June 13, 2011

Yes, we're crazy

"Yes, we're crazy."  Yep, that about sums up our weekend.

It was Chickenpalooza at the farm. Seriously. Chickens everywhere!

Let me back up and start at the beginning.

This past winter, Greg and I spent a lot of time discussing what he wants to do with the farm, the direction of his goals, where we should invest our time, energy and money on the farm and how we can accomplish these goals.  We are both in agreement that natural, sustainable, slow-food is our focus. That's a lofty goal and somewhat of an agricultural buzz phrase in recent years. But the truth is that more and more consumers want locally grown food from farms they can trust.  They want to know that their food is wholesome and that they're not serving pesticides to their family while increasing their carbon footprint by importing food from other countries while their own local farms struggle to survive.  We get it and that's what we want too. We want to provide that for our own family and we want to provide it to our local community as a producer.

With all of this in mind, we decided to focus on produce, beef cattle, eggs and broiler chickens.  There were a lot more ideas on our list of goals but not everything could be accomplished this year so we tabled a few items for 2012.

Green egg!
Greg had some Rhode Island Red hens and I bought a baker's dozen of Ameracauna chicks this past November. All together, we had about two dozen chickens on the farm. We kept the two flocks separate and let the Ameracaunas free-range around the farm. It was so exciting when those hens finally started laying! I still get excited every time we have a green egg.  We both especially liked that the chickens were running free all over the place, pecking at bugs and grass and doing their part in the cycle of farm life.

We wanted to expand our flock and kept an eye out for layers to go on sale and eventually found someone selling 17 week old, red sex-link hens through Southern States.  We each ordered 12. We estimated that, based on the number of eggs our current flock was producing, we would be gathering over 30 eggs a day once we added 24 more hens to the farm.  With that amount of production, we could commit to providing regular delivery to weekly customer base - people like us who wanted pesticide free, cage free, hormone free, arsenic free, antibiotic free, all natural, pasture-fed eggs. That's a mouthful, but you get the point. Chickens doing and eating what chickens are supposed to do and eat so they can produce nutritious eggs.

Part of this equation was providing the free range without annoying the neighbors, keeping the hens safe and controlling where they lay their eggs.  This is where the crazy part enters.

I did a lot of research. We had lengthy discussions. We weighed the pros and cons of each free range model.  And of course we ended up with the most unconventional model.  Based on Robert Plamondon's personal experiences, research and instruction, we decided to break away from the traditional chicken coop that included nesting and roosting in one facility.  There are a lot of reasons we felt this would work best for us and I'll discuss those reasons in another post. We could have built a large traditional coop or an egg-mobile. Nope! Greg built a nesting coop and a roosting house - and at the last minute, he also built a feeding station. This two-house system is designed to encourage ranging, discourage egg cannibalism, and stress the field as little as possible while providing the best possible field fertilization.

This weekend, it was time.  It was time for the ... what's the saying? The hens to come home to roost?? Whatever. It was chicken time!

The hens were delivered to Southern States on Saturday and we had to pick them up.  We weren't quite ready and it was a rough weekend with lots of frustration.  We made mistakes - some costly mistakes and some that were easy to remedy. We worked hard - really hard. I mean REALLY hard. There was yelling, there was laughing, there was excitement and disappointment and frustration and exhaustion... and lots of sweating in the sun.

By the end of Saturday, we had 41 new hens out in the field. Did I mention we got more than the 24 we originally ordered? When we got there to pick up our hens, they asked if we wanted more. A gentleman had ordered 24 hens but was sick and unable to get them so they were available for sale.  In the three minutes time it took us to discuss if we wanted more and how many more, more and more of the hens were being sold off to people on the waiting list.  We ended up buying an additional 17 hens.  Again with the crazy.

The one thing I keep coming back to is this -- what if it works? What if we never tried?  What if it doesn't work? Would we try again and do things differently? What did we learn this weekend?

And, hey, what. if. it. works.

I knew going into this that we'd get a lot of criticism. I also knew that not everyone would understand what we are trying to accomplish. I'm not afraid to make mistakes and I'm not afraid to fail. I don't want to look back and say, "Gee, we should have tried..." Neither Greg nor I know how well this will work. But here's what I do know - I know that we're taking a chance and working on our goal of making the farm self-sufficient. We're trying to provide a superior quality product than what you can get in the grocery store.  We have happy hens who will have a happy life. We're working together and learning as we go. 

And we're a little crazy.

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