PolyFace Farms Field Day

Late last year I received an invitation from Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms to exhibit at their Field Day.  The Field Day I would learn consisted of Joel and his team opening up his farm to approximately 1,800 interested current future farmers, homesteaders, gardeners and others.  Located near Swoope, Virginia, PolyFace Farms offers a unique method of intense grazing with a rotation method of livestock to where each animal enriches or repairs the soil for the next occupant.

IMG_8511The Field Day began with folks arriving around 5:00am on a beautiful Saturday morning.  Located in the Shanandoah Valley, the setting that Polyface calls home is a welcoming sight of beautiful nature with freely flowing creeks, Blue Ridge mountains of bright green trees and abundant wildlife.  After a quick stint in the accumulating registration line a cup of hot coffee, I was ready to greet the many chicken enthusiasts that would flock to the farm.

I read through the information packet that I got at registration while I walked past the select vendors that were there by invitation only.  It was great to see several vendors of IMG_8501products that we sell in our catalog!  In addition to product vendors, several booths were occupied by organizations that supported the efforts of many people present that day.  Organizations and businesses such as Featherman Equipment, Premier One, Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association were just some I recognized to mention a few.  Housed in equipment sheds throughout the farm, this was one of the most unique uses of space I had seen but in line with Joel’s philosophy of function over form, this was no surprise.  With a light shower that would conclude the day, the sheds proved to be a wonderful booth location for many who did not have tents!

IMG_1155The day was jam packed with farm tours of how-to’s and good for you’s.  These how-to’s included discussions on gardening, chicken raising, cattle raising, turkey raising, marketing your product, butchering, raising rabbits, creating buying club and much more.  I was amazed at how transparent Joel and his team were with how they did things.  This was a true example of mentoring as the team held nothing back, offered all details (good and bad) of how they performed each task at hand.  Questions were asked by people of all ages and answered in a way that everyone listening benefited from.  Stories of other peoples’ methods were shared and enjoyed by all in a supportive family oriented atmosphere that generated many “Good for You!” congratulatory statements.

I was keenly interested in Joel’s chickens operations as several Murray McMurray

Chickens Free Ranging

Chickens Free Ranging

Hatchery laying breeds were present throughout the Polyface fields.  The birds themselves looked happy and healthy as they roamed either free on the pasture protected by Premier’s electric fencing solutions or enclosed in a mobile chicken tractor on the hillside.

Joel’s team offered discussions from brooding newly hatched chicks to raising chickens in the mobile tractors to keeping chickens ranging freely in the pasture.  Being a little sickened still by my recent encounters with a fox, I was surprised and encouraged to hear that the Polyface team rarely has instances of predator encounters with their chickens.  Of course, if they need to deal with the occasional bear on the property, I will no longer complain about a raccoon or a fox!

IMG_8499I had the pleasure of meeting with several existing Murray McMurray Hatchery customers.  It is always endearing to me to hear about the long history a customer’s family has had with Murray McMurray Hatchery.  The typical conversation usually starts with, “I’ve been a customer of your’s for a long time – my grandpa/grandma ordered chickens from you.”  To this beginning I am overjoyed because I am so appreciative that someone confidently guided a new chicken owner to us.  I am also extremely grateful to my many co-workers who have continued the tradition of service and quality chicks that this customer came to know through the recommendation and experience with their grandparent.

After a full morning, it was time to eat lunch.  As in true Polyface fashion, lunch was IMG_1124 IMG_1119absolutely delicious.  As our booth was located just three stalls from the “grill”, my stomach had been growling ever since 6:00am when they started the coals.  Roasting over the coals on a very unique grill setup was approximately 1,000 whole chickens.   I knew the crew had done this once or twice before as I watched a gentleman marinate each of the chickens with a mop!  After getting a small break from visiting with customers I looked up to see lines and lines of people waiting for the lunch lines to open up.  “I’m never going to eat” I remember thinking as nearly 2,000 people looked intently at the volunteer servers waiting for the go-ahead to start serving.  Amazingly all were served within about 30 minutes.  As I walked towards the lines, guests were all smiles as they feasted on marinated chicken, beef, pork, fresh vegetables and a piece of chocolate cake.  I immediately thought of the five loaves and two fish miracle as what the volunteers had just accomplished was something amazing.

