Ranch Wife Musings | A Life Brim-Full of Life

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:8-9, 15) And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28-28)

Of all the occupations that exist, the only broad category that existed prior to the Fall was that of the cultivator, the farmer, the gardener. It was the original work God created for Adam and his wife to do, to be keepers of God’s Garden, stewards of His Creation, keepers of the fields and the trees, the livestock and other animals. They were to carefully and responsibly manage the world that God had made. To take care of it. To tend it. To cultivate it. To nurture it. And even after the Fall, this mandate was to continue to be carried out by everyone, but it is especially seen today in those who live and and work as the cultivators, the growers, the caretakers.

It is National Agriculture Day, and most people will zero in pretty quickly on the farming and ranching side of agriculture, and may have a pretty specific idea that comes to mind without thinking of just how gloriously broad this category is, encompassing or touching so many of our most basic needs! Where does your bread come from? The milk in your fridge? Meat? Eggs? Pet foods? Medicines and herbs? Wood to build homes, or wood to heat? In some way, shape, or form, agriculture is involved.

But this isn’t purely utilitarian. So much of the flavor and beauty of living has at its root in the growing and cultivating of life. Trees and shrubs for landscaping. Cut flowers for bouquets. Succulent fruits, nourishing vegetables. Cotton and linen and wool to make textiles for beautifying our homes, all rely on agriculture. Beauty is cultivated, and the abundance of life is made even more abundant.

In so many cases with farms and ranches and the working of livestock, it is generational work, one in which the oldest generation is teaching the youngest generation, where knowledge and skills and values and morals are being handed down, where the family unit truly is the center of the endeavor. It makes me think of God’s command to His people, all the way back in Deuteronomy, the command to “Honor your father and your mother….that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) One of the great joys living in the agricultural community is seeing families working with families, spouses working with spouses, and being able to live and experience that myself.

And this life! It is the satisfaction of taking a seed and watching it grow and bringing it to harvest. It is the joy of delivering fresher-than-fresh eggs to a neighbor, or serving a loaf of homemade bread to a friend. It is the heart-warming delight of watching a mother cow get her new calf to stand and nurse. It is the pain of seeing death. The uncertainty of dry dams and wildly fluctuating cattle prices. The trust that God will provide. It is a life of working alongside loved ones, to fellowship and break bread, where family upon family from the broader community come together, where names are known from one part of the state to another, simply by virtue of being a part of this community, the ranching community. It is a life and a livelihood richer and sweeter than I could have imagined before God married me to a rancher and into one of the kindest families I’ve ever met, into one of the strongest communities I’ve ever seen. This life is a constant reminder that all that we have is from God, and He has given us the job of stewarding it well. Taking what is and making the most of it, making it more, making it feed our families, our communities.

It is a life brimming full of life.

Weekly Photo Roundup | Feb. 19 – 25

In the Coop | What Breeds?

If you’re just getting started with your chicken keeping endeavors, it can be daunting to know where to start when it comes to breeds of chickens. There are a TON of different ones. How in the world do you pick?

Before we jump into the different breeds and classifications, ask yourself what your goal is with your chicken keeping. How many birds do you want? And why do you want them? Some people want the biggest bang for their buck with the highest producing layers intending to sell eggs. Some just want enough for eggs for their family. Others are into the showier, fancy breeds for the novelty factor, and aren’t as concerned about high egg production. Some are chasing that “rainbow dozen” and want a colorful egg basket each day. Whatever your interest, whatever your goal, there’s a way to do it!

Goal: Egg Production

If you goal at the end of the day is high production, then you want to look at “production breeds.” Examples of these are the sex-link, hybrids developed to have different colored chick plumage for pullets and roosters, making them identifiable as soon as they hatch. Different hatcheries sometimes come up with their own sex-link hybrids, but some common ones are ISA Brown, Red Star, Amber Star, Amberlink, and Black Sex Link. These are the BEST of the egg-layers, able to produce upwards of 300 large eggs per year, which is insanely impressive. Another favorite of the production breeds is the White Leghorn, which lays white eggs, also in the upwards of 300 eggs per year range. There are also many heritage breeds that are good layers, but oftentimes they are heavier birds requiring more feed, so that can drive up the cost of egg production. They, however, may have more longevity in their laying career.

Goal: The Rainbow Dozen

Who doesn’t love the look of a beautiful, colorful egg basket? Shades of rosy brown and light tan, dark brown, blue, sage green, all make for a beautiful presentation. If you’re not sure where to look for some of the unique colors, here are some suggestions. Ameraucanas will give you beautiful light blue or green eggs, and will lay lots of them. Cream Crested Legbars are another blue-laying variety. “Easter Eggers” will lay just about any colored egg. Americanas (notice the spelling difference) are a hybrid and not a true breed, and are essentially an Easter Egger that isn’t an Easter Egger (which also is a hybrid and not a true breed). There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the Ameraucana/Americana/Easter Egger conversation! The hybridization is pretty extensive as breeders have developed hybrids for consistent shell colors. Hoover Hatchery’s Prairie Bluebell Egger is bred for blue eggs, while their Starlight Green Egger is bred for green eggs. You’ll hear other names like Olive Egger, Cherry Egger, etc. If you want those super dark, chocolate-brown eggs, look for Marans (any variety) and Welsummers. Red Stars also lay a rich brown egg, not as dark as Marans, but they are the darkest in my egg basket! Buff Orpingtons give a nice peachy tan egg.

