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Posts Tagged ‘eggs’

“Mommy!  Mommy! One of the chickens is dead!  The metal thing fell on it, Mommy!” came Brandon’s cry from the back porch as Tammi was putting the dishes away.  It had been a peaceful Tuesday morning up to that point.

Sure enough, upon inspection, the small ten-unit nesting box had come loose and fallen over.  Unfortunately, one of the lady leghorns was not quick enough to escape the sudden force from the metal contraption. It’s legs stuck out of the bottom like the similarly unfortunate Wicked Witch of the East in The Wizard of Oz.  Tammi lifted up the nesting box and put it in place. Brandon stooped down in front of the bird.

“It’s not moving, Mommy. It’s definitely dead,” proclaimed my stepson like a junior coroner at a murder scene.

“I know honey,” said Tammi. “It’s a shame.”

“Are you goin’ to tell Baron?” he asked.

“Let’s bury her first,” said Tammi.

The two solemnly carried the chicken down to the compost pile, dug a hole, and laid lady leghorn #25 to rest.  It probably looked like a scene out of the Sopranos, except that it was daytime rather than two in the morning. The call came to me at work a few minutes later.

“We lost a chicken this morning,” said my bride, solemnly.

“What?” said I, “Did something get in the coop?”  I was imaging a weasel wreaking havoc on our little ladies.

“No — it was crushed by the nesting box that tumbled over…,” she explained.

I was immediately struck by a complete sense of responsibility.  I had killed that chicken through my own ineptitude as a rookie farmer.  I had committed unintentional third-degree chicken-slaughter and was feeling every bit guilty.

“Damn!” said I, “Damn — it’s all my fault!”

Unfortunately, this little episode spooked our ladies again — that made three incidents in the last two weeks — the evil space robot chicken feeder, the township fireworks, and now the death of one of their own right before their eyes.  After catching the birds and returning them to the coop, we decided it was time to downsize.

“I am afraid we just have too many,” I said to my bride, convinced we needed to reduce our flock.

“Really?” said my lady in a tone only a wife can make when reminding her husband she had made a similar suggestion some time ago.

“Yep — put ’em on Craig’s List — $6 each or 2 for $10,” I ordered.

And so it was done — within a couple days 18 of the 24 remaining birds were sent packing for a cool return of $90 cash.  We decided to keep six — enough to provide for us and a little extra.

Tammi set about creating a fenced-in run outside the coop with a small paddock for the birds to “free-range.”  We also downsized the coop, pulling out the two nesting units and replacing them with a three-box wooden one from the barn.  We removed all of the old hay and replaced it.  We then caught the six birds in the barn and placed them in their transformed home.

“How many eggs have we gotten out of this?” I asked my bride as I was raking the chicken poop.

“Uh….none,” she said.

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So many questions!  How many chickens should we purchase?  What breed?  Where do you buy them?  What will it cost to feed them?  Should we free range them?

I realized we had a need for a good book or two on chickens.  So, in addition to Raising Chickens for Dummies — a very appropriate title for a suburban couple taking their first crack at chicken farming, we picked up Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.  There was a wealth of information — quite intimidating for newbies!  My God — you have to worry about stuff like “cannibalism” and predators and heat lamps — and you have to make sure you don’t overcrowd the coop!  And then there’s the poop….

Regarding the number of chickens and the breed, we decided this was more about the number of eggs we expected per week, once the hens were mature enough to begin laying. A perusal of Henderson’s Handy-Dandy Chicken Chart helped to summarize the goals and aspirations of this neophyte “Hinkler” (Pennsylvania Dutch for Chicken Farmer).  We wanted maximum egg production as soon as possible!  We also learned about the myth of brown eggs being better than white — not true!  So Leghorns it was — “the ultimate egg machines”  according to Henderson.  I was also intrigued by the note regarding the use of this breed by the Romans in rituals to divine the future.  I supposed if the egg production didn’t work out, we could open up a fortune-telling booth…  “Beware the Ides of March!”

