Coming to the Asheboro Downtown Farmers' Market beginning May 2015!
One of the hardest parts of any adventure is knowing where to start. The sages often say, "Trust your gut". In this case I'm following that advice quite literally. I love chicken. We eat it almost once a week so when Brooke and I started talking about raising some of our own food chicken was high on the list. So, assuming that we eat one chicken a week setting the goal of raising fifty birds to start with this year seemed very do-able.
Now to backtrack slightly, I like so many others became turned on to the whole idea of raising "pastured poultry" a couple of years ago when I can across Joel Salatin and the small revolution he has started with Polyface Farms. I drank the Koolaid right away. Fast forward through the months of reading and researching about how to do this. Which lead to months of designing and drawing pens, that soon became months of planning and postulating hypothetical feed costs and conversion rates, yet there was still no chicken on the table. I am definitely all too aware of the "paradox of choice" concept in that often when presented with more options, it makes the task of selecting just one of those options increasingly more difficult. Lost in a hypothetical loop to find the perfect pastured poultry pen / method I decided to pick one somewhat at random, but following Brooke's request for more ceiling height and room per bird than Joel Salatin's 2' tall pens. I had concurrently been pining to build a greenhouse after seeing the one built out of cattle panels on YouTube by TexasPrepper2. It looked like a real ingenious design and then I saw that the folks at Botany Bay Farm were using something very similar for their chickens. Done deal.
Brooke and I decided we would order 10 chickens for a test run to carefully measure costs, time commitment, etc. As any one who has ever attempted a project knows, the idea is the easy part - the logistics are what get you. For starters we didn't have any "pasture". After some quick brainstorming, we contacted a relative/neighbor about the possibility of using a portion their field to give this a try. Our luck, they were very gracious and willing to work out an arrangement. Check that off the list.
Next we had to find a supplier, in this case the internet did most of the heavy lifting and rather than creating a spreadsheet of pros and cons I went with the first one to pop up, Murray McMurray. I did however research breeds and decided on their "Red Ranger Broilers" because they are supposed to have fewer health issues than the faster growing cornish cross varieties. The next task was figuring out how to pick up our chickens at the post office. I recall giving them my cell phone number to call when they arrived, yet they called my wife multiple times first. I don't know what happened on the government's end but, but they made it right because they were somehow able to get in touch with my mom of all people, who called me at work. Chickens - Check.
I've always considered myself lucky to have such supportive parents. Part of this whole venture stems from the nostalgia of my youth because my family always had some chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits or sometimes all of the above. In this case I'm double lucky because my dad has continued his chicken raising hobby and had all the necessary equipment to get us going including a brooder, heat lamps, feeders, waterers, and wood shavings, etc. (He and mom also spent quite a bit of time caring for the chicks when mine and Brooke's work commitments got the better of our schedules).
Now it was around this time I planned to start construction on the first pen. I purchased the lumber, screws, staples, bits of wire, gathered salvaged hardware and scoped out some tin to salvage, the only thing that was stumping me was how to strap the 15ft cattle panels to my Ford Ranger. Thirty plus year's old and I'm not ashamed to say my parents helped me with my homework on this one too. They used their van to pick them up and even got them at a discount because they were slightly bent up. Materials - Check.
Construction started out at a lightening pace, then we got an offer on our house which we had listed earlier in the Spring. Inspections, packing, purchasing a storage container, yardsale, moving, moving, moving, unpacking. A "process" to say the least. Next thing you know we find ourselves in July. Weeks behind schedule, birds nearly fully grown, but alas in about a day and a half dad and I were able to finish up construction with a healthy dose of sweat equity from Brooke too. All that was left was to move it out to pasture. Olive was excited to help document the move (see blurry picture below). Dad and I balanced it on a trailer Brooke pulled with the lawn tractor. Finally just before the sun set on us we moved the birds to their new home.
I would definitely consider this pen a work in progress, and I'm glad we built one to test before scaling up. As with most aspects of this adventure thus far, we're truly grateful for the all the love and support of our family, friends, neighbors, relatives, and the postal service representatives willing to go the extra mile to help make this a reality.
Derrick and Brooke Sides are the husband and wife co-founders of BatCrow Farms. Dreaming the big dream one day at a time.