Now that the hullabaloo of the Holiday’s has passed and I’ve had time to decompress I’ve also had time to stop and think back over the past year. The farm has seen many significant changes. As I think about those changes I also realize that we, the farmer on the farm, have made many changes that are both rewarding and satisfying.
Bird’s Eye View Farm stood idle for 3 years after our contract to raise chickens for Perdue was terminated in 2008. Over those 3 years the one constant in my mind was that we would never go back to raising chickens on an industrial scale or under contract with a major integrator (chicken company).
In the beginning of the farm’s idleness it was a relief just to not be raising chickens the way we had. It was like being a kid let out of school for summer vacation and I had the notion every time I walked out my front door that I wanted to dance an Irish jig!
Once the giddiness passed the empty chicken houses stood as a stark reminder that they were two 20,000 square feet buildings full of equipment with no other purpose than raising chickens. Dislike for that reminder had me thinking that we should have a huge bonfire and invite our friends to watch. What better way to purge one’s self of bad memories?
When that fantasy passed my passion for horses kicked in and I persistently bugged my husband about turning the empty chicken houses into a boarding stable or to take horses in transit for adoption and house them until they had found homes. The answer to my pestering was always the same – “and who is going to take care of all of the horses while they are here”? My bubble was burst as I realized that taking care of my 3 horses was a job in its self and I couldn’t possibly take on 10 to 15 more horses and do a good job of caring for them. Raining on my parade is what I called it and my great ideas were thoroughly dampened.
For over a year I ignored the presence of the chicken houses and the many suggestions or the questions about raising our own chickens. I was still a member in the mindset of the only way to raise chickens on the Delmarva Peninsula was under contract because the big chicken companies owned everything. There are no local independent sources to buy chicks or feed and no independent processing facilities unless I wanted to drive to Pennsylvania. My self-induced “blissful ignorance” of the empty chicken houses continued. I viewed myself as a recovering contract chicken farmer!
During 2010 and into 2011 I had the privilege of seeing many different methods of farming and producing food around the country. I was intrigued by the innovative ways that independent farmers are raising chickens more than just the backyard flock and not as a part of industrial production. Their farm operations are viable businesses and I started thinking about the 2 empty chicken houses on our farm and ways that we might be able to utilize them.
Spring time brought a lot of grumbling from me as we continually maintained the buildings and cut about 5 acres of grass surrounding the buildings. As I rode the tractor while cutting the grass my mind started in on a constant buzzing of ideas. Those who know me also know that my time spent on the tractor is what I call “my time of peace”. Blissful alone time – can’t hear the phone ringing, can’t hear anyone talking to me, and I can sit back and turn my brain to mush as I dream!
BUT – the buzzing continued into everyday life and we were all in agreement that it was time to make a decision about the empty chicken houses.
We had 3 choices! We could tear down the buildings scraping all of the metal, we could put the farm up for sale, or we could figure out a way to utilize the buildings. Several discussions about the options made it clear that tearing down the buildings and selling the metal for scrap would cost more to do than what we would get for the metal. Selling the farm would be at a financial loss in the bad economy we are currently facing. The option of putting the farm back into operation was the choice left on the table.
Jointly and independently the thought of putting the farm back into operation was what each one of us wanted to do but the “how and what” was the looming question. Raising chickens for meat was out of the question as there is no local independent infrastructure to support that method of faming. Outside subtle suggestions from others and internal discussions turned our thoughts towards raising hens on pasture to produce eggs.
A scary thought for sure! I had no knowledge or experience in raising chickens this way, no idea about keeping hens for egg production, and no idea about marketing eggs. From April through August the ideas swirled around at home. We finally decided in early August to just do it.
Thus our Girls arrived in between an earthquake and a hurricane. Being a slightly superstitious person I continue to wonder if there is any significance! It has been a learning experience. I’m thankful that the Girls are of a hardy and healthy breed and are farmer friendly in the care and raising of them.
Not to be outdone before 2011 was over our Girls gave us a present on December 30th. They produced their first 2 eggs. We were not expecting to find eggs for another couple of weeks. Our grandson was visiting over his Christmas vacation and was thrilled when he and Pop-Pop went to take care of the chickens and found eggs. A fourth generation farmer in the making!
At the risk of sounding cliché, the Girls are happy chickens! After being totally demoralized by the system of industrial contract chicken production, never, in a million years, did I think that I would raise chickens again, take pride in doing it, or say that I enjoy it. I’ve made huge mental changes in the past year and eagerly look forward to continuing the adventure with our Girl’s in 2012.