Hi, my name is Jim and my wife Teresa and I live just to the east of Statesville, North Carolina. We have a very secluded three acre piece of property that is surrounded by hundreds of other acres of pasture land that will probably not be developed in the foreseeable future. We share out home with Charlie our three year old dachshund-terrier mix, Matilda our long tailed, longhaired cat, and twenty-nine Gold Comet pullets. And on the weekends you’ll probably find one or both of our ten and five year old granddaughters staying over.
We’re a half mile down a one lane gravel trail that has grass growing in the center. Our nearest neighbors are about four hundred yards down the lane and there’s only three homes on the lane so we have a little slice of heaven here. We have a little white house that sits at the top of a hill surrounded by woods and pasture. We can’t see anyone. At night we can see a glimpse of lights on down the lane but other than my neighbors going down the lane we have complete solitude. What we can really see here is all the stars in the night sky!
Last year I decided I was tired of wearing out my riding lawnmower just cutting grass every week and getting nothing out of it in any tangible sense. So we made a plan to start a mini-farm. We already had a large garden that is 70’x40’ and we grew tomatoes, lettuce, greens, corn, beans, melons, squash, potatoes, cukes, cabbage, collards, and herbs. Then we put in twelve apple trees out back and staked them and put up fencing material around each one to protect the young saplings from the deer. Or should I say pigs with antlers. They’re everywhere. I’ve managed to control them without having to kill any but they are becoming a nuisance.
Then last January we said we’d like to raise chickens for eggs. We were both total Vegans at that point but we had decided to change our diets and add in some eggs and a little dairy product to the dismay of our Vegan friends. We’ve been practicing Vegans for over three years. I started doing it for my health and it just kept going. I still don’t eat meat. Teresa, at the urging of her doctor after she came down with an unknown gastrological illness, has added some meat back into her diet but she limits it to a small amount on occasion.
Earlier Teresa found an ad on Craig’s List for a chicken coop that would be delivered for $300. Well, I said I would build a lot nicer coop for less than that. So, after finding several plans online for coops and altering one for our use, it was off to Lowes. After $150 I returned with the framing lumber, screws, metal brackets, etc. to start building my inexpensive coop. After three weekends and about a dozen extra trips to Lowes I had the frame complete. Another $150 for the siding materials, hinges, latches, caulking material, and expanding foam I was ready for the roof and painting the whole thing. By this time I was starting to worry about the cost so when I got to Lowes I applied for a Project Card and with a $1000 limit I had what I needed to complete the coop. Well, it was a good thing I had the Lowes credit card because it was back down the lane (by now the grass was pretty much worn down by the traffic in and out, mine…) to Lowes. The guys at Lowes started greeting me with “Hey Jim! What do you need today?” The checkout gal asked me if I was the ‘Chicken Coop Guy’? The manager came out and personally greeted me and thanked me for putting him over the top of the ‘Golden Hammer’ club and he had won an all expense paid vacation to the Caribbean.
In early January Teresa ordered the first of our six Gold Comet started pullets from Shook’s Poultry in Claremont, NC. Nice people. They were $6.35 each which I thought was a great price. We had to pick them up on April 11th. So no pressure, I said. I’d have the coop and run done with plenty of time to spare. By the end of the day on Sunday, April 5th we pretty much had the coop done and the doors hung and the whole thing painted but the run was nowhere to be seen. Once again with my well worn Lowes card in hand I headed back down the lane. But first I had to stop by the Service Desk and request a credit increase. The Assistant Manager Jerry personally approved it because Larry the Big Guy was off on vacation. Jerry was in line for a big promotion he said when the next new Lowes opened up down the road. With a new $3000 limit I gathered up several bags of concrete mix, two rolls of 50’x4’ 2x4 wire material, several 4x4 posts, more 2x4’s, some paving blocks, two big boxes of staples, two tarps, tie downs, and whatever else I needed to complete the run.
When Saturday morning came on the 11th the posts were set, the gate built and hung but the fencing was not in place yet. On the way to pick up our six beautiful Gold Comets we stopped by Southern States Co-op and bought the waterer, feeder, litter, and two bags of layer feed. Another $150 but by then, who counts? When we got them back home we had to put them in the old dog run and left them in there all day while we worked on the run. For the first three nights we loaded them up in a big dog crate each night at dark and locked them in the garage until morning and then back out to the dog run. Finally we were in and the gals were happy.
