I have been raising chickens in Michigan for 10 years. My adventure into poultry really began when I enrolled in the 4-H Poultry Project when I was 12 years old. Ever since then, I have been raising some kind of poultry each spring.
I enjoyed raising and showing poultry at my local county fair, and I now want to start a farm business.
I learned a lot about chickens through the 4-H Poultry Project. I was very nervous and intimated at first, but by the second year, I was hooked.
I would study my chicken-fact flashcards every day and document my chicks’ growth in my long-form record book. I attended every poultry showmanship clinic that I could and work with my show chicken as much as possible.
Every aspect of raising, prepping and working with my chickens for fair was so much fun. And it payed off! My first two years in the Poultry Project, I took home first place in my age category and was named Reserve Grand Champion.
For the five years afterward, I received first place and Grand Champion Showman.
One of my favorite experiences with the project was when I competed in the Michigan 4-H State Poultry Show held at the Michigan State Fair.
In the Breed Judging category that I competed in, I took first place. I qualified to participate in the National 4-H Poultry and Egg Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. I did some fundraising and was able to attend and compete in the National 4-H Poultry Judging Contest, where I took second place in the meat division.
My Favorite Breeds
Over the years, I have enjoyed experiencing many different chicken breeds. I have raised Black Australorps, Black Sex Links, Silver Leghorns, Speckled Sussex and Svart Hona for my 4-H Poultry Projects.
My favorite breed to work with for showing has been the Black Australorp and the Black Sex Link. I have also raised Indian Runner Ducks, pearl-helmeted guinea fowl, melanistic mutant pheasants and West of England Tumbler pigeons, as well.
Of all the different breeds and species of poultry I have raised, I have a love and a passion for the rare Svart Hona. Svart Honas are one of the two chicken breeds that are completely black.
Everything about them is black—their meat, skin, face, feathers, everything!
I decided in 2016 to order some Svart Hona hatching eggs and try incubating eggs for the first time. My first experience didn’t turn out so good, and I ended up with a hen that thought she was a rooster. For the past six years, I have been working with the Svart Hona breed and acquiring stock from different breeders to try and get some quality birds.
A Future in Fowl
Now that my years with the 4-H Poultry Project are over, I’m going full throttle into trying to create a farm business. I named my farm Black Feather Farm after the Svart Hona chickens that I so thoroughly enjoy raising.
This is my first year breeding and hatching Svart Honas to sell. I have definitely had challenges, but I have also learned a lot of valuable information about raising and hatching this rare breed of chicken.
I also own a blog called The Pioneer Chicks, where I share my knowledge of poultry. I love sharing what experiences I have had with raising chickens and helping others learn from my mistakes.
I try to raise my chickens as naturally as possible. Both my breeding flock of Svart Honas and my laying flock get crushed garlic in their water every week. I grow my own garlic as well as herbs such as parsley, spearmint, oregano, thyme and nasturtium. I put the herbs into fermented feed for my chickens and sprout lentils as a quality protein source for my Svart Honas.
My focus now is to build and grow Black Feather Farm. In the near future, I want to add some heritage, rare and designer breeds. I am also going to create some natural poultry products to sell as well. Meanwhile, I enjoy working with caring for my chickens every day and seeing what else I can learn about them! —Alexa Lehr
Alexa Lehr lives in central Michigan and has an associate degree in graphic design. She enjoys being outside, and her passions lie in photography, raising rare chickens naturally and building her farm, The Black Feather Farm.
This article originally appeared in the “Chicken Chat” column of the November/December 2020 issue of Chickens magazine.