IMG_1203It is one thing to see a manager or executive of a company say one thing and then direct others to do the task.  It was rewarding to watch Joel not just direct events but actively participate and lead talks, how-to’s and even drive guests on the tractor from talk to talk.  In fact, rarely did I see anyone with a Polyface shirt on sit.  The day, in general, was a very well orchestrated, managed and executed event.

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“Future Lunatic Farmer” – One of the T-Shirts for Sale at Polyface

IMG_1135At the end of the day, it was wonderful to meet so many individuals involved in or wanting to be involved in raising chickens.  While not everyone has the land or the knowledge of Polyface, each person walked away inspired, educated and equipped to pursue their multitude and varied dreams of starting their own similar farm or homestead.  While this was one event, on one day, in a single state of Virginia, the seeds planted by the Polyface team are going to be bearing fruits for generations to come.  I feel so blessed that Murray McMurray Hatchery was able to participate in such an event and can’t wait for the next opportunity to meet future customers and play a small part in their new lifestyle.

Below are few more pictures that capture a little of what transpired throughout the day.  Thank you again to Polyface and all the volunteers that made the day possible.

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Crowds walk to the next speaking section

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Joel addresses the crowd at the mobile chicken coops

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Joel Salatin and Chris pose for a photo before the festivities begin

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Turkeys protected by Electric Fencing

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One of the many Pasture Raised Chicken flocks

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What child can avoid chasing a chicken?

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Chickens in the Mobile Coop

Chickens in the Mobile Coop

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Pheasants Update – Wings of Flight

We went out of town for a couple of days so I had a relative care for my various flocks.  All was going well until the one day I checked in with him.  “Well, everything is good except you had a pheasant die,” he said.  While one pheasant in the grand scheme of things may not seem like a big deal, it was what I feared would be the telling sign of things to come.

Lean To

Empty Lean To Soon to Be Pheasant Coop

Pheasants

5 Week Old Pheasants

With several busy days leading up to our travels, it burned in my mind that I needed to get my pheasants into their permanent coop.  They were coming up on five weeks old and certainly were starting to grow where it was noticeable.  It sure seemed like pheasants    Pen being Built   Future Pheasant Home Chicken Wire Wall Door is On  Pheasants Running grow at a quicker rate than a typical chicken does!  The tail feathers of many were starting to grow out long and pointy.  On a few occasions during  feeding time, one or two brave pheasants would hop onto the feeder or water and try to take flight out of the brooder.  It was a struggle for them but they were now reaching the top of these 24″ sidewalls.

There were several indications leading up to the point where I knew it was time to get them into a permanent coop.  For starters, the amount of waste and the noticeable odor was continually increasing.  It seemed I could not keep the bottom of the brooder dry no matter how much straw I kept putting down.  While I have a fan blowing in the coop to keep the air circulating, the odor continued to be noticeable.  Feed and water were both being consumed at a noticeably increasing rate as well.  I was adding much more feed and the usual refilling of the water every other day or so now transitioned into every day.  And of course, with the news of the dead pheasant, I knew the crowding was becoming an issue.

As soon as we got home I started again on the lean to that would serve as their new coop.  Things were buzzing as I got started framing up the section they would reside in.  By that I mean literally buzzing.  I had several nests of yellow jackets swarming around me as I constructed the pen.  Once I got side rails attached to the beams I went to grab the chicken wire that I had on hand that would contain the pheasants to the pen.  While I was in rush mode to get this pen done, I wish I would have paid more attention to some details.  I constructed the frame to accommodate a 60″ wide chicken wire.  This would have been great if I in fact had 60″ wide chicken wire – unfortunately I had 48″ wide chicken wire.  I could have sworn that I had 60″ wide from a previous measurement but alas, the frame came down and was rebuilt.

Moving the pheasants from the brooder to the pen was interesting.  I was amazed at how tame some of the pheasants seemed as I reached in to pick them up and put them in the carrier I had on hand.  Others wanted nothing to do with me and practiced their upward flight skills to get away from me.  I have noticed that pheasants seem to be very….shy I guess is the word I would use.  Once I opened the gate from the carrier I expected some kind of majestic pheasant flight out of the carrier into the new pen.  On the contrary, the pheasants wanted nothing to do with the new pen and stayed in the back of the carrier.  I had to literally pull them out of the carrier.  Once in the new pen, they immediately ran for the darkest place in the new pen which was a corner surrounded by a high dirt mound.