Happy that is until the first serious rains hit. By this time the gals had consumed all the living vegetation inside the run plus anything they could reach by sticking their heads outside. The tarps we were using were filled with water and drooping down inside the run. With a pen knife I cut small slits to let the water drain out exacerbating the muddy mess.
Then the Gals started laying and all the hard work and expense was forgotten. We had all the eggs we could use so I started taking a dozen in every couple of days to work and my coworkers jumped on them like the starving programmers they are. Teresa said, “This is a good thing. We need more hens!” So another six hens were placed on order and we got them in early June. In the meanwhile I extended the run another ten feet which meant four posts, eight bags of concrete, a roll of 2x4 material, and more staples, screws, another tarp, and a new battery for my worn out Porter-Cable power drill. Needless to say, another $150, but who’s counting?
The extra eggs went just as fast. I’d take in two dozen eggs every other day and they’d be lined up outside my office when I got in so they’d be sure to get their eggs. Again, Teresa said “This is a good thing. We need to make it an even eighteen hens.” So the weekend after Labor Day Teresa drove up to Shook’s to pick up the last six of our little flock and when she got them home and in the dog run we counted seven. So our flock was going to be nineteen.
I sell every egg we can get that we don’t use ourselves. Actually, I give Mike my neighbor down the lane a dozen every week for letting us borrow his tractor and other equipment to do things around the house, eh farm. So now, Teresa is saying “This is a good thing. In the spring when we can get them lets make it an even thirty-six.” But in the meanwhile we’ve been having a very wet summer and fall. The existing run wasn’t working out. So I found a carport and had it set up on the back yard. Mike, the neighbor gave us several scoops of Crush ‘n Run which is a sand and gravel mix. First he leveled out the area where the carport was to go and then he loaded in the C ‘n R. Next I ordered five tons of creek sand which coincidently cost $150 delivered and they dumped it in front of the carport. Mike brought back his Skid Steer (a tracked Bob Cat with a big scoop on the front) and spread out the sand. Then we disconnected the coop from the existing run and he picked it up and gently delivered it to the back of the carport. By this time I’d put in hex wire all around and built a gate, etc. to enclose everything. We got the Gals in just in time before T.S. Ida blew through in late October and dumped a whole bunch of rain and wind on us for four or five days. Everything was a muddy mess. Everything but my new chicken run. On the day after it quit raining I went out and the Gals were enjoying a great dust bath. I first thought that moving them would cause them to quit laying like they did when we added the second six hens to the flock and again when the seven ‘Youngsters’ showed up. But instead they stepped up and showed their appreciation. The ‘Youngsters’ started laying and we started getting 18 to 19 eggs every day without fail. The temperatures have been down in the low 20s for the past week or so but they are still laying at almost full production. I still take in two dozen eggs every other day and my coworkers pay $3 a dozen and they are a bunch of happy campers like my Gals.
So, would I do it again? Yeah. Yeah I would. Would I do it differently? No. Well, maybe I should’ve anticipated the run wouldn’t work out well, but in hindsight, well, 20/20 as they say. In the spring we’ll expand out flock to thirty-six. But in the evenings at dusk, at least before it got dark and cold, I would let the Gals out to free range for an hour and I’d sit back and just enjoy watching and feeding them. Great therapy! One evening Teresa asked Halie, our nine year old granddaughter, where PawPaw was and she responded by saying I was out watching ‘Chicken TV’. A new name was coined and a new tradition was born.
Now Teresa is saying, “This is a good thing. Let’s gets some goats. I want to start making cheese. Oh, and some bees because I can sell the eggs, cheese, and honey at the local Farmer’s Market on Thursdays.” When I was at Lowes this past weekend I asked about Larry and found out he’s been promoted to Regional Manager out in Southern California, and Jerry was promoted to replace him here at the Statesville Store. But I’m thinking maybe I’m becoming a little too familiar with the staff at Lowes so I’ve considered changing my business over to Home Depot pretty soon… Besides, I may need a new credit line come spring.
Happy Chickens come from Statesville, North Carolina!!!
In honor of the old movie starring Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, Jim Nabors, Dom DeLuise, and Charles Durning we've named our little farm:
Miss Teresa's Chicken Ranch, because it's just A Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place... And There Ain't Nothing Happening Here!
(April 2010) Now it's spring and we still have our nineteen Gold Comets and are about to get another eleven to bring us up to thirty. We've still been getting almost 100% production from the Gals with 17-19 big brown eggs every day, even through the miserable wet and cold winter we just had. And yes, we now have bees. We built a hive and painted it and just this past weekend dropped in a three pound package of Italian honeybees! Great experience!!!
