Photos & words by Carrie Legg
At 2 years old, Ayrienna Bunce already knew that she wanted chicks. Her parents, Kristle and Thane, obliged on one condition: she had to be potty trained first.
Eight years later, Ayrienna has about 300 laying hens and 240 chicks she raises at her home in Mayville, New York. She collects the eggs to sell to locals and businesses in the area, including the Heirloom Restaurant in the Athenaeum Hotel.
“I like taking care of animals and that’s the only thing that I’ve ever thought that I would like doing,” said Ayrienna, now 10. While many kids would choose to spend their profits, Ayrienna is saving most of what she earns to eventually attend veterinarian school.
When Ayrienna first started raising chickens, she and her family kept the eggs for their own use. Once the hens laid more than the Bunces could use, she started selling them at her father’s suggestion. This gave her the opportunity to learn business skills and save up for her dreams.
“She’s probably learning a better work ethic than most adults have,” Kristle Bunce said. Both she and Thane hope that their daughter paves the way for her five siblings, encouraging them to follow in her footsteps and create small businesses of their own.
Ayrienna collects eggs about four times a day, every day, washes them with warm water and packages them in gray or magenta — her favorite color — cartons.
On an average day, the hens lay about 17 to 20 dozen eggs, which Ayrienna then divides among the Heirloom Restaurant, Lighthouse Point Grocery and her own family’s farm stand.
Once the eggs make it to the grounds, Head Chef Travis Bensink and Head Pastry Chef Halli Mansfield use the eggs to create delectable treats such as cream puffs, cakes and omelets for hotel guests.
At first, Bensink purchased 30 dozen eggs a week for the hotel. Now, the order has more than doubled. Even before purchasing eggs from the Bunces, Bensink was acquainted with the family, and supported Ayrienna’s business.
“It’s an amazing family and an amazing product,” Bensink said, adding that the prices are also much more affordable compared to other egg distributors.
Ayrienna has done her best to maintain loyalty and fair prices for her customers, even amid rising grocery store prices. When many large farms around the country were impacted by the spread of avian flu, cutting production, Ayrienna kept her egg prices at $3 per dozen. This attracted new local customers seeking cheaper eggs, including many teachers from nearby Chautauqua Lake Central School.
Summer is not only prime egg-laying season for the chickens because of more sun exposure, but also prime egg-selling time for Ayrienna because she is off from school.
Raised on a dairy farm, Kristle Bunce, who taught her daughter the required tasks for maintaining the egg supply, helps keep the business running during the school year.
Outside of selling eggs, Ayrienna participates in 4H, horseback riding and basketball.
“Sometimes you can teach (the chickens) to follow you around and do funny things, and I just think that they’re cute little creatures,” Ayrienna said.
Ayrienna said while she plans to become a veterinarian who might mostly look after more traditional pets, she still hopes to care for at least a few chickens for the rest of her life — just maybe not always as many to supply a hotel’s worth of eggs.