Our Story: The Middle
January 13, 2024
Our Story: The Middle
The summer after we got married, Jud began to raise meat chickens. We started with a small flock of about 50 birds. He purchased our first chicken tractor, a mobile coop that could be moved daily in the backyard, from the Hart County Amish Auction that spring. We quickly learned that meat birds are a little finicky. Jud moved the chickens around the yard at least once a day, fed them twice a day, and checked their waters what felt like ten times a day. And, finding a USDA-inspected processor proved a bit challenging…which is now even harder. If memory serves me correctly, we raised two or three flocks of meat chickens before we realized raising meat chickens was not in our cards. Instead, we began to turn our focus into raising layers.
Growing up, my Momma had a weird aversion to brown eggs. Still to this day, she will not willingly eat a brown egg and swears that she can taste the difference. But, as a newly married farm wife, I was determined to cook meals from the farm. I asked Jud for a couple of months if we could get some chicks from Southern States or Rural King to put in the backyard. The problem was, we did not have a chicken coop and he did not really have the time to build one. Being the stubborn person that I am, I sketched out a rough design of a coop, went to Lowes, purchased some wood, and even cut it to size at my parent’s house all on my own. I made it to where he could not tell me no anymore! We built our first laying chicken coop and put those six baby chicks in the backyard. I watched them grow all summer long and got my first eggs that fall.
Soon after, Jud decided that it was time to add farm-fresh eggs as an option for our customers. We bounced around a few ideas of what we could turn into a mobile coop for about 50 laying chickens. My favorite idea, and one that I pushed the most, was a school bus. I wanted to renovate the back and add a wire floor. In my brain a working vehicle that already had a motor and could be easily renovated just made sense. But, in true farmer fashion, Jud looked to the farm to see what we could turn into a shelter to pasture raise his layers. The school bus idea was quickly thrown out (which in hindsight was probably best since the driver’s seat would probably be covered in poop without some kind of barrier) and the bright red horse trailer that was long ago placed in the weeds was selected as our best bet. Jud renovated the trailer…adding scrap metal to any opening, installing a heavy wire floor, and screwing rudimentary roosting poles throughout the inside. Our first mobile chicken coop was definitely not going to be featured on the cover of Better Homes and Garden, but it sure was functional!
The bright red trailer held our layers for a few years before it was time to move on to bigger and better. Jud did some research and began looking for the next chicken palace. He found it at a farm dealership about ten minutes from my parent’s house in Logan County. We made the trip down and bought Big Bird. A bright yellow, 40-foot cotton wagon. Essentially it looked like a giant metal dog kennel without a roof. The tall, woven metal sides were perfect to keep the layers in and predators out. Getting Big Bird back home was comical. Jud drove the giant wagon down 68-80, 31W, and I65 and hoped we didn’t destroy mailboxes or curbs along the way. Jud renovated Big Bird…he attached a metal roof, plastic siding as a wind break, ground rod roosting poles, a 500-gallon water tote, and even wired lights along the top. It was, and still is, a sight to see!
Each year Jud buys pullets (16-week-old layers) from West Virginia, and it takes about a week to get them used to Big Bird. Luckily for us, this giant wagon has enough clearance for us (and our neighbor children) to crawl underneath as we pick up each of the layers, one by one, and place them into their new nightly home for a few days. Throughout the spring and summer months, Jud moves Big Bird weekly around our pastures with a tractor. This is a mutually beneficial relationship…our pastures are fertilized by our chicken litter and our layers scour for critters to eat. Big Bird continues to serve us and our layers well!