You all must be getting so bored with chicken talk, but it's so exciting for us. This is our first real enterprise on the farm and God has been blessing it in so many ways. As Andy mentioned before, we have a used job site trailer coming to us for virtually free that will be winter housing for the birds. We have a deal set up for two garbage cans full of bread each week in exchange for four dozen eggs. That cuts down on our feed costs about 25%. We have little advertising besides our roadside Free Range Eggs sign, and yet we can't keep up with demand! We have only lost one hen so far, and she was the unlucky chicken that decided to cross the road (I still don't know the answer to that riddle, because she never made it to the other side). We have been able to give dozens of eggs away to people as barter, gifts or thank yous. I think we have traded about 12 dozen eggs for babysitting time so far! Andy's parents are building a market in their area (about an hour or two away), and we have been able to help out a fellow farmer with his eggs sales. Below, Andy's mother, Julie and I stand behind our egg demo counter at her Curves™ open house. We gave a photo slideshow on computer and had info pamphlets about our farm and the benefits of free range eggs. We even cooked up a bunch and served them to the health-conscious ladies as a little taste of what could be in their own kitchens! We sold out of 23 dozen that day and had orders for 21 dozen more the following week. It was amazing!
As word has spread, people have offered us their left-over meal scraps and egg cartons and all sorts of random food items for our chickens. We accept most things. (We do not feed our chickens eggs or any sort of chicken meat, but most other things are fair game; if they don't eat it, they scratch it into the ground. Chickens are excellent composters!) I think people like getting involved in something local like this. They are happy to take the drive to our farm rather than the store in order to be a part of this happening.
And that's just what we wanted. We want our farm to become our customers' farm. We don't even want to think of them as customers; they are becoming family. It creates a great atmosphere to be able to show them just where their eggs are coming from. Families will park their van and step outside to see chicken-rakes hard at work in the lawn. It's that connection, that sense of what's supposed to be on a farm that makes the experience so rewarding.
But we aren't doing it for that purpose. It is a wonderful by-product and certainly one that we hoped would happen. However, we work hard at our farm appearance and our animals' comfort because we have a sense of God's plan for creatures of the earth. We have accountability for our products and our overall farm health. The open door policy ensures that.
Every egg that leaves our property has been hand-picked by Andy and hand-washed and inspected by me. We eat the cracked ones and the eggs shaped too weird to be sent out. They taste just fine, but we don't want to scare off our customers – I mean family – with odds and ends. I take pride in cleaning and counting each and every egg. I love packing them in the cartons and "delivering" them to the garage. We have our egg business set up in our garage with our produce-traded refrigerator humming quietly.
Knowing that at anytime of day, someone could be here for a dozen or so eggs keeps us on our toes. But more than that, it's the accountability we feel from God himself that spurs us to have such high standards. We want to honor his creation in all that we do, in all that we produce and in all that we send off of this farm. As our business expands and our products diversify, we will strive to uphold the same level of animal husbandry and even raise the bar whenever we can.
This afternoon, Andy came home with another 117 laying hens from an Amish egg farmer in Dalton, Wisconsin. They are mostly Rhode Island Reds, and they are less than two years old. (That is still young for a laying hen.) They have lived in a certified organic, cage-free building their whole lives. This means that while they weren't caged and de-beaked, they had no access to the outdoors, have never free-ranged and did not have roosts on which to perch at night. This evening, when Andy went in the barn to check on them (they are seperated from the current flock), they were all cowering in one corner. He had to physically pick them up and place them on the roosts! He said as soon as they settled onto the bar, they tucked in their little heads and closed their eyes. How precious and sad all at once! We have a lot to teach these little birds about how they were supposed to be living; it's going to be an interesting road. But the point of doubling our flock is to meet demand and exceed it. We haven't been telling many people about our eggs because we don't have enough to go around! Hopefully with these new birds, we can really expand our family and bring the farm-to-consumer mentality to ever more people.
We've had a lot of changes this week and a lot of cold, rainy weather. Photos will be forthcoming when we get a break in the precipitation...
For now, have a great night and think of at least five things you are thankful for. I know I can! – Becky
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.