Our family has a weakness for free-range eggs. You may be thinking, “what’s the big deal? Eggs are eggs,” or “Can you really tell the difference?” If so, you haven’t had a truly fresh, free-range egg. I’ll have to save that discussion for a later blog post, but if you’re skeptical, just humor me through the rest of this story.
Anyhow, our weakness for free-range eggs, as well as a desire to be a little closer to our food is what led us to think about bringing chickens to the farm. As the previous owner had run an emu operation, we had four out-buildings, one of which would be easily converted into a coop. Space was not a problem – you can raise a small flock in most urban backyards if your city allows it, and we have just under 15 acres.
So, like most things to do with the farm, we had a family council to decide if we were ready to start a new venture.
Break, break… it’s about time to digress into a bit more backstory.
You may have had the opportunity in your life to take some sort of personality test… you know, the kind of test that tells you what your general personality type is, how you think, how you make decisions, strengths, weaknesses, etc. There are myriad types – the one the Air Force uses a lot is the “DiSC,” with the categories being “Dominant,” “Influencing,” Steady,” and “Conscientious.” Personally, I like Gary Smalley’s version, where the categories are defined pretty similarly, but he uses animals to label them – Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, and Beaver, respectively.
I’m pretty pegged-out in the Lion category, with a good dose of Otter. Both tend to be visionary and headstrong, not big fans of details, and better talkers than listeners.
In other words, after our family council I walked away figuring everybody was onboard with my vision for this and just as excited about it. The vision everybody had signed on to was this: we’d start with a small flock, about a dozen egg-layers. We’d raise them from chicks, have eggs a few months later, and in a couple years when they stopped laying, we’d send them to freezer camp and eventually the stew pot.
About a month later, we’d add a “straight run” of 24 dual purpose Barred Rocks to the flock, raising the pullets to add to our egg production and all but two of the cockerels for slaughter.
With everybody marching neatly behind, I called our neighborhood grain store and put in our order for six Rhode Island Reds and six Araucanas.
Shortly afterward, my wife said, “The kids told me you ordered the chicks. I thought we were going to come to a family decision first.”
“Uhhh… we did. Don’t you remember?”
“No. We decided that we would all think about it, and have another meeting to talk about our thoughts.”
My wife is a pegged-out Beaver. She remembers things that were said. She follows rules. Things usually work out better when Lions listen to Beavers, but it’s not nearly as “fun.”
“Oops,” I said. “Well, it’ll be alright.” That’s lion code for “don’t bother me with details.”
In the weeks prior to our chicks’ arrival, I started work on the coop, and planning for the timing for ordering our dual-purpose birds. We had a couple more family meetings in which we set down the rules, the most important one being that we would not name the chickens. I knew that if the chickens had names, they’d end up as pets, and when they got old and stopped laying eggs, I’d be stuck feeding them for the rest of their natural lives.
This rule caused a little bit of consternation, so using my best negotiating skills, I compromised. Each of the three children could name one chicken, but only after the chicks were a bit older and their personalities emerged. Those chicks would have a lifetime pardon from freezer camp. Everybody agreed happily. “Remember,” I admonished. “No names until later.”
The day prior to the expected hatch date, we went over the rules one more time. We had the warming lamp, the feeder, and the waterer ready to go. That morning, as I headed off to work, I emphasized “the rules” one last time. “No naming… got it?”
My wife got the call that morning that the chicks were in, and to come pick them up. After scrambling to find a box that would fit in the car to pick up the chicks, she and the kids drove down the road, returning shortly afterwards with a dozen balls of fuzz-feathers and 50 lbs of chick starter.
By the time I got home, all twelve were named.