All The Eggs In One Bus-ket

Raising free range chickens a family business

By Clay Payne

TFW Contributing Writer


(Photo: Clay Payne) Wyatt, 6, carries the rooster at Villine's Family Farm Buffalo Eggs.

Nestled deep in the Ozarks in the town of Ponca, an old school bus that was converted to a free range chicken coop sits merely a stone’s throw from the blue water of the Buffalo River. The bus is home to the heritage hens who produce Villines’ Family Farm Buffalo Eggs, and the hens are raised by the Villines family (Joe, Genevieve, and their two sons, Wyatt, 6, and Jameson, 4).

“To me every egg is a true gift from God,” Genevieve said. “They’re all unique and special to me because we’ve raised the hens. They’re like children to us.”

Not only did Joe rig the school bus with a roost made of cedar poles braced with wire (stabilized by a fencing technique), a 30-pound feeder with pellets for the 117 hens and one rooster that contains layer pellets with protein (the chickens are also fed oats and wheat), and bell waterers (one inside the bus and one under), he also constructed an incubator inside the refrigerator of their home across the street for the estimated 50 eggs per day that the bus hens produce in the summertime. Joe said the hens can produce up to 100 eggs a day in the spring and fall months.

The incubator is a converted refrigerator at Villine's Family Farm Buffalo Eggs.

“Why not? It’s fun anyway,” Joe said of the incubator.

The Villines’ hens are currently kicking out four types of eggs which make for quite a colorful egg basket: Americauna (blue), Black Java (brown), Black Copper Marans (dark brown) and Leghorns (white). Joe said he is working on crossing the Americauna eggs with the Black Copper eggs to produce an army-green egg. Joe said he would be keeping Heritage (nonhybrid, pure bred) eggs and also producing cross-breed eggs.

“We’re making our own hybrids — getting creative,” Joe said.

Free range chickens eat grass, have the ability to run around and are exposed to the sunlight.

Joe and Genevieve Villines with sons Wyatt, 6, and Jameson, 4.

“We do it for the animals and for our customers,” Joe said. “Chicken houses are nasty buildings. They’re dusty, overpopulated and the chickens are bred to get big, fast. (Their skeletal structures break down, and they can’t live past a year).”

The Villines were some of the first settlers in the Boxley Valley area, and Joe said his ancestors began homesteading in the area in 1836. Joe was raised on his family’s cattle farm in Ponca, and Genevieve grew up raising chickens and fighting roosters on her family’s property in Tokio, near Nashville, in south Arkansas. Genevieve said her chores growing up were taking care of the chickens, including watering and feeding.

In 2002, Genevieve was working as a reporter for the Fayetteville Free Weekly when she was assigned to cover a local bluegrass band, Wildwood. Joe played banjo and guitar for the band, and they said the rest is history.

Joe Villines works on the bus while 6-year-old Wyatt holds some chickens and 4-year-old Jameson peeks at the cameraman.

Now, the friendly couple raises the free range chickens on their farm along with help from their two sons, Wyatt and Jameson, and their three dogs, Batman, Minnie and Hez. In addition to the chickens, dogs and boys running around the farmland, the family also owns a fourth month-old pet hog, Shoopie.

“Wyatt’s the best chicken catcher,” Genevieve said.

Genevieve said she moved to Fayetteville to attend college, and Joe said he moved from his farm to Fayetteville because, “I didn’t wanna marry someone I was related to … seriously.” Genevieve and Joe moved back to Joe’s family farm in Ponca in 2002, and they started raising chickens three or four years afterward.

Joe said the school bus came about from his grandfather, who purchased the bus for his goats to sleep in at night. Joe said the goats were sold, but the bus was not and sat unused for about 10 years.

A basket of freshly picked, multicolored eggs at Villines' Family Farm Buffalo Eggs near Ponca.

Joe said his family owns another school bus, and he aims to have it set up and running eventually. Joe painted the former yellow school bus a desert storm green.

“I didn’t want it to be an eyesore,” Joe said.

Villines’ Family Farm Buffalo Eggs are sold at Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, Nature’s Wonders in Harrison and locally at Lost Valley Canoe in Ponca.

“We call ’em buffalo eggs because they’re on the banks of the Buffalo River,” Joe said.

Categories: Family Friendly
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