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11/27/2003

Egg-cellent adventure

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

NIWOT — Around 3 p.m., when most other Boulder County kids have flicked on the television and munched through their after-school snack, 7-year-old Brandon Slepicka has pulled on his mud boots and gotten down to business in a chicken coop.

Two years ago, the Slepicka family bought 24 Rhode Island Red hens as part of a Clover Bud Niwot Nifties 4-H project.

“It was a good way to teach some responsibility,” said his mother, Marsha Slepicka.

However, when those hens produced more than the family could scramble, fry, poach or bake, the boy went into business to swap wasted rotten eggs for what might as well be golden ones.

During the last two weeks of October, he sold 1,211 eggs for $162.25 in sales. He spent $51 on expenses from feed to chickens and ended up with a profit margin enviable to entrepreneurs of most stripes.

Sales have picked up enough that the family sometimes goes without, according to the boy’s father, Jerry Slepicka.

“It’s really bad when Marsha has to buy eggs from the store to bake a cake,” he explained.

But the cash hasn’t caused their son to live high on the hog with candy, video games and the like.

Instead, they said, Brandon has invested the bulk of his proceeds into feed, chickens and coop construction. Profits also pad his college savings account.

But for now, on-the-job experience is his best business teacher. Leading a tour of his homespun operation, the second-grader walks tall like an old farmer through a chicken pen strewn with pumpkin rinds — until he spots his favorite hen out of the 99 he now owns.

Her name is “Henney Penney,” and he’s instantly all boy chasing her in a zigzag through the chickens’ 2-acre, free-range area. He’s back in 90 fast seconds with arms full of the flapping, clawing bird desperate to get away.

“She’s different from the other hens,” said the grinning, bespectacled boy with the crew cut and space between his two front teeth. “She has white and black feathers. The others have yellow and white and a lot of them just have red.”

He calls another hen, a smallish Red Star, “Pretty Girl.” But the rest of his flock wobble around nameless.

They’re not really his pets, after all. They’re his product.

Brandon’s customers are often just as anonymous as his chickens, according to his mother.

Curious passersby see the hand-made, black-and-white “Eggs for Sale” sign pitched by the mailbox at the end of the lane leading to the family’s log cabin, she explained. That, and word-of-mouth, brings them to the address.

Yet, both the parents and their kids — which includes Brandon’s fraternal twin brother Jessie and sister Vanessa, 11, who help with watering, feeding, egg collecting and coop cleaning — work or go to school during the day.

Though it limits customer contact, the Slepickas designed a self-serve system to make buying eggs convenient when they’re not home, Marsha Slepicka said.

Every day, they stock a mini-refrigerator parked on the front porch by the front door. They taped a price list to its top and placed a clear glass jar in the door shelf marked “Egg Money.”

The eggs cost 75 cents for a half dozen, $1.50 for a dozen and $2.25 for 18.

“There are two or three ladies that don’t think we charge enough, so they leave extra,” she added. “Another neighbor didn’t have the right change, so she overpaid and said, ‘Keep it for the college.’”

Others, her husband said, overpay one day and balance accounts another day by underpaying.

This honor system failed only once, Brandon said.

While plucking a downy feather off a tan egg he pulled from his basket to place in the recycled cartons the family uses, he explained that they think high school kids stole four dozen last spring as a joke.

But this kid’s business goes beyond the porch honor system. He also delivers 10 dozen eggs at 4 p.m. sharp every Tuesday at Le Chantecler with a receipt book in hand, according to Dale Lamb, chef and part owner of the downtown Niwot restaurant and bar.

“He didn’t show up with a big spiel. He just showed up with his eggs and said, ‘Do you want some?’” said Lamb, a regular for the past four months. “We initially started buying eggs from him because he was so cute. He was such a sweet little, gung-ho entrepreneurial guy. But then we realized his eggs were really good.”

Brandon scatters all-natural feed to his flock and gives them 2 acres of free range. He helped his dad install heating lamps in the two coops now that winter has set in, to improve quantity. He also has placed plastic Easter eggs in the nests to up productivity, Jerry Slepicka explained.

The birds have, in turn, laid eggs with the kind of flavorful, deep yellow yolks perfect for Chantecler’s crme brle, French toast and sauce recipes, according to Lamb.

“Daddy sometimes has to get eggs from under a chicken to finish off a dozen,” Brandon explained.

“I have to do that more times than not,” his father added.

So far, though, the boy has kept up with production and had fun along the way.

“There’s a waiter at Chantecler who’s from (the Czech Republic), and our name is Czech,” said Marsha Slepicka. “He said the name means ‘little hen,’ and that Brandon had pulled his destiny.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.