EAST MANATEE -- Rolf Nielsen talks to his Rhode Island Red chickens every day, and leaves the radio on for them in the coop so they can enjoy easy listening music.
"An old farmer told me to keep music on because it helps keep them calm. I tell them, 'You better start laying,'" Nielsen said.
Nielsen recently opened the Norwegian Wood Free Range Chicken Farm at 5517 Lorraine Road.
His 450 hens, which will be a year old in April, seem to be taking his advice, and are getting busy in the egg laying department.
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Nielsen collects about 150 eggs a day, and sells them seven days a week between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
As the chickens continue to mature, they should produce up to about 220 eggs a day, Nielsen said.
With a name like Norwegian Wood Free Range Chicken Farm, there must be a Beatles fan in the mix.
That would be Nielsen's wife Debra, who suggested the name. It makes all kind of sense. Nielsen's ancestry is Norwegian, and he is an eggman, a character prominently mentioned in another Beatles' song, "I Am the Walrus."
While Nielsen is serious about his chickens, he treats the farm as his hobby, and often operates on the honor system, where customers can drive up, pick up a dozen eggs and leave $5 on a picnic table in the front yard.
His chickens range over five acres of sand, grass, scrub and water, pecking at bugs, plants and whatever nature provides. He supplements their diet with fruits and vegetables. He does not feed them pellets, corn waste or any kind of chemicals.
"I do not fast feed them," Nielsen said, referring to large scale-chicken farms where layers are often caged.
The result may be fewer eggs, but the yolks are a deeper yellow, and they taste better, Nielsen said.
The chickens are outside most of the day, coming into the coop in the afternoon to lay their eggs, and in the evening for safety against predators.
"They are cackling along, and I would love to understand what they are saying," Nielsen said.
The coop contains 150 egg boxes, but the chickens use only about 35 of them.
Nielsen is not sure why that is, but some boxes will be empty, while another box will have 10 to 20 eggs from as many chickens.
Nielsen retired to Lakewood Ranch with his wife from Canada, and after enjoying a bit of inactivity, he decided that he had to find something to do.
The retired travel executive previously had a flock of 50 chickens in Canada, and decided to give full rein to his hobby.
He bought acreage near Lakewood Ranch, set up the coop, put up fences and stocked it with chicks.
"When I first met Rolf, one of my co-workers sang that song, 'Norwegian Wood,' and it stuck in my head," Debra Nielsen said.
In addition to contributing the name for the farm, she also helps with paperwork, and places stickers on egg cartons.
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-356-2630.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.