Why Leghorns?  One of my good friends warned me they are a “weak breed” prone to sudden death in the slightest of challenges.  I ignored him and did the math —- 6 eggs per week x 25 chickens = 150 eggs per week = 12 1/2 dozen.  If we eat 2 1/2 dozen ourselves, that leaves 10 to sell — or about $25/week — $100/month in egg money. Over the course of a year, these little leghorn ladies could gross about $1200 — my MBA-training was coming through!  Of course, I had no idea about the operational costs — fixed and variable — of such an operation. But, we were jumping in!

Convinced to buy leghorns, we set about to find a hatchery.  Believe it or not, the little peeps, but a day old, are shipped to their buyers through the US Mail!  Concerned about minimizing the distance and finding a hatchery we could trust, we selected the Hoffman Hatchery in Gratz, PA.  — about 50 miles north of us.  The primary reason was they had a great website — very informative – and they are from Gratz – very close to the Mahantongo Valley – the ancestral home of the Knorrs.  I figured these Hoffman’s were likely distant kin, and could be trusted.  We printed out the order form and sent it in with our check for about $75 (including shipping) for 25 day-old pullets (all hens) — fixed cost — $3/bird delivered.

Side note — we had to give our Camp Hill address since we had not moved yet!  More on this later…

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Today, we learned our mortgage for the farm at 1602 West Lisburn Rd., Mechanicsburg, PA was approved. Settlement is scheduled for March 30 — one month away!

Now, those of you who know us are well aware we don’t know a thing about farming! Fortunately, we don’t intend to do this for a living — but rather as a hobby and for a little personal security during troubled times. We also view this as a tremendous learning experience and intend to share our mistakes, discoveries and eureka! moments as we go.

First, a run down of the property and some thoughts about our plans:

The 4+ acre parcel contains an old brick farmhouse that started out as a log cabin in 1790. It was since enlarged several times. The place has “good bones” — log, brick, plaster, wide plank floors, a huge hearth — lots of crooked floors, crooked walls and cracked and crooked ceilings!  According to some research at the Cumberland County Historical Society, the property was owned by Daniel Baker, a member of the Church of the Brethren, who came to the area from Lancaster County in the early 1800’s. His son, Christian, lived at the farm (or at least owned it) for most of his life, into the late 1800’s. Most of the improvements to the house are likely due to his efforts. For this reason, we have decided to refer to the property as the Christian Baker Farm. It was so noted on the 1858 map of Cumberland County — the very map used by Confederate soldiers foraging in the Carlisle – Mechanicsburg area prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. Of course, at that time, the farm included quite a bit more land – most of which is still farmland, but owned by someone else.

About a mile west, along West Lisburn Road, Baker’s Cemetery can be found. Daniel and Christian and their families are all buried there.  This further confirmed our decision to name the farm after them, given their involvement in its improvement and their eternal proximity to it.  Any old Dutchman knows you want to be on the good side of the spirits!

More about the place — three acres are fenced in pasture, containing an ancient bank barn, still intact. Two Nubian goats – a mother and daughter – Twinx and Nellie – already occupy the pasture and barn and will remain when we take ownership. We plan to have several sheep on the land to keep the grass down. Apparently, the barn is also home to a couple of barn cats – desirable for their penchant for keeping the rodent population down.

Between the house and the barn is an old wooden pig sty – circa 1900. We believe this building will function well as a chicken coop. Yes — we plan to raise some chickens – not to eat, but for their eggs.  It is an important part of the bargain — Tammi gets her farm and I get fresh scrambled eggs every morning.  We can also sell some to the neighbors!

Of course, you cannot have a farm without a dog!  We have discussed breeds and are looking for a good herding dog — a collie or one of the sheep dogs.  Apparently German Shepherds can’t be trusted around the chickens — at least that’s what we found on the Internet!

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