Like many others, Bainbridge High School sophomore Saskia Burke was trying to figure out things to do while being quarantined during COVID-19 lockdowns.
She didn’t just watch Netflix. She got to work and developed three nutritional fowl treats that are now being sold at Bay Hay & Feed.
It began around the time the pandemic did in March of 2020 when Burke was looking after a friend’s farm while they were away. She noticed one of the ducks was injured so she took her to a veterinarian, where it was diagnosed with a broken leg. When Burke’s neighbors said they didn’t want the duck, she began helping it through rehabilitation for eight weeks, hoping to keep it from being harvested for food.
Burke and her mother Tamah became attached to the duck and named it Eileen because she tends to lean to one side due to her injury. Now, the Burkes have added to their small flock with 18 chickens and ducks combined. They built an aviary in their yard to house them.
“I had fallen completely in love with her, I love that duck so much,” Saskia said of Eileen. “We got her a friend, and then we got a couple chickens, and my obsession with poultry and flock animals kind of just exploded from there. It was a lot of work, and we have this great setup for them now.”
Tamah mentioned this is her family’s first experience raising fowl, and it is now a family enterprise.
“As a parent, I was like, ‘We’re urbanites, but we have land, I don’t really want fowl,’” she recalled saying before acquiring the birds. “Then you spend time with a duck, and you’re like there’s no way out.
“They’re really cool creatures and each individual one has a personality. We were not poultry people before this. It was a COVID crash course on how to do it right, get it done, and feel good about it. If we’re going to do it, we wanted to do it well.”
Saskia then started delving deep into what she wanted to feed her fowl. Since the Burkes intended to eat the eggs of the fowl, they wanted to know where their food was coming from and what ingredients were in it.
“When it came to supplements, it was all really confusing, and there wasn’t a lot on the market,” Saskia said. “When it comes to treats, I wanted to feed them mealworms but it was all coming from the Republic of China, and nothing there is super regulated, and I could never find an answer to what the worms were being fed. I didn’t feel comfortable giving that to my birds.”
Tamah mentioned that there are so many products that are naturally derived to prevent illnesses in fowl and that if they were going to be harvesting the eggs they needed to dig deeper. They found out cheaper is not necessarily better.
“The majority of people are just unaware. Mealworms that they purchase on Amazon or wherever come in bulk quantities, and they’re going to be looking for the best affordable price. There’s a reason for that. When you start digging a little deeper it gets kind of nasty,” she said.
The Burkes started their own mealworm farm last summer. Currently, they are using mealworms from an American producer that regulates in China with their own production, one of the few producers they found information on and the only regulated grower of mealworms. They will also be partnering with a Washington state company that is working on becoming a U.S. producer once their product is available.
Saskia began trying different mixes and ratios to figure out the right nutritional balance of each blend. She brought forward three types of fowl treats, which are defined on their website as a special blend of top-quality mealworms and a proprietary blend of herbs and ingredients without any steroids or pollutants. The worms come with well-studied supplements for gut, bone and respiratory health.
The first kind of fowl food is a straightforward mealworm fortified with organic kelp, brewers yeast and oregano in a half-pound bag. The equinox blend consists of grain and corn among other ingredients and is high in protein. The solstice blend contains parsley, oats, strawberries and garlic among other ingredients. Both the equinox and solstice blends are 32 ounces per bag.
The Burkes flock were the first fowls to try their new blends, and Saskia said “they loved it.” Since then, others have been using the blends.
“They go kind of crazy when they hear the bags come out,” Tamah said of their fowl flock. “The feedback’s been great. We actually had a couple people reach out to our website (fowltreats.com) that have been purchasing at Bay Hay because stock went low, and they couldn’t get what they wanted. To have others validate that was really great.”
The fowl treats are also available by delivery through chewy.com’s bird and farm department. Tamah said the three blends should be available on that site now. The Burkes will take the wait-and-see approach before pursuing anything further.
“We’re just looking at projections, forecasts and scaling. We don’t have any idea really of where it’s going to go,” Tamah said, adding a lot will depend on the Chewy sales and feedback. “We’re kind of letting that dictate scaling at this stage.”
Now that Saskia’s research and logistical work has slowed, she is back focusing on schoolwork. She said she’s “still kind of torn on what I want to do exactly” as a career, but wants to do something in business.
“If this does continue to be something that people want, I want to take this and kind of run with it,” she said. “It would be cool to expand and do a lot more with it.”