Pheasants in Cover

Pheasants Hiding in Cover

As I look back and have watched the pheasants for a couple of days now, I wish I would have thought more about the cover or growth the pheasants would need to hide in.  The pen was covered on three sides with basically a dirt floor.  I knew they liked cover to hide in so I uprooted and replanted several large weed/trees that were around the farm.  The pheasants stay in the brush/cover and seldom are seen walking in plain view.  If I had to do it over again, I would have grown corn or some other type of cover for them to flourish and hide in.  Right now, the solution I have used is to shovel up large areas of my over-grown garden and replant those patches in the pheasant pen.  They seem to like the cover.

They are adjusting to their pen, however, there is still more adjusting needed.  I have noticed that they have eaten very little since getting into the new pen.  I’m assuming they need even more cover brought in so they get a little more comfortable in the new setting.  I know it doesn’t help that our two golden retrievers are continually visiting the pen and “welcoming” them to their new home.

 

For those of you who have seen some of my past blogs, you know that I have had some past battles with a fox on the property.  I have scoured the new pen and have tried to tighten up all instances where I would assume a fox would try to get into the pen.  I’m hoping if it does happen that the pheasants will be able to get a way a little better than my unfortunate chickens.  I guess we will tackle that problem if it presents itself.  I did see another young fox pup just last night on the road about a half mile from the farm.  It was not afraid of me at all as it stood on the side of the road.  I rolled my window down and had a brief yet stern talk with him assuring that I would be the one to end his life and any member of his family if they decided to frequent our farm again.  I’m not sure if he heard me well but it sure did feel good to let him know.

5 week Old Pheasants

5 Week Old Pheasants Huddling

I can’t wait to start seeing the male feathers come in on the pheasants.  Right now the pheasants look like a typical bird really.  Nothing fancy, nothing special.  Some of the pheasants have found that they can not fly through chicken wire and one has succumbed to what looked like a wing injury.  As I expand our pheasant flock, if we do, I think netting will be the better route to go given what I have seen with them flying into the chicken wire.

I recently updated our Chinese Ringneck page with a video of the birds at about 4 weeks old.  You can see that video by clicking here!

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A new chirping – Pheasants

As I walked slowly through the cut corn and brush, our detectives worked furiously to find our deceptive prey.   The harder the detectives sniffed for clues and ran furiously around the landscape the more intently I focused on the cover ahead anticipating a startling uprising.

The excitement overflowed as the detectives excitedly narrowed their search and pin pointed a location, my muscles tensed and the adrenaline raged, then a flurry of action!  The pheasant seemingly startled the canine detectives as the rooster took rise and gave flight.  Shots rang out and the bird fell.

Not everyone is in to harvesting birds but that certainly was my introduction to pheasants.  I had the pleasure of working in the shooting sports industry right out of college.  My duties involved hosting clients at hunting events which gave me an opportunity to get up close to pheasants, chuckars, and ducks.

Since moving to some acreage I immediately looked forward to starting several of my own hobby flocks.  I started with chickens, of course and it has been very rewarding personally.  As I looked through our online catalog to see what I wanted to incorporate on to the property next, I flashed back to the past days of hunting and knew the pheasant would be the choice.

Pheasants' Arrival

Pheasants’ Arrival

The day of the pheasants’ arrival (yes, I love to get them in the mail even though I work at the hatchery!) was just as exciting for my family as getting our chickens.  My kids were thrilled with the opening of the box and seeing 60 newly hatched pheasants inside.  We were quite surprised at how tiny these pheasants were!

In addition to how small the pheasants were, I noticed they have a unique chirp, if you will.  It is hard to describe the difference in their chirp compared to a newly hatched chicks but it is distinct.

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Pheasants in Brooder

Week 2

I put the pheasants in a brooder that measures approximately 8′ x 2′ x 2′.  When I opened the barn door and began to approach the brooder, I was surprised to see several of the birds trying to fly out!  I certainly didn’t expect this so early in the process but sure enough, they were able to reach the top and casually exit their brooder.  Luckily I was there as this started so I quickly closed the lid and left wiser than when I arrived.

Pheasant - 2 Weeks Old

Pheasant – 2 Weeks Old

Today, at approximately two weeks of age, the pheasants are now starting to actually look bigger.  I noticed I have been filling the feeder much more often compared to the first week.  The birds are constantly playing and running around after each other in the brooder and they seem to have adjusted very well to their new home.

