And a note to my dear husband....I'm sorry to tell you our "dual-purpose" chickens now have names, so you are not allowed to eat them. Sorry for any inconvenience.
Under time constraint 4 years ago, my husband and I were rushed into buying a century and a half old farm house complete with renovation nightmares and limited acreage. A few months into living here, with the most minor cosmetic repairs made, I was left with the compelling urge to "live off the fat of the land" and complement this deserving farmhouse by creating a "farm".
After a good year of research, and an empty landscape to work with, I decided I'd start with planting fruit and nut bearing trees, bushes and vines. A hefty purchase, that made my husband sweat, was placed from a nursery in Washington state. A few weeks went by and right around 90 plants...varieties of kiwi vines, tayberries, thornless blackberries, peach, pear, apricot, plum, and cherry trees, blueberry and hazelnut bushes were recieved and hurriedly planted that same day in the spring of '09. All wonderful in theory, but after a complete growing season that same year I was faced with a sarcastic reminder I have a beige thumb...and about half of that hefty order died or barely held on. (Sorry darling!) This resulted in me thinking of other ways to live off the land (limited land, that is) and somewhere the idea of raising chickens developed. I had briefly been exposed to the chickens my dad raised in Arkansas, for the two weeks every summer we'd visit him as kids. They freaked me out then, but I was still drawn to them...due more or less to being an animal person. I never in my life thought I'd raise chickens...but here I was thinking about it.
A weeklong visit from my childhood friend resulted in taking our families to the New York State Fair. I especially wanted to see mini horses (still a dream I have to raise some), and found myself stalling in the Poultry section just to observe the chickens that were on display. They were mesmerizing. I was unaware of the varieties available. Hmmm...those little bantam something or others were cute. I came home with such a fire to research what I had seen and find what I wanted my family to raise. Oh yeah...I'm reminded this was under the guise it is for my kids for 4-H! Or so I told my husband. So with this newfound vigor to learn more, I knew I wanted to find breeds that were of a docile nature as my kids would be raising and handling them. I posted on facebook I was to be getting chickens soon, which resulted in my friend telling me to check out the BYC website. I went up and down the breed directory making note after note of the types of chickens to get. It was perfect that the list is in alphabetical order and Ameraucanas caught my eye...first for the blue eggs they lay, second for the fact that they are known to be a calm, docile breed. A perfect start. Researching through the hatchery websites resulted in confusion on this breed, but anyone is quickly set to right the confusion over Ameraucanas, Araucanas, and Easter Eggers. A faulty desktop computer limited me from asking questions or posting here on BYC...this is now remedied with the purchase of a laptop...8 months later. But I digress...
Temperament was the most important factor starting out. Anything flighty or agressive was taken off the list. The infectious enthusiasm of my friend's interest in egg color came into play halfway through my research. I wanted 5 or less birds to start with. That was all I thought I could handle. One problem. The hatcheries will only put a minimum of 25 together to keep each other warm in transit. Understandable...it was early winter when I was researching. "Honey, I have to order 25" I heard myself say to my defeated spouse. He didn't argue. He's a tolerant man. Now that I had his permission to order so many, I thought I'd please him by ordering dual purpose breeds. "We can eat them if we don't want them anymore". So now I was researching for temperament, egg color and dual purpose. Note after note, more research, more advice. I bought a few books "Chickens for Dummies", "A 4-H Guide to Raising Chickens", "Barnyard in Your Backyard" and dove into reading. Weeks go by.
Ordering day...I had my list of 25...now bumped up to 32 plus one free. They tell me they can ship them February 8th. "Are you sure that isn't too early...this is the Northeast after all?"...I was reassured 3 times they keep each other warm and will arrive safe and healthy. February 10th rolls around and we get the much anticipated phone call from the post office in the wee hours of the morning! My husband answered...his face goes white and he immediately gives me a sympathetic expression. He stares at me while the Post Master is talking, ignoring my repeated question..."What?". The entire batch has died. In disbelief, we get our kids ready to head out the door...I need to see this for myself. The Post Master was really sweet and empathetic and said there would normally be a lot of chirping...she hands me a silent box. We open it...the chicks look like they are sleeping. I should have trusted my better judgement and ordered them in March or April. I can't help but blame myself. We count them, look them over...all of them gorgeous. I notice a note on the order list in the box that stated a handful of birds weren't available due to a lousy hatch. I took that as great news. There was no option of taking the dead chicks home to be put in the trash (my opinion expressed to my husband...the ground frozen solid, so burial was also not an option) so he took them out to his Aunt's land and put them in close proximity to a foxhole. My thought at the time was at least the waste wasn't going to be wasted.