Goal: Eggs and Meat

Some birds are considered dual purpose, and can be raised for egg production as well as meat. Examples of these dual purpose breeds are Buff Orpingtons, Sussex, New Hamshires, Partridge Rocks, and Wyandottes. These will be good layers as well as big enough to raise for meat. They’re heavier birds, so they will require more food.

Goal: Meat

If you aren’t looking to get eggs but instead want breeds for butchering, you’ll be looking at the broiler varieties. Keep in mind that these birds are time-sensitive. Some of them are bred so that they are ready to butcher in as little as a few months, and their quality of life significantly decreases when they get past that point, as their bodies get too big for their legs and they lose the ability to move. These would be your “broiler” and “roaster” varieties, such as the Delaware Broiler, Ginger Broiler, etc.

Goal: Funny Pets that Lay Eggs

Maybe you really want to build a flock of sweet, friendly birds that will be more or less pets. Some breeds have better dispositions than others. Others are flightier. The friendliest chickens I have had are Buff Orpingtons (basically the golden retriever of the chicken world), Red Stars, and Ameraucanas. I had one Prairie Bluebell hen and she was excellent. Or maybe you would like the novelty of the Polish chickens, also known as the “dance hall girls,” or the adorable frizzle and silky bantam breeds.

Goal: Breeding

If you hope to eventually hatch your own chicks and want to have at least a vague idea of what you’ll get, you might want to steer towards heritage breeds and away from hybrids. Hybrid chickens do not breed true, meaning even if you bred, for instance, a Red Star cockerel with a Red Star hen you wouldn’t get a Red Star chick. Obviously, if you don’t isolate breeds, you’ll end up with hybrids, but if you breed with heritage breeds, theoretically you’ll know what your hybrids are! If you just want the experience of hatching chicks and don’t care how hybridized your “barnyard mix” is, anything goes! Examples of heritage breeds are Buff Orpington, Black Australorp, Brahma, Wyandotte, and many others. If you want to try to breed for shell color in pullets, there are plenty of resources online for knowing what roosters to breed with what hens. For instance, a blue-egg rooster (such as an Ameraucana) bred with a brown-egg hen (such as a Maran) will give you birds with the green-egg-laying gene.

Finally, a reputable breeder will have breed characteristics listed for each chicken, including heat and cold tolerance, ability to free-range well, likeliness to be broody, and temperament in general, as well as a lot more details about the breed.

So these are just some things to consider if you’re wanting to get into chicken raising and don’t know how to pick a breed or where to start!

What are your favorite chicken breeds? Leave a picture in the comments!


The Winter, It Will Pass

We’re only a calendar month into winter but already we’re enjoying hints of the coming spring. The first hint is that Runnings has their seed display up! There has been moisture in the air, bluebird skies, and the excitement of springtime approaching! It has been a whirlwind of sourdough baking and chickens, puppies and our first two calves, housework and laundry and getting ready to visit my sister in Illinois.

Calving has officially started for us with the excitement (and puzzlement) of our first two calves of the year, beautiful full-term babies in spite of being born a solid month sooner than expected. That’s called a bull with initiative. The first calf showed up on Sunday, and the second one was found Monday. Both pairs are safely settled into the nursery pen on our end of the ranch. What a beautiful sight! Gorgeous, lanky-legged, satin-sleek calves tripping along daintily behind their protective mamas.

Puppies are (literally) underfoot during most of chores and throughout the day, finding everything absolutely fascinating. They watch attentively while chickens get fed, torment the cats, and come running in a black and white wave when they’re called. It takes about ten times longer just to walk up the hill to the house, with half a dozen puppies chasing my feet and scheming to trip me. All our females are spoken for and we are looking for homes for our two boy pups, Max and Teddy. We’re excited to see how they all turn out. They are so smart, it’s a little scary!

The chickens are already going gangbusters (for a flock the size of mine), with fourteen eggs today and a dozen yesterday. They have come through their first cold snaps beautifully with only a couple mild incidents of frostbite on a couple larger-combed hens, have been healthy overall, and I’m excited to embark on my second year of chicken keeping. I have learned so much this year, dealing with coccidiosis in my chicks, bumblefoot in a few hens, a few unfortunate dog attacks and resulting chicken first aid, and dealing with a crossbeak chicken who, after today’s beak work, is able to eat again!I’m very thankful for the customers I have and am looking forward to being able to provide eggs for more people this year! It was satisfying to know that my family always had eggs, even when the stores didn’t! And they’re better eggs anyway.

I hauled a bunch of loose hay up from the stackyard this week to give the chickens something to scratch in when they’re locked up and to help with mud when we get snow. The run looks better and the chickens love it. I’m excited to work on making chicken farming more sustainable this year and to try growing some fodder crops specifically for feeding my flock.

So we are off to a running start this year, excited for calving, excited to get planning my garden, excited to grow my flock, excited for what this year will hold. Spring really is just around the corner. The winter, it will pass.

Back in Business

As of today, I am back in the blue egg business! One of my Ameraucanas, which I actually was concerned was a rooster, left me this beautiful blue egg.

There’s just something about a colorful egg basket. And now I know my young flock is starting to lay!