The first few years in the house were very trying while at the same time we were transitioning from small gardener to large gardener. We quickly learned that the experiences we had in a smaller plot of land did not particularly prepare us for large scale production. Problems are magnified on a scale that was larger than we anticipated. So, in the beginning crop failures were more frequent than successes and weeds, insects and poor nutrient management seemed to have center stage. We started small and increased slowly when we thought we had a handle on the growing aspect of a particular fruit or vegetable. At the time we were just starting to learn about field rotation, cover cropping, green manure and other soil management techniques. It took us close to three years to get comfortable with our ability to replenish the soil nutrients and minerals naturally without the need for doses of organic fertilizer. Among the volumes of research we read every book Joel Salatin wrote, we studied the Rodale Institutes literature and course offerings and talked to as many farmers as possible.
The more we learned the more we learned that chickens would be needed to augment our soil fertility practices. So we took the plunge and bought six seventeen week old Rhode Island Reds. It did take us some time to come to that decision but the type of hen we would purchase was easier. Rhode Island Reds are on the recovering species list and they are a heritage breed that is a dual bird. They are dual purpose for their meat and egg laying capabilities. Because chickens were cross bred for one purpose or the other (eggs or meat) RIR fell out of favor with farmers. When you can get a chicken to reach five pounds in ten weeks and it takes a RIR thirteen weeks the decision is made for you.
Since we've added chickens to our soil conservation effort we have been able to cut down on the amount of organic fertilizer we purchase. I should do a cost analysis on purchasing feed, chickens and time versus purchasing fertilizer. My guess is that just purchasing fertilizer might be less expensive and less time consuming but then again we wouldn't be getting those wonderful eggs.
My wife and I were sitting down to lunch when my phone buzzed. I answered it and it was the local organic market calling about our eggs. Afterward, my wife said I turned white as a sheet. I can tell you when I said hello and the voice on the other end said "Hi, this is Sheila from the Market" my appetite dropped and my mind went into a spin. It seemed like minutes as she told me why she was calling. I heard "A customer called about your eggs the other day," My mind is racing, ok I'm thinking what went wrong, what aren't they happy about"? What did they complain about did we short the count again by mistake (it has happened before)? Did we send an egg out that had started to incubate (this is impossible, we collect, wash and refrigerate the eggs on a daily basis) but that doesn't stop the thought. It couldn't be freshness, they can not get fresher eggs unless they catch them coming out of the chicken. My pessimism is running rampant as a go through each scenario.
All of this is going through my mind, as well as, possible solutions and what fix is needed. Sheila goes on to say that the customer really likes the eggs and wants to know if they can buy direct from us. Talk about a hundred and eighty degree turn, my heart beat and mind started to slow as I absorbed the meaning of the conversation. "You can give them our number and have them call us," I managed to eek out. We talked a bit more and then the conversation was over.
My wife looked at me smiling and I relayed the information. She just started laughing, "are you hungry anymore?" "No," I replied, she said she could practically see the mental gymnastics I just performed. I let out a deep breath and we both just laughed. I am an optimist covered with a heavy cloak of pessimism. We've gotten other comments on the taste of the eggs and have a following that is growing. So we have established a symbiotic relationship with our hens. We give them fresh rye and hairy vetch; they weed, eat bugs and leave naturally organic fertilizer. So far things are still heading in the right direction,
Buy Local - From a local farmer, not from a chain hard selling the fact