Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Inspiration from Unexpected Places

Just over a year ago I received a VERY unexpected phone call from the post office at 7:30 in the evening.  Long story short: a box of 50 day-old chicks (destined for Kentucky) were accidentally shipped to me were officially mine.  That means I had the choice to ship them back to the hatchery (knowing none of them would survive the two day trip without food or water) or I could bring them back to my house, where I already had a batch of week-old chicks basking under the heat lamp in a children's swimming pool in my living room.  (I prefer to raise chicks in a pool because it's easy to wash, and because I can tell everyone who calls to check in that I am lounging by the pool).

Needless to say, I brought the peeping box home and set up a make-shift brooder to raise the chicks.

My life was utterly chaotic for a few weeks.  Two separate batches of chicks living in recycled appliance boxes in my living room made for noisy and dusty roommates.

(in case you doubted me - that's 12 hours worth of chick dusted accumulated on my dresser!)

Just in case you don't remember last winter - there was a CRAZY amount of snow.  Once the chicks grew wing feathers, my house was a scene from "Chicks Gone Wild."  When the surprise poops and peeps of "help!" in the middle of the night grew wearisome, I moved all of the chicks into one large playpen on the porch for a few weeks.

hay bales, baby fencing, and towels hanging on rope make the perfect temporary barn (well, maybe not perfect)

(part of the gang - can you spot neckie???)

As the chicks grew, as did my worries about their future.  I had fallen in love (instantly, of course) and desperately wanted to keep all of them.  I reasoned that 50 chicks (in addition to the 20-ish layers I already had) would make the perfect sized flock for egg sales at the farmers' market I ran.  I would build a movable coop and raise them in the pasture behind my house and eat quiche and egg salad sandwiches every day.  A could-have-been disaster turned into my first farm business.

first day outside!

So you can imagine that I was DEVASTATED when the owners of the farm I was working at told me that I couldn't keep any of the chicks.  I needed to find new homes for all of girls, and I had to be sure they were all good homes. It took a lot of searching (and math!) to divide the flock into several homes, but I managed to find wonderful farms for everyone to live at, as well as cover the expense of feeding and caring for them for two-three months.  (well, that's not entirely true - I kept honey sunshine, neckie, gertrude, and poquita and re-homed a few of my older hens).

A bunch of the chicks went to live at the Yale University student farm, where they've become a really important part of their educational programs.  Another bunch went to a nearby community farm with a vegetable CSA.  Smaller groups were adopted by nearby families looking for homegrown eggs.

For one of the families, raising the chickens didn't quite work out.  I found out today that several months ago they were re-homed to a nearby farm.  I ran into the farmer there today and she made a point of telling me how influential the chickens have been.  They have raised around 100 layers for several years, a standard red sex link variety.  But with the addition of the heritage birds, their customers started asking about the different colored eggs and becoming really interested.

The chickens caused the farmer to re-think that aspect of their business, and now their installing a hoop house to raise their birds in a healthier manner and are thinking of raising more heritage birds.  It's the tiniest detail (and really had nothing to do with me), but it really made me re-think my circumstances.

If I had kept all of those chicks, I wouldn't have been able to "retire" and pursue my dream of having my own farm. All of the families and farmers that have been affected by the personalities of hand-raised chickens (and their delicious eggs!) might still be shopping for breakfast at the supermarket.  A local farmer might not have considered eggs a viable part of their farm business.  

In the end, things worked out better than I could have planned.  It's the moral of the story time and time again, but it's still really hard to remember when you're living with disappointment.

Today I drove by the Lebanon farm and for the first time saw all of the ways the Ledyard farm was a better fit for ME.  I won't know until the closing date if this farm really is "the end" of the story, but I'm realizing more and more that, as always, things may work out better than I first planned.

I'm SO eager to get through the inspections and meet with the slew of contractors coming to give estimates on home improvements tomorrow.  I won't have all of the information I need, but by the weekend I should have a pretty good  idea of where we stand.  I'm just hoping that there are no big surprises and I can enjoy a relaxing weekend filled with hiking, chickens, and shepard's pie.

Speaking of pie, happy pi day!  :-)

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