As the pheasants continue to grow, I work more and more on their final coop.  The barn on the property has a large lean-to that has saved me a lot of work compared to building their coop from scratch.  I look forward to watching them grow and learning more about pheasants, preparing their habitat and sharing that knowledge with friends and visitors.

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2014 School’s Out Photo Contest Winners

1st Place Winner

1st Place Winner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Place

2nd Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Place

3rd Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4th Place

4th Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5th Place

5th Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6th Place

6th Place

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Chicks of the Trade (show)

I like trade shows.  Trade shows offer you a place to see, feel, smell and experience new products, new ideas and allow you to meet many new people.  Granted, some people would ask, “Why do you need a tradeshow when you can just go to the company’s website?”  The experience a visitor gets on a company’s website pales in comparison to what they can experience when looking for new products at a trade show.  Does a picture or video of a chicken on a website generate the same reaction as holding a live chick in your hand?  Not at all.  I know first…well…hand.

I attended a particular trade show as a visitor the last two years.  At last year’s show, I looked around and thought our Murray McMurray Hatchery chickens just might go over well at the show.  As a vendor this year, with about 35 newly hatched chicks on display, I was nestled in between several organic farm’s, Natural Health Expert Jordan Rubin, a State chief justice, several authors and many more wonderful vendors.

You are employees?  Can we see your badges please?

Right – You are employees. Can we see your badges please?

I have to admit, showing off our chicks at a trade show really does not feel like work at all.  It is thrilling to put a newly hatched chick into the hands of a person for the first time – and I’m talking about adults and children.  I usually get a great mix of experience levels that stop at our booth.  I find it so amazing that there continues to be adults who have never held a newly hatched chick before.  Even the toughest, strongest, hard looking individuals stop to see the chicks.  When I ask them if they want to hold one I get a Tim the Tool Man type of arhgh, argh, argh, “No Thanks!”.  Then I put one in their hand before they can leave.  The transition that happens on their face is amazing.  I do the same thing with the executive women who pass by and “take a quick picture for their nieces and nephews”.  All of a sudden what was in their planner doesn’t matter and the ringing of their cell phone goes uninterrupted as they start a baby talk voice and slowly caress the heads and feathers of the chicks.

It is funny with adults – they have a first reaction, then they have the real reaction.  Asphoto 2 adults, I wonder just how much we have let other influences condition us to the point that we don’t even remember how we are supposed to, or rather want to, react.  I’m guilty of it.  I’m sure you are to.

The kids that stop at the booth to see the chicks remind me of how far gone I have gotten on some things.  Kids are awesome.  They don’t care what they are doing, they just let their reaction to the chicks happen.  Several will walk by having temper fits when they see the chicks and yell, “Oh mommy look!”  They quickly forget what they were mad at and ask if they can hold a chick.

Duggar Children

Duggar Children

One of the families that I recognized at this particular trade show was the Duggar Family from TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting show.  The youngest Duggar children who were in attendance loved the chicks on display.  They held them, named them, and watched the chicks for hours.
“What’s your name?” I heard one child ask one of the Duggar’s.
“Jackson”
“What’s your last name?”
“Duggar”, he said.
“hmm, I don’t know you.  Want to be friends?”, asked the inquisitive child.

Does it really have to be more complicated than that?  It seems like we make it so at times. The chicks I get to display have a magnetic affect on many.  People of uncommon backgrounds, uncommon professions, and uncommon lifestyles are sharing in the joy of chickens.  Some remember old times, some experience it for the first time.

I get to hear all kinds of wonderful chicken stories at the trade shows.  One particular story shared with me was from a younger gentleman, probably 35 or so, who had a little hint of a southern draw to him.  He told me he was helping an elderly widow with things and in one of their conversations she shared with him that she once owned chickens as a little girl.  While her health was not in its prime, this widowed lady was surviving her days at best.  This young gentleman said he wanted to help her spirit so he gave her several newly hatched chickens from Murray McMurray Hatchery.  A year or two later, the widow commented to the young gentleman that his gift of the chicks added years to her life.  She took on a new hope, a new excitement, a new, or re-newed spirit.  This young gentleman remembers chicks at his grandparents house growing up and he, himself owned chicks now also.

photo 4You can see chicks on our website, you can even watch videos of them.  These features, as I mentioned, don’t compare to holding them in your hand.  If you have not owned chicks before, why not start today?  We would love to get you started and experience the joy of chickens that so many others are today.

