It took a while before I started calling this place a farm and I still sometimes pause before doing so. But I looked it up today. Farm: An area of land and its buildings used for growing crops and rearing animals. That sure does sound like where I live!
Of course the only kind of animals that we farm here are chickens and we kind of got into that by accident! There was a guy down the road who raised birds for cockfighting and of course he was interested only in the roosters, not the hens. So when he would raise a brood, he would throw most of the hens out of the coop to fend for themselves so that he wouldn’t have to feed them. Eventually, several of them migrated down to my front yard and took up residence in my shrubberies. We felt sorry for them, and after we started feeding them, more and more of them started showing up and living in our yard.
When spring came, they started laying eggs. We would find little community nests of them everywhere and each time we would find a nest and take the eggs, they would start another nest in another spot. Since we never knew how long the eggs had been in the nest, we had to discard them all. As time went by we were finding fewer and fewer nests until one day the hens started showing up with broods of biddies they had hatched, sometimes as many as 20 in a bunch! By the end of the summer we had nearly 200 chickens living in our yard and we started wondering what we were going to do with them all. But it turns out that was not going to be a problem, as a family of foxes started picking them off one by one.
By the time we were down to about 20 hens, I converted an old greenhouse to a chicken coop and we caught the remaining hens and locked them up. At that point we finally were able to start collecting eggs and although some of them we not very big, since most of the hens were bantam breeds, they were extremely tasty. Spring and summer we had more eggs than we could use and we sold the excess eggs at the Carrboro farmers market, but each year as the hens got older, they produced fewer eggs. And we still had predator problems. Possums that dug under, racoons that chewed through the wire, snakes that got in through the cracks, it was always something. But worst of all was during the day when we would let them out, and they always wanted out. One day we lost 6 hens to a coyote attack. And after a family of 4 foxes moved onto the property it got even worse.
So early last spring we lost the final hen to a fox. We decided that we really like having chickens: we like their personalities (yes, even chickens have personalities), we like the eggs, and we like the fact that they eat bugs, of which we always have a bumper crop. So in April we got a few new baby chicks and we raised them in a tub in our garage for a couple of months. We still had a rooster in the coop and he was so lonely after his last hen was picked off that we talked to some friends and got him a girlfriend so that he would stop his day and night crowing. We learned that you can’t just dump little chicks in with bigger chickens or they will get pecked to death, so we raised the biddies in a tub until they were fully feathered and then, in the dead of night, we put them in the coop. In the morning, the adult pair were not very happy to have new roommates, but they eventually got used to the idea.
This is the first time we have ever had a flock of chickens that were bred for egg-laying. This year “the girlfriend” laid at least 250 big brown eggs, which seemed phenomenal to us. Even now in mid-December she is laying several eggs a week and this is the first time that we have had a chicken that would lay in the dead of winter. Unfortunately, we don’t know what breed she is. And now, this week, one of our new Cuckoo Marans began laying too, with beautiful dark brown speckled eggs. I am guessing that this spring we will be back selling eggs at the Carrboro Farmers Market. In the meantime, Sunday mornings mean Huevos Rancheros are on the menu!