Lucie Mainard, “Les Jolies Rousses” farm, Vendée (France)
She lived in a rural area, but doesn’t come from an agricultural family. Still, her curiosity towards agriculture led her first to a career as an instructor in local agriculture organisations, and now to a life of farming. Today, Lucie runs her organic poultry farm “Les Jolies Rousses” in the Vendée, in the West of France.
Lucie Mainard manages the farm “Les Jolies Rousses” in the Vendée (France), which revolves around two main activities: on the one hand, crops, and on the other, laying hens. “It’s a small structure, with 50ha of organic land, a 9000 hens workshop, and 50ha of conventional land” explains Lucie, who says she’s not a fan of the expression ‘exploitation’, “because I don’t exploit anything”, she says. Lucie’s chickens are the stars of her Twitter account, where she talks about daily life on the farm to her more than 10,000 followers.
“The hen park is 4 hectares in size and we are gradually planting trees to provide shade and coolness for the animals in the summer. We have a small hobby apiary, quite in connection with our crops and the hens’ yard which is planted with meliferous cover and trees.”
Agriculture, a whole new world to discover
Although Lucie and Alexis’ farm is located in a temperate region in the west of France, they feel the effects of climate change too. “We are experiencing more and more early summers with high temperatures. This raises questions about access to water for crops and especially about the well-being of the chickens,” she says. “How do we help them deal with these hot streaks?
The farm is located between plain and marsh. On the one hand, a wet and wooded landscape, with plots that cannot be worked in winter by the conventional part of the operation. On the other hand, there is the plain with its open landscape and irrigated plots of land on which we are converting to organic farming in order to preserve things like water. “Our decision was based on cohesion between our poultry and arable branches : an organic poultry farm needs to be surrounded by organic crops regarding soil use and fertilisation with chicken droppings.”
Lucie comes from a rural background but did not know the agricultural world until she met her husband after the tragedy of the Xynthia storm that hit the Vendée coast in 2010. Lucie and Alexis found each other by helping others: “A volunteer to help empty flooded houses, I joined a group of volunteers that had been formed in my town and that’s how I met my husband.” And so Lucie, still a university student then, discovered agriculture.
“After two masters degrees, I decided to get an agricultural education and to take a position as a trainer in a ‘Maison Familiale Rurale’ (an agricultural education centre, red.). I learned about the agriculture industry there by guiding young agricultural trainees. And so, little by little, by being around young people dreaming of careers in agriculture, I told my husband of my own dream to join him on his farm one day. That’s how the chickens arrived at the farm.”
Plein les y’oeufs
For Lucie, a typical day at the farm also means taking care of her children. Her days usually start around 9.15h in the chicken coop. “I collect data from the previous day such as weight, water and feed consumption and analyse these numbers to understand how the animals are doing, a crucial task.” After this analysis, Lucie goes around the henhouse for another round of observation and analysis. It’s a moment she enjoys very much.
“Then I go back into the airlock and collect the eggs via an automatic belt. I palletize the eggs, which will then be sent to the packaging centre. I clean the airlock, the egg machine if necessary. Everything must be as clean as possible, at all times, the sanitary aspect is paramount.”
After a morning between her animals, Lucie leaves around 12:15 to devote her afternoon to the administrative part of the farm and the communication. In the evening, she returns to the henhouse for a final walk around.
In addition to her activities on the farm, Lucie has launched a blog and a YouTube channel, titled “Plein les y’oeufs” to show how she works. The vlog is no critic or comment on other poultry farms or French agriculture : “It’s just me, in my chicken coop and living my little adventures. My goal is to connect with consumers. I am present on several networks in order to multiply the channels (photo, video, blog) and thus reach a large audience. I have no other ambition than to participate in maintaining and nourishing the link with the general public. Not long ago, I did not understand what French agriculture was going through.”
“So now that I am on the other side and with my background as a trainer in mind, I wondered how I could showcase how agriculture works. I’m not looking to score astronomical amounts of likes or subscribers, if I wanted that I would make machinery videos. I just hope that each video, each post, can bring answers to those who are looking for them. It is essential for me to share my daily life. Not being able to invite guests in the henhouse due to strict sanitary rules, I chose to show the inside through my videos.”
Les Bottées: a tribute to women in agriculture
Not having experienced any clear prejudice as a woman in agriculture, Lucie does not notice any difference in perception towards her. However, she realizes that the prejudices are there and that there is still work to be done. “I know that it exists and many testimonies have proven it to me: in agriculture, there is still a long way to go until gender is no longer a criteria of differentiation.” That’s why Lucie took matters into her own hands to remedy the situation through her activities as a cooperative administrator with the creation of a group called “Les Bottées” (French: “the booted women”, red.), made up of 17 women farmers with varied and extremely rich backgrounds.
“I have taken the issue of the feminization of agricultural professions and cooperative governance, among other things, to heart by creating “Les Bottées”. The goal of this group is to make each “bottée” an ambassador of our agriculture in its near and far environment. Daring is the key word here: daring to start a farm, which is already huge, daring to express oneself in men’s groups, daring to get involved in collectives. And this fundamentally involves husbands: in agricultural collectives, commissions, and decision-making bodies in the agricultural sector, men are in the majority.”
“While husband and wife are settled and work together on their farms, it is too often the husband who shows up in the collectives, indirectly preventing the wife from being able to get involved. And I say this with full knowledge of the facts: my husband gave up “his place” so that I could get involved in the cooperative. He made the choice to commit to other groups and we found a balance so that everyone could make their own choices.
A communication appreciated by the public
Since founding her poultry farm, in 2019, Lucie had a lot of setbacks to cope with. The hardest one to her, weighing on her mood and the meaning she finds in her job, is the confinement of poultry because of the avian flu.
“Since 2020, we systematically confine between October and November and May-June of the following year. This is extremely delicate to live with, for several reasons. First of all, if I had wanted to keep poultry locked up inside, then I would not have gone organic. For me – and I’m not judging my colleagues, I’m talking about my own values here – it’s important that my chickens are outside. That’s how I envision my farm. So, to ask me, or rather to demand, to lock up my animals for months on end, is to question the meaning of my profession and values. Even if containment is essential for the collective to limit the spread of viruses, nevertheless it cannot be the norm. I refuse to accept that confining each winter is the solution. I do it out of legal obligation but I disagree with it completely.”
For Lucie, the beauty of her job is expressed during the observation of her animals in their park, especially in the evening at sunset. “If only those moments could last for hours!”
“Obviously, there are also all those moments of recognition of my communication. I’ve had a few awards and each time I feel like I’m getting a little closer to my goal of connecting with the general public. It’s a lot of time spent filming, writing, editing videos, responding to the press. It’s time that doesn’t pay me, or very little. That’s why winning an award can be a huge motivation booster, an encouragement to continue the adventure of communicating on the job.”
If Lucie has one piece of advice for other women who want to start farming, it’s to keep at it. “Too many women give up along the way for a variety of reasons. Don’t give up. There is a place for you somewhere.”
Lucie Mainard (34) grew up in a rural environment without being involved in agriculture. It is only when she met her farmer husband Alexis, in 2010, that she developed an interest in the industry. Since 2019, she manages the family farm with her husband and talks about her adventures among her “Jolies Rousses” on her various channels.
You can follow Lucie’s adventures:
Via his blog
This article was published in Women in Ag Magazine 2022-3. Click here to read the magazine.