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Bad, Bad Mr. Fox

I remember my mother reading me many stories when I was little.  In a lot of the stories that included a fox, the fox is the bad guy.  The fox has been included in many stories, cultures, songs and more from Jimmy Hendrix’ “Foxy Lady” to Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks”.  The fox has a storied past for all of us and brings to light many various characteristics.  The fox may be admired by some, may be feared by others, and for some, like myself at the moment, may be on a hit list.

You may remember my past blog about our recent move and the care that went into moving all our animals, including many, many new chickens.  I was thrilled to get to our new farm and eventually let our meat birds range within the grass pasture.  I utilized a moveable coop that I gleamed from a visit to Joel Salatin’s place and loved seeing the meat birds out in the grass pasture.  I built the moveable coop with a strong gauge of chicken wire and 2″ x 4″ boards.  I’m not the best judge of weight but this coop was heavy enough to where it took some effort to move it over the pasture.

It was a nice night out with the stars shining brightly and the moon beaming like a beacon in the night.  I walked out of my main chicken coop and took a route past the meat birds in the movable coop.  They were settled in for the night, hardly making a peep so I continued into the house and turned off the lights.  I am typically up pretty late at night working on this or that and this night was going to be just that – a late one.  Later this particular evening I got up from my desk and walked out the back door of the house.  The stars and the moon were still shining brightly and I could see just a little movement within the meat bird coop.  Silent night – all is calm, all is bright.

When I woke up the next morning I headed towards the coops, as I always do.  As I got closer to the meat bird coop, I couldn’t see the chicks immediately.  Strange, I thought, they must all be laying down yet.  As I got closer my mindset changed.  Hmmm.. That’s weird, they must have gotten out somehow.  Given my typical craftsmanship this certainly was a possibility.  Maybe they are behind the coop.  As I got to the coop itself, my worst fear was realized – my chickens didn’t just get out, something took them!

All 16 chickens, gone.  The reality of the situation set in quickly and I began to scan around the coop.  I noticed what looked like the beginnings of a burglar’s attempt but I had seen that same scratching marks the day earlier.  At the time I dismissed it as being from our young puppy.  Around the opposite side of the coop I spotted the point of entry the thief took.  I was very puzzled as the “route” under the coop was only about four to five inches wide.  This entrance/exit was also very shallow measuring only a few inches deep.  As I scanned inside the coop from the top through the chicken wire I saw only one small drop of blood and two tiny white feathers.

The Meat Bird Coop

The Meat Bird Coop

The coop measures eight feet by eight feet so I have a four feet by eight feet sheet of plywood as part of the roof to offer the birds cover from the rain and sun.  The coop itself is only about 24″ to 30″ high.  It was there, on the half roof of the coop, in plain sight for all to see, the reason that I now wage war on bad, bad, Mr. Fox.  I can understand a fox needs to eat.  I can understand a fox needs to feed its pups perhaps as well.  For this particular fox to leave his calling card atop of my coop was, quite honestly, rude.

Calling Card

Calling Card

I know I have said this before in my past chicken trials, but I should have known better.  I should have known that bringing a bunch a chickens to the farm would make us the talk of the town amongst the predators in the area.  I can just hear them now, sitting around the coffee shop in the woods, you the know, the regulars reminiscing about the good ole’ days when they had the run the land and now all these humans were coming in to their territory.  I can just hear Roxy the Raccoon behind the counter, pouring coffee to Fred the Fox and Colt the Coyote, telling them she saw a new family move in with a bunch of chickens.  Fred the Fox has always been trouble maker in town so he quickly decided he was going to be the first to introduce himself.  Colt the Coyote was older so he was going to let Fred take all the risks he wanted to.  “Thanks for the tip Roxy,” says Fred as he puts down not his usual one mouse as a tip, but two mice as an extra thank you.  He brushes his black socks and struts out of the diner.

"Mr. Fox is not getting my chicken!"

“Mr. Fox is not getting my chicken!”

I have seen Mr. Fox five times now during different hours of the day with most instances from 1:30pm to 4:30pm.  I have seen him on my bike and run route, I have seen him while driving through town and now, most recently, in my yard as he just took one of our layers that was taking a stroll around the front yard.  Before he was sneaky – now he is bold.  Well bad, bad, Mr. Fox, you, as Joel would say, are infringing on my chicken-ness.  If you feel like taking more chickens from my farm, come and get them.  Just don’t plan on leaving.

