From dawn to dusk, this Aurora chicken farmer, a Vietnam veteran, is 'where he wants to be'
By DENISE CROSBY | The Beacon-News | Published: April 22, 2019
AURORA, Ill. (Tribune News Service) — Except for two years of hell he spent in heavy combat in Vietnam, 75-year-old Ed Huss has never lived anywhere else but Hankes Road.
Huss grew up in a white single-story house on the 88-acre farm first owned by his great-grandfather. And when he and Judie were married 50 years ago, the happy couple settled into rural Aurora in a house right up the road, before moving to the 150-year-old farmhouse that sits next to the big red barn and silo.
Here, the couple has not only made their life-long home, Huss also built chicken coops to house the hundreds of hens responsible for a thriving egg enterprise.
And it all began about a decade ago at the Kane County Fair, where he was manning a Wounded Warriors booth that was set up next to a man selling poultry cages to suburbanites eager to become part of the trendy backyard chicken movement.
Raised on a farm with 10 siblings, Huss was far too practical to pay over $1,000 for something that would hold only a half dozen chickens or so. The man did, however, manage to sell Huss, a retired ironworker, his last 68 chickens. And today he’s got over 700 pullets and laying hens that produce about 30 dozen eggs a day inside the four coops spread across the “Ed & Judie Egg Farm” on Hankes Road.
That’s a lot of yolk, of course. But even then, Huss said, “I can’t keep up with the demand,” especially this time of year when the Easter Bunny is working overtime.
“People are crazy about farm fresh eggs,” added Huss, who, except for when he was in ‘Nam, has never eaten anything else … although he admits to mashing his over-easies up with hash browns, jalapeno peppers and sausage.
Huss only advertises in a local flyer. Still, he has a steady flow of regular customers who are eager to give $5.50 for a dozen “super jumbo” eggs. Some, coming from Chicago, will even take as many as 10 dozen at a time, which can really leave him with a shortage.
Indeed, recently, when I opened the refrigerator in the front porch of his house where customers can pick up and drop off their “donations” at any time, only a few cartons were on the shelves.
“It’s definitely time to get busy … “ he noted.
Still, when I asked about the possibility of purchasing more chickens — most come from large poultry farms in Wisconsin — he shakes his head emphatically. At age 75, Huss has more than enough to keep him busy.
Up every day at 7 a.m. feeding and watering his chickens, the egg farmer works until 7 at night. He does have invaluable help, however, from two teenage sisters who work for about an hour a day gathering, washing and placing the eggs inside the cartons his customers faithfully return.
Huss also cuts and sells firewood; although he’s scaled back his tree-climbing activities after taking a 23-foot fall two years ago that broke his pelvis, seven ribs and his back in two places. It also punctured a lung, separated his sternum and tore his rotator cuff.
Doctors said the fall would have killed the vast majority of people his age, wife Judie noted. But her husband not only began walking again nine months ahead of what doctors predicted, even with screws and plates inside his body, he moves like a man far younger.
To say this egg man is a tough old bird would be an understatement. When Huss took me on a tour of his farm — only three of the original acres are left — he proudly pointed out huge piles of firewood he’s cut that are ready for delivery, as well as the new pasture he’s planting for two horses and scores of free-range chickens.
As we entered one of the bright red coops a couple hundred golden hens call home, Huss seemed right at home himself with the chattering chickens, poking his hand inside some of the nests that held up to a dozen large brown eggs.
There’s only one hen — Blondie — he calls by name. You can’t get too attached, Huss said, because these birds only stay around for a few years. (Since this is a happy Easter story, we won’t go into detail where those elder hens go when they can no longer produce those fresh farm eggs).
Speaking of Easter, Huss — who is actively involved in the youth program at Village Bible Church — is a man with a deep faith that grew more profound after he returned from Vietnam. What he experienced while serving with the First Battalion 7th Cavalry Regiment — which was featured in the book and movie “We Were Soldiers Once” — was as bad as the stories can get.
“Unless you have been through war,” Huss said, “there is really no way to describe it.”
His commitment to his old Army buddies — they meet once a year — and to veterans in general also runs deep, which is why he likes to donate eggs to V.A. groups, and when possible, other charitable organizations.
Huss’ other great joy is watching children who visit the farm get a hands-on lesson about the origin of the eggs they eat and that the Easter Bunny likes to hide this time of year.
“He loves those kids, especially the little ones,” says Judie, who, as much as she wants her husband to “slow down,” knows there are some things simply out of her control.
“We will never leave here on two feet,” she said of their egg farm. “All of this keeps him alive … it’s where he wants to be.”
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