One distraught phone call later, the hatchery refunded my order. There was a terrible snow storm that hit Washington, DC area the weekend my chicks were shipped, that most likely delayed my order, so they probably didn't freeze to death, as much as starve. That was a worse thought to handle. Believe it or not, I dwindled my order down a few...cancelled the geese and ducks I had previously wanted, and placed a new order to be shipped a month later. I had an earlier post on facebook that my chicks were coming in on that day. I instead had to post they were D.O.A. A friend of ours had introduced us to her husband's cousin who raises chickens. I called them up, told them what happened, and asked if they could turn a crappy morning into a more positive one by selling us some of their chicks. That's how we ended up with our first fifteen...3 impulse Buff Orpingtons, a reluctant purchase of 4 White Silkies, and 8 Easter Eggers (I was told they were Ameraucanas...I now know the difference). I was in love with the EE's right off the bat, was charmed by the antics of the silkies, and learned to love the BO's...well one in particular...I have since named her Goose. She jumps on my lap, lets me pet her, and loves complements. Hands down she is my unexpected favorite.
Fast forward a month, we recieve a cheerful phone call from the post office. Here we go! We are on cloud nine. All chicks arrive alive! However, one was deformed, and there was confusion on which one was which...the little guys didn't match up to the chick pictures on the website. Hmmm. Another phone call, pictures sent via email so the hatchery manager can tell me what chicks I have, a few more refunds made. This is where I made a note to self..."buy locally".
So that brought us to over 40 chicks, and to think a few months ago I thought 5 was too many! Let's add to the "problem". I realize there are true breeds (potential show quality) I would really like to have. The cheapest way to get them is to buy fertilized eggs or more day old chicks...which results in increments of 25! Holy crap...I'm addicted. I convinced my husband to purchase incubators and turners. I ordered a dozen eggs here, a dozen eggs there. Our hatching results were so-so. We got some of the breeds we wanted. I didn't want to continue the stress of hatching eggs ourselves (too much intervention on my part) so I placed the order I really wanted...a bunch of Ameraucana day old chicks from John W. Blehm. They were to hatch on my birthday and be shipped just before Easter. Perfect. I later ordered Lavender Ameraucana hatching eggs from a breeder in PA...great hatch results!
The current number of chickens we have...over 100! Low and behold it doesn't seem like a lot!!! I give the good neighbors fresh eggs, and thumb my nose at the one who's dog has tried to eat my chickens on a few occasions.
Between all of this chick buying and hatching, the kids and I convinced my husband we could stand to purchase a bunny or two...in the end we got 4! The newest addition to our hobby farm homestead are two young alpacas!They are right up there with chickens because I NEVER thought I'd have a pair of alpacas to raise! My husband was drilling a well for an alpaca farm in VT, five or more years back, and fell in love with them. He said they had a gray baby cria that would follow the owner around so closely, that when she would stop, the baby would slam into her! My DH is not a proclaimed animal person, so I found his fondness for alpacas sweet. This winter we drove by a local alpaca farm, where my husband reminded me of his interest in them. I figured if he could indulge my chicken addiction, I could research acquiring alpacas. I sent an email, and made a phone call. The ranch owners were wonderful, knowledgeable, and they allowed us to peruse their herd on shearing day. We all fell in love with their alpacas. Our boys came to live with us on Friday, August 20, 2010. They are perfect for my hypothetical knitting needs! I can knit a mean square or rectangle...to my record I've 2 throws and a handful of scarves under my belt. Nothing fancy. Now when I am out halter training my alpaca boys, the touch of their fleece leaves me to daydream of socks, and sweaters, and all things knitting ridiculous that I have yet to learn how to do! Everyone will recieve alpaca socks for Christmas from here on out.
This year has proven to be more productive and our land has yielded some "fat". We aren't anywhere close to living off the grid...but closer to having accessable food from our front, side and back door. Our tomatoes did well this year (last year we got the blight) along with a decent crop on our other veggies. Our tayberry vines produced around 2 quarts of berries, we picked about a pint of blueberries (better than nothing), and now our wicked awesome hens that took so long for us to get are giving us a dozen and a half eggs a day...so far! (Mental note: my math may be off a bit, but we just might be 0.0000002% closer to living off the grid!) My focus from here on out will be to have a sustainable homestead...all on less than an acre of land. We can dream, can't we? I can't wait to share my knowledge with others and hopefully someone will start their flock with the fertilized eggs and chicks from our farm! To date we have in large fowl: Black/Lavender/Silver/Wheaten Ameraucanas; Buff/White/BBS Orpingtons; Australorps; Langshans; a few EE's, CE's and OE's; Welsummers; Coronation Sussex; Black/Blue Copper Marans; and one Blue Naked Neck Turken rooster. For Bantams we have one Blacktailed Japanese; one Light Brahma; and some beautiful bantam EE's. They are fed all natural treats (fresh produce, black oil sunflower seeds, oats, cracked corn, and yogurt) to supplement their feed... table scraps and scrambled eggs. I have come so far as to raise our own mealworms! We have tens of thousands. There's no turning back now.And dear, did I tell you about the ducks that are coming soon?...