I recall the day I realized chickens could lay eggs the deep color of chocolate. I was struck by the idea of food being artistic and natureâ€™s quiet offering of beauty. Fast-forward a few years, not to mention a child, a farm purchase and countless hours of research: I am now the proud owner of a small-scale National Poultry Improvement Plan-certified heritage chicken hatchery, home to many rare chicken breeds.
What started as a love affair with that one chocolate-colored egg turned into the search for the most productive and striking hens that laid a rainbow of blue, green, pink and speckled-brown eggs. Before I knew it, I had a lot of amazing chicken breeds under my care.
My husband and I chose all of the chicken breeds we work with for their temperament, first and foremost. Our 4-year-old daughter can walk up to any of our roosters, scoop them up and give them a nice squeeze without me feeling nervous. If a rooster or hen looks at me sideways, they are pulled from the breeding program and sent to â€śfreezer camp.â€ť
We love working with heritage chicken breeds because they live longer, have fewer health problems and are downright smarter. One of our Crested Cream Legbars can lay six beautiful blue eggs a week while happily foraging on pasture and maintaining excellent predator awareness. Folks can have it all with a heritage breed: the production of a newer hybrid bird along with added beauty, wit and docile temperament.
Here on our farm, every breeding group gets to free-range on its own rotational pasture. Our birds get to dust bathe, sit in the sun, eat bugs and breathe fresh air. Every one of our birds gets to live a full healthy life. I believe that their natural foraging instincts and robust health are passed on to their hatching eggs and chicks.
Itâ€™s a lot of physical work to have our breeding groups separated over our four acres of land. I haul buckets of grain from our silo to the coops while my daughter diligently collects eggs and labels them with a tiny pencil. My husband helps with the heavy lifting of moving coops to fresh pasture and the whole host of odds and ends that present themselves. Every day, I tinker with the general health management of the flocks, walking the land twice a day to look at each group, monitor their well-being, and adjust their feed, vitamins and electrolytes accordingly.
Our weekly hatch of chicks is the highlight of my daughterâ€™s week. Every chick that hatches is held close by her before being placed in the brooder; itâ€™s a lengthy process, but it brings her so much joy, and we wouldnâ€™t have it any other way.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue ofÂ Chickens.