Posted in Chicken Coops, chickens, McMurray Hatchery, Predator Control, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

2014 Easter Photo Contest Winners

1st Place Winner

1st Place Winner

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Place Winner

2nd Place Winner

 

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Place Winner

3rd Place Winner

 

 

 

 

 

 

4th Place Winner

4th Place Winner

 

 

 

 

 

 

5th Place Winner

5th Place Winner

 

 

 

 

6th Place Winner

6th Place Winner

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Why Easter Eggs by Hunter Kemper

Case_chicken Since we are now the proud owners of chickens, I did a little investigating into the significance of “the egg” this Easter celebration.  When did eggs first become associated with Easter?  The egg is an ancient symbol of new life and it has been linked with the celebration of Spring for years.  According to history, Christians were forbidden to eat eggs along with other foods during the season of lent.  When Easter arrived, the people painted and decorated the eggs to celebrate the end of fasting.  Christians have adapted the symbolism of the egg to represent the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, giving us new life through him.

We enjoyed a wonderful Easter yesterday as a family.  Our kids woke up to baskets  filled with candy eggs and special treats.  Their favorite gift was the wind-up chicken that lays bubble gum eggs as it waddles.  After church in the morning, we enjoyed an amazing brunch at the Olympic Training Center.  We then came home and had fun watching the chickens free range in our backyard.  We really wanted a family picture taken with all the chickens, but they were too fast for us.  We only managed to catch Athens, so she was the only one that made the Easter family photo.

Easter_2014

To finish out the day, we spent the evening at my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s house.  After the big Easter feast, the kids were excited to finally decorate the Easter eggs.  This was a fun time we were able to use the eggs to teach our little ones about the true meaning of Easter and the salvation story.

 

Here’s what the colors represent:

  • Purple:  God’s Grace
  • Black: Sin
  • Blue: Baptism
  • Red: The blood of Christ
  • Green:  Eternal Life
  • Gold:  Heaven

Kempers_Easter2014

We also talked about how the hard shell of the egg represents the sealed tomb where Jesus was buried, and the breaking of the egg represents Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  I never thought about the significance of the Easter egg before we had chickens.  Next year, we look forward to decorating our own Easter eggs straight from our girls – Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio.

 

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Brooding My Chicks

As I drove the moving truck out of the neighborhood, Rosie and Winston sat shotgun quietly.  I could see the look on their face.  They couldn’t believe what we just packed up in this bohemith of a truck.  Quite frankly, I couldn’t either.  They didn’t say a word – they just both gave me a kiss on the cheek and watched down the road.

Rosie and Winston are my two golden retrievers.  Rosie is the senior dog at two years old while Winston, the puppy, is still learning the ropes in her young 14 weeks of age.  We just spent the last two days loading nearly 100 baby chicks, six adult chickens, two rabbits and the two aforementioned golden retrievers into the truck.  In addition to the animals, of course, came two chicken coops, a rabbit hutch, two dog kennels and two tubs that served as brooders for the newly acquired chicks.

Newly hatched chicks are very resilient yet fragile as the wind at the same time.  I had approximately 40 broilers and 60 layers housed in two separate large plastic tubs.  To get chicks just a week before a move is not something I recommend at all.  My family thought I was crazy but when the opportunity to get the chicks presented itself I wanted to take advantage of it.

I started the chicks in a two feet by three feet tub with the smallest waterer and feeder I could find.  They remained on the landing of the stairs for that week prior to our move.  Two tubs, two waters, two feeders, two heat lamps, 100 chicks – all in the front door of our home that we were carrying furniture out of.

With the truck loaded – our destination was set.  Well sort of set.  The farm we were moving to would offer plenty of room for the chicks to roam in time but for now as the farm house needed some repairs we would be staying with family for the next week or so.  I guided Noah’s Ark to my parents’ house and promptly set up all the animals in their garage.  I could see the worry, concern and astonishment on my mother’s face as the chicks peeped, the rabbits drank, the chickens cackled and the two dogs walked around knocking over golf clubs and everything else that wasn’t fastened down in her garage.

