When we first got here I decided to start getting into raising animals. I knew I wanted to have laying hens, so did my mom, but I wanted to wait and get my feet wet with something easy. I wasn’t sure what that would be until one day when I was at the Tractor Supply. There in the center of the store was a pair of Dutch Rabbits, a hutch and some cages. I figured it would be easy to raise a rabbit. Besides, we were looking for a “get acquainted to the country” gift for our niece Siri.
I told the woman at the counter I wanted one of the rabbits. She informed me that the pair of rabbits were brothers and the employees were all hoping they wouldn’t have to separate them. As I was processing what the clerk was telling me and trying to decide if I really wanted to have to feed and care for two rabbits, I noticed four or five other employees showing up out of absolutely nowhere with little pouty looks on their faces and their hands in the “let us pray” position. Nothing like being held hostage by a group of teenage, animal loving, after school store clerks. They were all staring at me and waiting for me to be the hero of the day and take both rabbits.
I thought quickly and said “no problem, but I want them both for the price of one, seeing how I only wanted one in the first place.” I thought that would let me off the hook, and I instantly thought of how clever I was. I could feel the proud grin start to form across my face. They were not going to put me on the spot like that. I have always been a good negotiator, and I have never bowed down to pressure. But before I knew it, the woman at the counter exclaimed, “You have a deal!”
The next thing I knew they were all jumping up and down with excitement, patting my back and praising me for being such a wonderful person. I was numb and shocked. I was standing there in a daze. I couldn’t believe I actually got played like that. I glanced over at the woman behind the counter, and she seemed to have the beginnings of that same proud grin on her face that I had on mine only moments before.
Oh well, two rabbits instead of one. It would be a piece of cake. One big hutch and they could keep each other company. I also didn’t think feeding a second bunny was going to break the bank. Something at the time though told me I should have known better. I had a funny feeling.
I climbed in the truck with my purchase and headed home. I couldn’t wait to get those new rabbits home to Siri. She was going to be so excited. Siri named the two little guys Peanut Butter and Jelly. I thought those were good names for them. I really don’t believe in naming animals that are going to be our homestead animals, but these guys were going to be pets, so why not. And Siri was sooo happy.
It’s been about two years, and the rabbits are large and healthy. I still feel bad to this day for separating them though, especially in the cold weather months. It was easy securing another hutch for Peanut Butter, but I know he misses his brother Jelly. If only Jelly would have stopped having his brother’s babies!
We all still go to the Tractor Supply on a regular basis, but I stay away from that woman behind the counter.
After a few months of getting over rabbits having babies every other week, and my mother nagging me about fresh eggs, I decided it was time to move on to laying hens. Mom did a lot of reading up on chickens, and we went to a few fairs and learned what we could. I also talked to a few people in town who had chickens. We were now chicken farmers waiting to happen. We were real confident in picking the breed we wanted. Being from New England we wanted a breed that was weather worthy and low maintenance. We decided on Rhode Island Reds.
I got an old rabbit hutch for free that’s about ten feet long and converted it for laying hens. Then I went to the Tractor Supply for fencing. You know who I didn’t get advice from that day. It was a good thing too because someone else was leaving there with two rabbits, and she was smiling ear to ear!
My brother-in-law and I centered the hutch in the yard and made a large fenced in area all the way around it. We started out small with a half dozen hens we got from a local feed and grain place in town. He said he gets all his laying hens from one of the big national suppliers.
We got all the things we needed for getting them started inside. My mother decided we would start them as chicks in her bedroom, and we would bring them out to the pen when they were old enough. I thought that was real generous of my mom, and Tami couldn’t have been happier with the arrangement.
The chickens were outside in no time, and we loved our new chicken venture and couldn’t wait for the eggs to start coming. All was going well until one morning I started having this dream. In the dream I was Frank Purdue and I was chasing a rooster around the yard while he was laughing at me. Well by the time Tami shook me awake, and my sister was pounding on our bedroom window from her porch, I was realizing two things. The first was that out of six laying hens, at least one was a rooster, and the other thing was that my sister was surely not a morning person. Not at 5:35 am anyway. Oh, and there wasn’t one rooster, but two.
I have been making homemade chicken soup for years now, and thank goodness. This batch of soup came out real well.
We now have twenty laying hens. Things are going great and we really have this chicken thing down to a science. We ordered from the big national supplier ourselves this time. They had a better guarantee that the hens would be HENS. We ordered a few for my friend down the road at the same time. She wanted to get started with layers too. The company was so happy with us for buying so many this time (24) that they sent us a free gift. It was a beautiful hen that was all white and black. It was just a gorgeous hen. It was smaller than the Reds, and didn’t seem as hearty, but we didn’t mind. It was gorgeous. Then came that fateful day when I heard that familiar noise again at around 5:30 am. That’s right. My sister was pounding on our bedroom window once more.
Boy, I’m glad we all like chicken soup!
The vegetable garden has also done real well for us. My niece Siri is out there with me all the time. She actually helps me to get started during the winter months, too. We start our seeds in my basement in mid- February. We use some old sawhorses and sheets of plywood for tables, and we get going down there as soon as I get the itch for spring.
Siri enters all the fairs around here with “her” vegetables. She has won approximately 15 blue ribbons and four red ribbons so far. She really has a green thumb. Tami just entered one of our fairs recently too. She came away with red ribbons for canning apple sauce and making pot holders and place mats. She also received two blue ribbons for canned tomato relish and homemade zucchini bread.
We have all settled in real nice, and we all have our jobs and chores, like anywhere else. I cut and split about eight cords of wood a year for our three wood stoves. We have one in our living room, and one in my family’s living room next door. There is also one in the barn. That one really helps in the winter on the weekends. I am always out there working on something or just hanging out. I get it started up around 6:00 am and by 8 or so, it’s comfortable for shop work.
We have also gotten really involved with the local 4-H. Siri has joined the horse group and Tami, Kim and I are adult volunteers. I’m hoping this year to help with the veggie group and the swine group. I think pigs are next on my list and Tami’s next venture will probably be goats. Mom wants to start keeping bees. Time will tell.
So, that’s my story of getting to the country. We all love our living arrangement, and I don’t think we could be anymore blessed. Now all I have to do is get my daughter and her family back here to the homestead, and help my son next year start his shop business close to home.
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