Meet the country's youngest Animal Welfare Approved farmer: 12-year-old Shelby

Shelby Grebenc with one of her hens.
Shelby Grebenc with one of her hens.

Shelby Grebenc wakes up at 6:15 each morning to give the chickens on her Broomfield farm food and water, and to collect and wash the hens' eggs. Shelby isn't a typical farmer whose work feeds and supports her family, though: She's a twelve-year-old who simply loves farming and chickens. And she's the youngest farmer in the country to become Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) -- one of the most stringent food labels signifying that an operation that emphasizes the humane treatment of animals.

Shelby's family has always had chickens, and she began taking care of them when she was six. An unfortunate circumstance led Shelby to turn her hobby into a business."When I was about eight or nine years old, my mom got multiple sclerosis and she was in a nursing home for a while, and so this is what I thought I could do just to get a little extra money since it's kind of expensive," Shelby recalls. "I started selling my eggs and ever since then I've been selling them."

Along the way, she solicited her grandmother for a $1,000 loan so that she could start Shelby's Happy Chapped Chicken Butt Farm, an interesting name born from a handful of chickens that people simply left on the Grebencs' doorstep. People see her chickens from the road, Shelby explains, assume that she will take their unwanted chickens, and leave them there in the middle of the night.

Shelby does take them in, but many of the hens have not been properly cared for -- and when chickens aren't fed, well, they try to eat each other's butts. "So I thought, 'Well, since they have chapped butts and they're happy now, Shelby's Happy Chapped Chicken Butts sounded good,'" says Shelby..

One of Shelby's friends is also an AWA farmer and mentioned the Animal Welfare Approved label. She had not heard of the certification, but figured it would give her some more credibility. "Since I'm only twelve, people kind of doubt me," says Shelby.

No more: She completed a 48-page application, then had an AWA representative inspect her farm for a day and check back in over the course of a month. She got the seal of approval in October.

"We call it a well-earned badge of honor, or a hard-earned badge of honor for a farmer to have achieved approval to our program," says Andrew Gunther, program director for AWA. "Shelby is amongst some of the most outstanding pastoral farmers in the United States of America."

AWA has an extensive list of requirements for a farmer to earn its seal, among them that the chickens and hens are able to roam outside; eat bugs and unmodified food; and are under the care of a skilled farmer. Recognizing that Shelby Grebenc met AWA's criteria, Gunther had to alter his rules so that the organization could work with her. Shelby's father had to co-sign the agreement since Shelby is under eighteen.

"The majority of Animal Welfare Approved farmers have children who are as old as Shelby or older," says Gunther.

Shelby spends about two-and-a-half hours a day taking care of about 130 hens, who lay about fifteen dozen eggs a day. For now, she sells eggs mostly to her neighbors; she posts a large yellow sign at the end of her driveway so that people know when she is in business. She also sells eggs at her friend's dairy co-op. Part of the AWA certification calls for the organization to help find markets, restaurants and retailers who want to buy the eggs.

Shelby sells about $100 worth of eggs a week, she says. What she doesn't put back into the business she saves for college.

Shelby's father takes care of her animals from time to time so that she can go to a friend's sleepover or do other normal kid stuff. But Shelby insists that she will always have chickens, and spends a lot of her free time just watching them because she thinks they're fun and interesting.

"She's just an amazing young lady," says Gunther. "She's mature beyond her years. I think this whole thing as to why she started was amazing. It's just incredible that this young lady would step up and do what is required. We're hoping that we can help her business evolve and develop."


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