For the next two weeks the chicks got bigger, and the number of tubs increased to accommodate their growth.  As I watched them grow, I knew they were going to need a bigger brooder fast.  My plan for a wooden, divided brooder that would keep the chicks happy and safe certainly looked better in my mind than the final result.  After the last nail was hammered in, I stepped back to take a look and the first thought that crossed my mind was, “It looks like a coffin for an eight feet tall person”.  Not exactly what I was looking for but if it kept my chicks safe and got me back in the good graces of my mother, I was all for it.  I drilled holes in each end of the brooder for air flow, put two heat lamps in each side for each group of chicks (layers and meat birds) and latched it tight so no predator would be able to pay a visit.  It was four or five weeks by now and my chicks were out of the garage.

Week five was similar to a sixteen year old football player getting his appetite.  These chicks can put away some food!  With the weather warming up to consistent above freezing temps and the buffet these chicks were enjoying, I knew this coffin brooder would only be a temporary solution.  By the beginning of week six I knew I needed to act quicker than I originally planned.  The chicks were trying to fly out every time I opened the brooder and I promptly loaded them up for greener pastures.

Literally, I was taking them to the greener pastures of our new farm.  The house renovations were complete and I had constructed a wire mesh wall that would separate the layers from the future brooding spots in the chicken coop.  The coop is approximately 600 square feet giving each layer a lot of room to roam around.  Of course, they have access to the pasture on nice days also.  The meat birds are enjoying the fresh grass of the pasture as they move around the farm in their newly constructed chicken tractor that my boys and I quickly put together.

Two days ago my family and I were out in the yard and we saw two coyotes running across the West end of the property about 200 yards away from us.  I’ve been keeping a close eye on all our chickens but now I tend to look into the coop several times a day just to make sure I haven’t forgotten something that would allow a pesky predator to make a visit.

Looking back over the last several weeks with the newly hatched chicks in the house, then to the garage, then to my coffin coop to finally getting the chicks to the farm, I can honestly say it has all been a positive experience and well worth the work.  While it was not the most ideal situation with our move and the temporary locations we moved through, the chicks remained happy and healthy.  Attention to detail and closely monitoring the chicks kept me in tune to their needs.  This wasn’t the first time we brooded chicks but it certainly was the most unique. 

Even during the short time at my parents’ house, the chicks garnered much attention from the neighbors.  It was fun to share eggs from our adult chickens with the neighbors and educate them on the joy of having chickens.  Brood some chicks today and share the experience with your neighbors!

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The Siouxland Garden Show & Murray McMurray Hatchery

I had the pleasure of showcasing some of our Murray McMurray Hatchery chickens and speaking at this past weekend’s Siouxland Garden Show in Sioux City, Iowa.  This was our first time to the show so I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  As I pulled into town with the snow flurrying around me, I welcomed the idea of an inside garden for the weekend.  I wanted to fast forward into the heart of spring and as I stepped into the doors of the show, it seemed like I did.

Rain barrels, perennials, ferns, honey, decorative patio blocks, worm castings, aquaponics – just a few of the topics covered at the show.  Oh yeah, and now, CHICKENS!

Chickens were the buzz at the show (sorry bees) as Sioux City recently passed an ordinance to allow four hens in the city limits.  Another small victory for the chicken owner world was worth celebrating.  Many visitors had heard of Murray McMurray Hatchery and I had the pleasure of meeting several generational customers, which is always neat for me personally.  I love hearing stories of how the customer I talk with remembers ordering chicks from our catalog with his grandfather and now he was ordering chicks from us with his grandson. 

At tradeshows, I talk to a variety of people with various levels of experience in owning chickens.  One of the best experiences is seeing a child come over to our booth and put eyes on a real live chicken for the first time.  Their eyes get big and after the initial pause of astonishment, the smile grows and grows across their face.  After a quick acknowledgement from their parents, I put a newly hatched chick in their hand, stand back and just watch.  The reactions are priceless, the hand sanitizer close by.  And if it wasn’t enough to see the kids’ reactions, the same happens to several of the adults as well.  Some adults are seeing and holding a baby chicken for the first time in their lives and it is really amazing to watch.

For three days I answer chicken questions, listen to chicken ownership stories, offer some advice on how to do this and that and meet some wonderful people.  During my talk on Sunday I gave an overview of what it is involved in owning chickens.  I talked about feed, water, coops, benefits of fresh eggs and much more. With a few hours remaining, the show was over.  The displays came down, the people left and my drove home began.  As I exited Sioux City, I couldn’t help but wonder what has begun in the community.  

With the volunteers and staff of the Siouxland Garden Show, the city is well poised to learn and grow about gardening, chickens and so much more.  The seeds they continue to plant in the community will be a harvest for many to enjoy.

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