Good gracious, already two years into this labor of love, creation of Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm, and no serious discussion of chickens yet? What gives? Well, with all the goat kidding, lumber milling, coop building and bee work… Yep, the noses have been firmly pressed against the grindstone. There’s been lots of stuff going on, but now it’s time to give the chickens their due. It’s time to talk chickens.
In July, 2015 Must Bee Kiddin Farm’s poultry division “officially” started. We purchased an incubator and promptly set some eggs for hatching. There should be black box warnings on all incubator boxes because once you set one of those things up the cosmic compulsion of hatch mode kicks in. It seems that as long as an incubator is in plain sight the urge to keep filling it up descends until you run out of space for chicks and finally put it away.
After setting up that incubator hatch mode kicked in and three hatches later the Must Bee Kiddin’ poultry division was up and running. Fast forward to May, 2016. Our seed stock chick orders from local breeders arrived. Fifty-five chicks strong and a temporary conversion of the garage into a brooder, the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm poultry division was in full flight. With last year’s hatching and this year’s spring brooding is done, the farm passed many milestones. Now we’re in July and hatch mode is once again kicking in.
Poultry on Range
Poultry was always a part of the overall farm plan. After all, Is any farm really complete without chickens? Of course not. Besides,when it comes to growing your own food and feeding yourself with livestock, chickens are pretty hard to beat. Whether it’s eggs for breakfast or a roasted chicken Sunday dinner, poultry provides the quick means to start taking control of your food supply.
With poultry in the plan, it was always just a matter of timing and confidence. Not confidence in ourselves and our abilities to raise chickens, but more a matter of would all our hard work simply go up in a feathery puff to coons or coyotes. The only real way to find out is to take that first hard step and put some birds out on the range and pasture. After building the best mobile coops we could and mustering the best protection that fit our needs, portable electric poultry fencing, we took those first hard steps. Now, after almost a year since hatching our first chick we have a flock on ranging on pasture everyday numbering close to seventy birds.
So what’s in our evolving poultry plan and growing flock? The concentration of our efforts is to provide the best, safe, clean food we can for our table while helping to conserve our livestock heritage. This means we mainly focus on having fun through developing the utility aspects of heritage chicken breeds. Our commitment is to food with integrity and improving the overall condition of the heritage breeds. This means we are committing to breeding, raising and slaughtering our own heritage poultry.
So Far So Good
Adding and building out a new poultry concern on the farm has been a lot of hard work. Taking multiple groups of chickens from chick to adult is no small feat when you don’t even have any coops. In total, six coops in various configurations have been built. One caveat concerning the coop building is that all the lumber in the making of the coops has been sourced from the farm property itself. So, in addition to the building of the six coops, all the timber had to be felled and milled. It certainly is a process, but when considering sustainability, it makes all the hard work very satisfying.
The current flock numbers is around seventy birds. All the birds have done very well out on the range at the farm. I write this paragraph with hesitation and fear of jinxing our hard work, but here goes…
We have had zero losses to predation on the farm. This includes poultry. I attest to the fact that our full faith and confidence has been put into electric fencing and portable electric net fencing. It is a decision that has proven successful thus far. Again, I write these lines against the backdrop of dread of jinxing our efforts. With that being said, we did also trap out almost a dozen opossum over a six week period at the beginning of the year. Thus far we’ve been able to neutralize our major concerns of opossums, raccoons and coyotes. The last remaining predatory concern when it comes to poultry on the farm is raptors. We have a litany of birds of prey which includes bald eagles and owls that have thus far not been an issue out on the range of the farm. In fact, the only predatory loss the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm poultry division has taken to date has been in the backyard of our suburban home.
Yes, that’s right, we lost a cockerel in our backyard. While cleaning out the garage brooder we put the birds in a portable temporary pen outside. Here they get fresh air and exposure to the ground with all it’s bugs, grass and microbes. It’s all part of the hardening off process before putting birds fully onto pasture. During this process we did have a hawk strike and kill a promising six week old cockerel. Five to six weeks is the age we would normally move the birds onto pasture, but we had to delay the move due to coop building. Lesson learned. Now we attach our zealous little cairn terrier, Murphy, to a forty pound dumbbell beside the pen and let him play livestock guardian dog. He enjoys the duty and does a superb job at raising the alarm.
Building the Must Bee Kiddin’ Farm poultry division has been a lot of work, but so worth it. It really is hard to express in writing the reward one feels watching nature’s wonder during hatch, then raise those birds on range all the way to layer and table fare. The experience transcends simply knowing what’s in your food and how it’s been raised. There’s a rekindling of the primal connection, a calling if you will, back to the land that reveals how dependent we really are to that land which calls to us. This connection and experience is one too many of us have foregone, and a relationship bond that also has been broken by too many. Yes; it’s been a hot, sweaty, bloody and dusty affair building the poultry concern and the Must Bee Kiddin’ farm in general, but certainly an affair that positively crystallizes all the effort with no equal when seeing those fully fledged birds scratching out their living on the farm’s range.
In 2014 a couple of 40-somethings decided to make a change. The purchase of 10 raw, pine scrub acres along Florida's Nature Coast started it all. This is that story.