Marcia Lincoln may lose money on her chicken farm, but she profits in many other ways.

One, she gets the satisfaction of not being one of the inhumane factories run by some corporate chicken farms, which subject the birds to abuse, including cramped living spaces. Each of her 150 or so birds spend their daily lives with at least 15 square feet to roam.

Two, she gets satisfaction out of breeding chickens for desired factors, such as robust body shape, a calm disposition and beautiful eggs.

Three, she enjoys quite possibly the world's finest tuna, hard-boiled egg and cheese sandwiches.

Lincoln, whose first name is pronounced "Mar-CEE-ah," raises and breeds chickens with her partner, Victor Ong, on 14 acres near West Ina and North Silverbell roads. She butchers birds, sells eggs and processed chickens, and participates in a co-op.

It's a constant battle to keep her chickens happy and healthy. Forget the figurative fox in the henhouse. Her chickens' biggest predator is the heat.

"They hate it," Lincoln said. "I hate it, too."

To combat extreme temperatures, Lincoln built a series of shaded pens equipped with misters. She said she hasn't lost a chicken due to the heat in years.

A labor of love

Another struggle is the funding of the enterprise. Lincoln considers the chicken farm to be a hobby rather than a business, and it can be costly. She has customers all over, including the Foothills and east side, but her sales can't quite offset her expenses, the heaviest of which is feed. Every week she goes through five 50-pound bags that cost $30 each.

Her hobby seems harder than a day job. It's a labor of love, without vacations or benefits. An on-site caretaker helps her and Ong maintain the farm.

"The downside of this hobby, or any operation keeping a lot of animals, is you can't go anywhere," Lincoln said. "You're stuck. The only way you can go someplace is to have a live-in, on-site caretaker. There's too much going on here to have your typical housesitter come and go."

A 60-year-old retired microbiologist, Lincoln sees her farm as something of a crusade. She deplores the way commercial chicken farmers treat the birds and produce inferior products.

"Most Americans don't realize what real chicken tastes like anymore," she said.

Cathy Blough, who runs Zenhens, the co-op in which Lincoln participates, said chickens raised with space and respect produce tastier products.

"Certainly how they're kept has a big impact on how the eggs taste," Blough said. "There's definitely a different taste. They are richer. The white is more substantive and binds together. The yolk usually has a much deeper color and a richer, heavier taste to it."

Love of Breeding

Chickens are social animals that don't like to be penned alone, Lincoln said. Roosters, however, tend to fight when they're with one another, so she has to carefully plan the chickens' living arrangements to keep them all happy. Sorting them is like doing a math puzzle, she said.

Breeding is a particularly painstaking process, she said. For every 100 birds that hatch, she's lucky if she finds 10 with the characteristics she's looking to pass on to the next generation.

"It's not just a beauty contest like maybe some people believe, because function follows form," Lincoln said. "You're looking for a bird with a deep breast and wide body. If a bird doesn't have a good enough sized breast, it's not gonna put meat on. If they're not wide in the pelvis, hens aren't going to be laying eggs very well. All those things that go into the look of a bird also have a function in the bird, too."

Breeding is its own reward, she said.

"There's a certain level of satisfaction involved, being able to breed a bird of quality," she said.

Lincoln is passionate about her chickens, but doesn't think the love is reciprocated.

Asked if the chickens recognize her, she said, "Probably not. They're just chickens, after all."

To order eggs

Call Marcia Lincoln at 744-4211. Eggs are $3.50 a dozen, and customers must bring their own clean cartons.

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com