Tuesday, February 16, 2010


This blog is dedicated to the adventures of a city hippy girl gone horribly wrong (or right, depending on your point of view). A few years ago my husband and I moved to a small family farm in West Tennessee with the intention of simplifying our lives in order to lower our footprint on the planet, and live a more sustainable lifestyle. For me, it was the decision to be a more compassionate person in my daily life, and that included my diet and how I affect the environment around me. For Michael, it was the challenge itself and the belief that our current standard of living as a species is in eminent danger (something I happen to agree with). For all of these and many other reasons, we felt it was time for a change. We decided to see just how far we could take this idea of subsistence farming and homesteading.

We were a bit overly ambitious at first, thinking we'd be completely off-grid within a few years. The Ingalls family with high speed internet. Boy were we in for a surprise. Due to various unforeseen circumstances from mistakes in planning to general lack of funds to make such a sweeping change so quickly, we soon backed off and decided the slow and steady approach was the best way to go about it. Frankly I think that's the best way to make any sort of changes to one's life anyway, so I'm pleased with the results we have achieved so far.

Our first project was to build a flock of chickens for meat and eggs. I had wanted chickens ever since I was a young child and apparently had a knack for it. When I was very young my parents on two occasions bought me an Easter duck and an Easter chick, fully expecting it to be my first lessons in responsibility and dealing with death. Of course, my Easter duck later became a humongous white peking duck that we later released into Fountain City Lake (duck pond), and the Easter chick went on to become a rooster who would crow on command, and eventually went to a local farmer who raised chickens. I never forgot those experiences, and dreamed of pigs, sheep, horses and chickens from that point on. It took 30 some-odd years to start realizing those dreams and I couldn't be happier about it.

We started small, with 24 chicks and 10 guineas from Ideal Poultry. We were most interested in heritage breeds, those nation-building breeds that have fallen out of favor with the introduction of Frankenchickens for large scale factory farms. Our first flock consisted of barred hollands, dark brahmas and americaunas. Unfortunately we made one big mistake with the design of our chicken tractor (basically a movable coop that allows for free foraging in a protected environment), resulting in a raccoon being able to push the door open. Within one night our group of 34 became a group of 12. I was devastated. But we learned from the mistake, made our improvements, and got a second hatching of buff orpingtons. As all the chicks began to grow into fully grown chickens, we worked on our chicken coop, turning it into Fort Chicken. Though we had originally hoped to free range (allow to wander freely without fences) our chickens it was all too apparent that with the coyote population and neighbors letting their dogs roam it was out of the question. So we created a large fenced in area for our feathered kids to enjoy by day, locking them into their safe coop at night. I'm happy to say we've not lost a single bird since due to predation, with the exception of two who have simply gotten old.

After the bottom dropped out on the economy, I became inspired by a story on NBC News about a group of chefs who started the SAME (So All May Eat) Cafe in Colorado. It is an organic cafe with fresh items made daily. Yet there are no prices on the menu. Rather, there is a donation box where diners pay only what they can afford. All diners are treated with the same respect and dignity regardless of their ability to pay for their meals. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, and the cafe thrives.

Inspired by the idea, we decided to turn Cluck-n-Neigh Farm into a donations-only egg business, where a customer is free to give us a donation of any amount (including none at all) in exchange for farm fresh, pastured eggs. Everyone has the right to eat compassionately regardless of the size of their wallet, and every animal that spends its life benefiting us has the right to be treated humanely and allowed to live according to their own natural behaviors. Our hens never see a cage from the time they replace fluff with feathers, and spend their days in the sun rooting around their yard with their buddies. They lay their eggs in nest boxes lined with straw as opposed to the horrific battery cages used by the major egg producers in this country. We are even a step above "cage free" eggs that you find in the supermarket, which is just another way of saying "no cages, but our chickens still never see the light of day because they are all stuck in a giant warehouse for their entire lives." It's sad how the industrial farm will do whatever it can to fool their customer into thinking their food comes from a humanely treated animal. If you want to find out more about how the Factory Farm is scamming you, I highly recommend the film Food Inc. Anyway, you won't find that here at Cluck-n-Neigh. We will tell you (and show you) exactly how your eggs are produced through this blog in print, photos, and videos taken right here.

Right now our hens produce around 2 dozen eggs a day, though this will increase as the days warm. This has allowed us to have enough eggs to offer to several families in the area who are undergoing hard times financially, yet still leaves us enough left over for me to supply eggs to those who are willing and able to offer donations to help support the business and keep it growing. I'm thrilled beyond measure.

As of this posting we are only $300 dollars or so in the red, and I'm hoping that will soon change. Our goal is simple: I want to support my "chicken habit" while feeding as many hungry people as possible. This might actually be possible within the next few months as we brand out into the Cooper Young Community Farmers Market. I'm making another investment to further grow our flocks because I'm completely smitten with a new discovery, the Buckeye. This year we are going to try our hand at hatching them from eggs. Michael said he'll put up a hatchcam for just that purpose, so stay tuned for details.

I hope this blog might prove of some use for anyone interested in a compassionate diet, sustainable living, or poultry in general. I'll be spending the next few days looking for some good informational links on compassionate eating and heritage breeds, two things near and dear to my heart. I also hope to be of help to anyone out there, so please feel free to ask questions if you have them. I'm no expert but I'll sure try my best to find the answers.

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