Up With the Chickens

Raising children and chickens on a little buffalo farm

Farm Tour…

Yesterday was a thrill. My friend Rachael called and asked if she could come out and see my rabbits. I was elated! My first official mini-farm tour!  Well, my first voluntary tourist anyway.  In the months since I got my mini-farm up and running, I’ve forced tours on many unsuspecting guests -friends who came over for dinner, parents of my kids’ playmates, my mother’s exercise buddy, my brother’s in-laws here for my nephew’s birthday, and the meter reader   – have all been treated to a trip through the mud and the muck to view my chicken coop and rabbit hutches.  Everyone has dutifully complimented the cuteness of the rabbits or the lovely color of my hens, but I think they were mostly being polite. But Rachael came for the express purpose of touring my mini-farm.  It was totally her idea. Totally.

Fortunately, Hal had repainted the barn (barn red, of course) over the summer , and it was a striking sight against the brilliant blue winter sky.  Just last week, Hal,the littles (our two youngest blessings), and I had shoveled out the mound of poop that had been accumulating under the rabbit hutches for weeks. Much like  I do with empty oatmeal canisters and jelly jars, I had been hanging on to that poop thinking surely I could do something with it.  I offered it to some organic farming friends of ours, but they said that since we feed our rabbits Bermuda grass hay, their poop it is worthless.  Rabbit poop, normally pellets of gold to crop farmers, can’t be used if it is full of bermuda grass seed.  Who knew!  Anyway, we shoveled out the poop, and Hal spread it out in the pasture where we grow Bermuda grass -so next year’s hay crop should be awesome.  Not sure why we didn’t think of that before. Hal put buckets under each hutch to catch the pellets and make future cleaning easier and to keep the poop relatively out of sight. Point is – the place looked great.

When we got to the chicken coop with Rachael, the gals (my hens) were stunning. They bawked and pecked with all the grace and style of their majestic breed. The roosters strutted about proudly in a display male dominance (The poor things are actually hen pecked beyond all reason, but they put on a good show for Rachael.). They even treated us to a cock-a doodle-doo or two – even though it was 11:00 a.m..  I was so proud

And the rabbits!  The rabbits were at their most adorable.  The babies, instead of huddling in the corner of the hutch as they often do, scampered and played about with a delightfulness that would have made Walt Disney proud.  Cornelius, one of our bucks, practically rolled over on his back and kicked his legs with pleasure when we petted him.  Curby (pictured with Rachael below) was his usual snuggly self.  They all seemed to sense they they were “on”.

Of course the littles were in full tour guide mode.  Oh, they acted cool, like being farmers is no big deal, but I could tell they were bursting with pride at their little farm. They love showing off the farm even more than I do. They told Rachael about each rabbit – it’s likes, habits, how it got its name.   She was so kind.

After we hung out with the rabbits and chickens for a bit, we sat in the sun on my Chicken Therapy Bench (long story – more on that later). And chatted about life, livestock and small town living (and shoes and anti-aging creams).  It was a lovely morning.

Since I teach full-time and have four busy kids to keep up with, I know some people have questioned my decision to take on livestock.Why would I want one more thing to feed and care for?  I haven’t yet addressed on this blog the reasons I wanted to do this or why I love it.  I will get to that.  But I can tell you that yesterday, spending a morning with a good friend, my kids, and my livestock, was a very very good day.  Farm on!

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So What is a Mini-Farmer?

Okay.  Full disclosure right up front.  I made up the  term “mini-farmer.”  At least I think I did.  I don’t think it’s really a thing.  I will google it and report back.  But for for the purpose of this introduction, a mini-farmer is (please excuse me for stating the obvious), someone who operates a mini-farm – who farms on a small scale for the pure enjoyment of it.  I’m defining a mini-farm as a small, often non-commercial, means of growing food or livestock.  Mini-farms can exist on a few acres in a rural area or in a suburban backyard.  To me, any place people grow crops- even a small garden or raise livestock – even a handful of backyard chickens, is a mini-farm.

I believe people who engage in agriculture whether in big ways or small, whether for survival or for pleasure, are farmers.  I admit this broad definition of a farmer is fairly self-serving.  I use it because I like thinking of myself as a farmer. It’s very satisfying, and it makes me feel like I’ve made small strides toward a more natural, sustainable, and simple life-style.

True, most people in our rural, agricultural area would probably NOT consider me a real farmer – yet.  My husband, Hal, and I do live on a 100 acre  farm, and we do raise buffalo (bison).  We don’t make our living doing this, but we do sell some of the meat at our hardware  store.  We live in a bucolic setting.  We fertilize, cut hay, and work out in the freezing cold or brutally hot weather to feed our livestock.  We do have all the trappings of a farm family.  We just don’t produce in abundance.  We produce enough for our family and a bit extra – much of which goes right back into the farm.

My husband grew up in Little Rock, and never even drove a tractor before he married me, but he probably passes as the real farmer in our family.  Hal took over the my dad’s  buffalo operation right after we were married.  It was strictly a hobby for my father, but Hal has turned it into a nice little source of extra income.  He does drive a tractor now.  He knows what kind of hay to feed and where to get it.  He knows how to fix fences and build pens.  And he looks mighty fine in a pair of overalls.  Yes, Hal is definitely a farmer – has been for years.

I, on the other hand, am a greenhorn –  a newbie.  I grew up on this farm, but I never really participated in raising buffalo.   I do remember being very proud when my kindergarten class visited our buffalo “ranch,” and growing up on a buffalo farm made a great conversation starter when I went through sorority rush in college.  But other than that, I never took much interest in the herd. Even when Hal and I moved to the farm ten years ago, I was too busy taking care of babies to be interested in taking care of livestock. However, in the last year that has changed, and I’ve decided to more fully embrace life on the farm.

Much to Hal’s surprise, I asked for chickens for Mother’s Day this year.  He bought me 25 adorable little chicks – that went from cute to creepy in about two and a half weeks.  Fortunately, we made it through their awkward phase, and now they are beautiful, prolific laying hens.  It is truly a thrill to gather the eggs each day.

The younger children and I are also raising rabbits.  I’m not sure how that happened.  (Well, actually I am.  They are, after all, rabbits.)  Our adventure in rabbit husbandry began when a customer at the hardware store offered Hal three rabbits.  We thought it would be a great way to enjoy some hasenpfeffer.  That idea lasted about 60 seconds.  That’s how long it took Cat and Chet, our two youngest (ages seven and nine) to name them, claim them, and cuddle them.  Our bunny addiction has grown from there.  We now have six adorable adult rabbits and nine precious kits. ( I’ve since learned that is what baby rabbits are called.) I still hope to raise meat rabbits someday, but I’m not sure I’ve got it in me.  At this point I can’t imagine frying a cute little creature named Jasmine or Mr. Fluffington- better name the next one Stew.

That line between pet and livestock is just one of the many dilemmas I’m apt to face. I’m not just raising rabbits and chickens.  I’m raising four kids and teaching high school.  Life on this farm is a (crazy) simple life.  Since I’m new at both farming and working full-time (I stayed home with the kids for 14 years), this blog is to share this  adventure and to encourage other who might like to try a hand at mini-farming.  I will share stories, photos, recipes, links, and hopefully  a few laughs….Oh, and I hope to come up with a good catch phrase.  I’m thinking,  Farm On!  We’ll see.