Homegrown: Poultry rule The Roost for Bernard family


The Telegraph Herald’s monthly Homegrown feature highlights vendors who sell at tri-state area farmers markets.

Watch for new installments on the first Sunday of each month. If you have a suggestion for a vendor for us to feature, send an email to elizabeth.kelsey@thmedia.com.

The Roost

Location: Bernard, Iowa

Items offered: Produce, whole chickens, eggs, beeswax food wraps, flowers, herbs, earrings 

Products sold at: Dubuque Farmers Market, Cascade Farmers Market, Maquoketa Farmers Market; drop-in vendors at Dubuque Winter Farmers Market

Contact: 563-219-1604, ontheroost.com

BERNARD, Iowa — It has been said that birds of a feather flock together, but at Ben and Becky Milum’s home, it’s not uncommon to find one or two chickens spending the afternoon in the turkey pen.

“We call him ‘Big Boy,’” Becky Milum said on a recent afternoon, pointing out the large white fowl doing his best to blend in with the turkeys as they clustered around a feeder. “He hangs out with the turkeys pretty frequently.”

The couple and their three children keep chickens, ducks and turkeys at their Bernard home.

Under the name “The Roost,” the family just wrapped up their second year selling eggs, whole chickens and a variety of fresh produce and flowers at Dubuque Farmers Market and several other local markets. This winter, they will be drop-in vendors at Dubuque Winter Farmers Market.

“It’s such a community vibe,” Milum said of the farmers markets. “I love chatting with our customers. They know who grew their food, and we get to hear about how they use it.”

Feathered friends

Milum estimated that The Roost has about 80 chickens, 50 ducks and 18 broad-breasted white turkeys. Additionally, they raise more than 100 Cornish cross broiler meat chickens throughout the summer and fall, which are butchered and sold.

Much of the flock is allowed to roam freely around the family’s property during the day, but the birds are in a pen at night.

“We think making sure they have fresh air and a lot of access to being outside is important,” Milum said.

The Cornish cross, however, need more protection, so they are kept in a Salatin-style chicken tractor. The small, square enclosure is moved around the yard once or twice a day to give the chickens access to new grass for foraging.

“Their waste does really well for us as fertilizer, and they keep the grass down so we don’t have to do as much mowing, and they eat the bugs,” Milum said, as she used a hose to fill the chickens’ water source. “They really do a lot of our maintenance.”

The birds are fed a high-quality protein feed, along with corn and other excess garden vegetables.

As Milum hefted a large bag to fill the turkeys’ feeder, the birds pecked at the apples that lay scattered around their enclosure.

“They’ll grab one apple and chase each other around for it, when there’s all these apples just sitting there,” Milum said. “It’s hilarious to watch.”

At farmers markets, The Roost offers chicken and duck eggs, as well as turkey eggs when they are in season. Milum said duck eggs are very popular among patrons. Bakers say the larger yolk of a duck egg helps baked goods rise, and cooks like to mix chicken and duck eggs together for omelets.

Customer Tricia Conter, of Cascade, praised the quality of the chicken eggs she regularly purchases from The Roost.

“Everything that we get from them is wonderful,” she said. “Their farm-fresh eggs have the most rich colored yolks I’ve ever seen, and the taste is outstanding. The cost is tremendous considering the quality of the product.”

Variety of products

In addition to the birds, Milum and her family raise a plethora of produce in several garden plots around their property. Throughout the summer and fall, the family has sold everything from melons, broccoli and beans to asparagus, kale and carrots.

“We love that we’re so connected to our food. We know where it’s grown and how it’s grown,” Milum said.

Milum said family members hope within the next five years to add a greenhouse, which would allow them to extend their growing season and provide more fresh produce during the winter. Currently, they start their plants as seedlings indoors with a light system for heat, planting things such as tomatoes and peppers as early as February and transplanting them outdoors in May.

Milum also makes and sells homemade beeswax food wraps, pieces of cotton fabric that are coated in a mixture of beeswax, pine resin and coconut oil. The beeswax wraps are used like plastic wrap or plastic bags for covering and transporting food and can be washed and reused.

Milum’s daughter, Cora, 9, makes and sells homemade earrings using feathers shed by the turkeys, ducks and chickens that roam The Roost.

Cora and her brothers, 11-year-old Edric and 15-year-old Nathan, lend a hand with chores such as feeding and watering the birds and gathering eggs.

“I think there’s a sense of responsibility and ownership, both for us and for the kids,” Milum said. “It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it. I feel more connected to nature this way.”

Conter said she is impressed by the level of care the birds at The Roost receive.

“The animals aren’t just sitting in small cages just producing,” she said. “They’re well taken care of and managed by everybody in the family.”