Notes From a First Time Front Yard Farmer

It all started with a dog.  Not a real dog, but I had suggested to my husband we get a dog. Dave, in no uncertain terms, said no, and pointed out we already had a perfectly lazy cat, a guinea pig, and three kids, we didn’t need to add anything else to the mix.  I knew he was right, but I just felt our family could do with another addition, and since more kids were off the table, I thought a dog might be a good replacement.  They have personality, require lots of attention, can show affection, will cause you to spend lots of money on food and vet bills – just like a kid, but without nine months of pregnancy.  It seemed like a good idea to me.  Using these arguments, I laid my case out for a dog again.  Dave said we should ask the kids.  I thought, ha!  I’ve got this in the bag, what kid doesn’t want a dog?!

I waited until they got home from school, and asked them about it over dinner.  Owen, Cedar Rose, and Finnin all looked at me like I had grown a second head.  They all said no, absolutely not, and reminded me they didn’t like dogs.  Dogs are big, they bark, chew on your stuff, and poop and pee everywhere.  I conceded they were right, and let it go.

But, at the time, I still felt we needed a change.  That spring was cold, and wet, and it snowed every two weeks until the end of May.  Which is my excuse for my crackbrained idea.  I was avoiding work, and surfing around on Facebook, when a friend had posted she had just purchased off the internet 24 chicks, who would grow into heavy breasted hens.  “Chickens!”  I thought, “Who in the world would want chickens?”  You have to build a coop, make sure they have tons of food, lots of water, and don’t get eaten by the local wildlife.    It seemed like a lot of work.  Then I thought, “Man, you really can buy anything off the internet.”  So, I went and checked it out, and found you could not only buy chickens, but you could purchase ducks, geese, peacocks, quail, you name it.  It got me to thinking, “I have lots of land.  I live on 6 acres (momentarily forgetting our house is on the dry half-acre, everything else is swamp), and my neighbors don’t really care what we do.”  Chickens would be pretty cool, but I was really taken with the idea of ducks.  In my quick internet search, everything said ducks were good natured, not too noisy, some breeds could even lay more eggs than a commercial hen, and you can eat them.   So, I went and talked to Dave, expecting it to go like the dog conversation.

To my extreme surprise, he was rather taken with the idea.  I was like, “Poultry is okay, but not dogs?  Are you kidding me?!”  He pointed out to me we live in Alaska, a state full of people who take the whole idea of self-sufficiency to extremes on a regular basis.  I agreed that was true, but Im they all have dogs, and we aren’t really part of the whole self-sufficient movement.  Dave sat back in his chair, and said we did our best.  We make our own beer (he does make excellent beer), bake our own bread (occasionally), grow a garden (haphazardly), he goes hunting for rabbits sometimes, and he not only built the addition onto our house himself, he finished it.  He then pointed out once the chickens and ducks got bigger, we’d never have to buy eggs again, and unlike the dog, we can eat them if they get too obnoxious.  I suggested we ask the kids, and he said we should just buy them.

What the heck, I don’t have to talk to my kids before I make major decisions.  Back to the internet.  Living in Alaska, I thought we should get chickens that are a decent size, in case we should decide to eat them at some point, purportedly of good disposition, vaguely cold hardy, and good egg layers.  I placed my order for 12 Buff Orpington, all female chicks, and then I ordered 7 Cayuga ducks for the same reasons.  I entered in my PO Box, gave them my credit card information, hit the pay now button.  And then thought, “Uh oh!”  It was almost like taking a pregnancy test, and confirming your suspicions you were indeed pregnant.  A crossroads had been met, a decision made.

I thought to myself, “I don’t know jack about raising chickens or ducks.  What am I doing?!”  I searched around on the internet for how to take care of our impending flock, and several websites recommended the same books for how to take care of your chickens and ducks.  I got them, and I actually read them.  Dave kept telling me I was worrying too much, he was going to build the duck house and the chicken coop.  We didn’t know where outside those domiciles were going to be, but they were going to be somewhere around the house.  I kept thinking this was like having a baby, and deciding the only thing you had to do was get the nursery ready, forgetting there was a lot more to it than having the crib just right.

In the mean-time, we went to an animal swap on May 4th, Star Wars day.  It was snowing.  There were people there mostly selling baby rabbits out of the back of their trucks.  There was one lady, however, in an old blue Subaru with a hatchback, and the seats down.  The back of that car was full of chicks, and in a long tote, there were ducklings.  We walked over, trying to look nonchalant, but that lady had our number.  She knew we were going to buy something, and we did.  We went home with three chicks, and two ducklings.  Note to self: Cancel the order for 12 Buff Orpingtons (who needs that many chickens), but keep the ducks.

Our adventure into small time farming had begun. A few chickens and ducks later, and 6 geese on the way, I feel I have learned a lot, and am still learning.  Such as, ducks love to get in the water, even when it is -20 and the wind is blowing 25 mph.  They get really disgruntled if you try to stay inside instead of hauling said water out to them.  There are such things as chicken saddles, and you may need to either make, or purchase, a few for your hens if you happen to have roosters.  Speaking of roosters, they really do crow all the time.  Foxes don’t mess around when they nab a duck.  All that aside, it is very satisfying to go outside and collect your own eggs.  Nothing makes you feel self-sufficient like butchering your own chicken and duck, cleaning them, and eating them for dinner.  It reminds you not everything comes in plastic from the store.  It is also very cool to watch a hen sit her eggs, watch the eggs hatch, and see her caring for her chicks.  I know if I’m having a bad day, one of the most soothing things to do is go watch the flock as they go about their business.  Now that I feel I kind of know what I am doing, it is time to lobby Dave and the kids for a goat, or maybe a yak.

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