When FD’s mother passed away in March of last year, we inherited a flock of two old roosters and eighteen old hens. At that time, we were only getting three to five eggs a day, so I decided we should order some new stock. This time, I wanted a variety of chicks instead of what we usually found at the farm stores, so we settled on Murray McMurray Hatchery out of Webster City, Iowa. I had never mail-ordered chicks before, and I was a little nervous about the chicks making such a long trip. But it turned out that I had nothing to worry about. On June16th I got word that the chicks had been born and to expect them to arrive postal service in the next two or three days. On June 19th, the local post office was good to call me at 7:00 in the morning to alert me to come get my box of chicks. I was surprised at how small the box was. Only one chick did not survive the trip, dying shortly after I picked them up. I lost two more in the days to come, but McMurray’s had sent three extra.
On July 3rd, two weeks after the arrival of the chicks, I got a call from the local farm center about an order of twelve hens that had never been picked up by the person who had ordered them. (If you remember, this was also the day I got the phone call about taking in orphaned fawn, Tukker.) They wondered if we were interested in taking these hens that were two to three months old and guaranteed by the local breeder to be females. These would start egg production earlier than the McMurray’s chicks would, so I said, “Yes”. At that time, we still had the chicks in a building where I could monitor the temperature and keep them warm until they grew feathers. I kept the new “teenagers” separate from the old flock in the outdoor “chick pen” for a few days before integrating them. There was a bit of disagreement of pecking order at the start but, overall, mingling the two groups went fairly well. Shortly after the teenagers vacated the outdoor chick pen, I moved the youngster “chicks” to that area. It was definitely time for them to have a little space to roam and stretch their wings.
By August, it was time for the chicks to leave the outdoor chick pen and merge into the larger barnyard pen with all of the older chickens. Again, I worried for nothing. The “youngsters” hung together but, one by one, over the next few days, they grew independent and made their way into the flock. Unfortunately, it became apparent in short time that four of the twelve teenagers were roosters, and the young virile fellas were picking on my old boys, Dale and Wesley, and targeting the old girls who were slow and easy to nab. Of course, the Ranch Straw Boss (me) was having none of that! I gave away two of the roosters and managed to get the local breeder to exchange two hens for the two remaining males.
This is when I learned my lesson about using only a reputable breeder. I had relied simply on the word of the farm store about the local breeder. I did not ask questions about practices or how long he had been in the business. And, if getting four roosters in the mix was not enough, within days of accepting the two new hens as replacements for roosters, my entire flock came down with a respiratory virus. Several of the old stock died because of this, including Wesley the rooster, and a couple of the youngsters died within days as well. Some very old hens hung on for a few weeks, but eventually died. In the end, I was left with old Dale the rooster and forty two hens of various ages.
In January, when Tukker deer was released and on his own for a few weeks roaming the woodlands and enjoying his wild status, we decided to open the deer pen to the chickens so that they would have a larger yard in which to scratch around. Every so often when I am working near the pen, I open it up for the chickens to forage out further into our yard and pasture. Still, I watch them while I work, because Ms. Foxy is back and she is an opportunist, after all.
Beginning in late November and early December, egg production on the Ten-Acre Ranch increased. At first, we were getting 15 to 20 eggs a day. Now the numbers have reached 28 to 34 a day. FD has been selling excess eggs at work, mostly to people who know the value and goodness of farm-fresh eggs. We also felt good about being able to share some eggs with a couple of neighbors across the street. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic and stores being sold out of many staples, including eggs, we find ourselves in a very good position to be able to help people. Each day when I walk in the barn to set up feed and scatter scratch in the barnyard, the girls get a little lecture about doing their best to keep egg production up! Even Dale gets a talking to about doing his part to keep the girls happy and safe! And in the evening, as I gather eggs and get water containers refilled for the next day, I thank them profusely. Yes, I do speak chicken!
There have been times over the last year that I wondered what the heck I was thinking when creating such a large flock. We go through a lot of feed, not to mention the continual work cleaning the roosts – that’s a lot of poop to scoop! And I’m sure FD gets tired of toting eggs to work for sale every other day. But I realize that timing is perfect for every experience. Given what we are dealing with right now, you won’t hear me complaining about the work involved or the constant flow of eggs, and you will find me a little more thankful that we have eggsactly what we need at just the right time.
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