(July 2010) We've now had the bees for three months and they've been busy little, well bees! We started with a base hive body plus what is called a deep super which is what they raise their brood in and store honey for their own use. Well now we have had three months which is about four broods based on a 23 day cycle and we have a lot more than the original 12000+ bees we started with. Probably more like 40000-60000+ in all. We've added two new medium supers to the hive and a queen excluder so she can't go up there to lay eggs restricting her to the bottom two levels. Anything above their brood boxes is where they're store their excess honey and they have been filling up the frames. This is where we'll take our honey when we harvest it. We're watching it and we'll decide in October if we'll take any this year. Certainly if there's any left at the end of the winter which there should be we'll harvest it early next spring just before the nectar runs start here in Central NC. We need to make sure they have about 60 lbs of honey for them to feed on during the winter and if things go like it's been going that won't be a problem. We went to a friend's place a couple of weeks ago to watch and learn how to extract honey and just out of one shallow super which is 5-3/8" high with 10 frames we took 2-1/2 gallons of beautiful honey. That's 10 quarts and at $8 a quart at deep discount around here that's $80. From one super! We're going to be lining out property with 20 hives by the end of next year. I've already started making my own hive boxes. The only thing I'll have to buy is the frames and foundations but they're cheap.
(July 2010) We added 11 more new started pullets (18 weeks old) in the middle of May and now they've started laying. We've gotten a high of 27 eggs this past weekend from our 30 Gold Comets!!! We're going to stop here and maintain a flock of 30 at least for the next year or so.
(October 2010) Well all 11 of the new pullets have settled in and the pecking order has pretty much been set so things are going well. We're now getting an average of 26 eggs a day from the Gals and they are laying great big brown ones too. Still selling all I can get to my co-workers for $3.00 a dozen and they want more. Also the other Gals, our 60,000 plus Italian honeybees have been very, very busy. They've filled out the hive body with brood cells and some honey cells at the edges. They've also gone up one level to the medium super on top of the hive body and have established more brood cells and much more honey storage cells. But more importantly they've gone all the way to the top two shallow supers and they've almost completely filled them up with just honey. This is ours. They'll have at least 60 to 70 pounds of honey in the hive body and the super above that for their use over the winter. Besides we'll feed them a solution of sugar and water plus extras over the winter so they'll continue to make honey all winter long. Right now they are finding pollen somewhere and bringing that in for the winter. That's a very good sign because it means the colony is healthy and growing. We're expecting to split the original hive in the spring and create a second one. We already have it built, painted, and in place so it's just a matter of watching for a pending split and go ahead and do it ourselves instead of letting them swarm and possibly run off.
(November 2010) We took our first honey this past week on Veterans Day. We had 2 shallow supers on top that had been pretty much filled out so we went ahead and took it. We left the bees with about 65 to 70 pounds for the winter which is more than enough for them. Bees make a lot of excess honey. More than they can ever use. When we extracted the two supers which had nine frames on each one we got right at 4 1/2 gallons. That's a lot of honey!!! And at $8 a quart at deep discounts to friends and local stores that's over $160. And we can do this twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. That's why I'm in the process of building new hives. We want to ring our property with 20 hives by the end of next year. We may also see about putting hives on friends and family's property too just to spread them out. Hey, it's free money once you get going!!!
(March 2011) The Gals made it through the winter and have been laying pretty steadily even on the coldest of days in December and January. Their output dropped down a bit from around 26 or 27 eggs a day to 20 to 24 a day. Now that the sun has decided to come out again and things are warming up they're ramped production back up to 24 to 26 a day. I'm still selling all the eggs we don't use to my coworkers. Well, I still Mike the neighbor a dozen each week for his help when I need to borrow his skid steer or backhoe or something. Also, we've now set up a second hive for the other Gals. We're getting three packages of bees in April from Brushy Moutain Bee Farms so I still have to build two more hives before then and get them set up and ready to go. The plan is still to have as many as twenty hives around the property before the end of next year. This year we'll have at least ten hives by the fall. And I've been building new boxes for the garden all winter long (Teresa hates to see me sitting around...). We've expanded the garden out another ten feet on the bottom end and eight feet on the side so now we have an 80' X 48' space and we'll have a mix of more than 20 raised bed boxes to plant in this year. We're only going to leave the new eight foot section we opened up this year for furrows. We'll use that to plant corn, okra, peas, and pumpkins in. We're going to experiment with the 'Three Sisters' method of companion planting that the native Americans pioneered.