88 years later his great grandson’s still tending the flock.
Adam Baffoni walked out his farm store and down the long dirt driveway to his farm’s two-story chicken coops. Recent rains have muddied the path. The soggy earth clings to Baffoni’s boots.
A vivid chicken mural overlooks the road, watching Baffoni’s journey. The all-seeing chicken was painted by artist Tate Won Chen on the outside wall of the top floor of a chicken coop that was partially destroyed by fire in April 2021.
Baffoni knocked down part of the coop, but still uses the rest of the building.
Nearly 20,000 chickens populate Baffoni Poultry Farm in Johnston. The flock includes 7,000-8,000 egg-laying hens capable of producing 3,000-4,000 eggs each day.
Baffoni stopped by a small coop to visit his six pet hens.
A few local fraternity boys gifted Baffoni a half-dozen baby chicks they no longer needed. Baffoni’s not sure where they got them, or why they had them. But the six chicks bloomed into two brown-bodied Rhode Island Reds, two speckled Barred Rock hens and a pair of stark white Leghorns.
He’s given them names, but the names change daily.
Baffoni laughs as the Rhode Island Red he’s holding flaps her way free. A flurry of dust and feather fills the air.
He closes the door and continues up the path, through truck tread puddles, never looking down.
Several years back, Baffoni couldn’t remember what year exactly, he calculated the cost of producing a dozen eggs on his farm.
“It came out to about two dollars per dozen,” he said. “It’s quite a bit more now.”
Baffoni Poultry Farm sells its fresh brown eggs to local markets and restaurants. Their eggs currently retail for around $6 per dozen.
The egg-laying hens reside in several more than 70-year-old two-story chicken coops. You can’t build them like that any more.
“These are grandfathered in,” Baffoni said.
Tiny birds fly in and out of the coop entranceways, carrying tiny twigs to contribute to their dense nests built in the crevices formed by the barn’s seasoned rafters.
“I’m not sure what they are,” Baffoni laughed.
He searched the hen house — packed with Rhode Island Reds — for a few fresh eggs. He found three and held them fearlessly in one hand. The hens gathered at his feet like eager parishioners around the minister at a baptism.
“All our eggs are brown,” he said. “I’m not sure where all the white eggs come from.”
He carried the eggs back down the muddy path, to a building next to the farm store. On the way he passed his wife, Adriana, as she pushed a stroller carrying the farm’s future fifth generation flock master, their two-month-old daughter Serafina. Baffoni stopped to shake her tiny dimpled hand. He’d see them soon.
Back to the eggs.
The national egg market may be a bit turbulent, but Baffoni said things remain fairly constant on his farm. Avian flu has decimated flocks across the globe. Baffoni’s thankful his birds have been healthy. An outbreak would be devastating.
“We’d have to close for 150 days,” he said. “We’d be screwed. We’ve been lucky … When they get sick, they cough and their cones turn purple.”
It’s a nightmare.
Baffoni opened a door to reveal stacks of empty cartons and a large lethal-looking metal table. He walked across the room, a bit of old eggshell stuck to the bottom of his boot.
He plugged a cord into an outlet and an antique mechanical feat of post-war engineering growled to life.
Baffoni has been collecting and grading eggs since he’s at least five-years-old. His earliest memories — climbing up to the vintage egg-grader and gently placing each brown shell into the spinning metal coil and watching the eggs roll to their like-sized cousins.
“That’s one of the best,” he said, lifting a bulging brown egg up to the light. They both glowed. “That’s a double-yolk for sure.”
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