It has been quite the learning experience since we purchased our farm in Western North Carolina’s Cane Creek Valley. Neither Tommy or I had much experience with animals other than domestic dogs or fish. The dreams of our “Biggest Little Farm” being home to sweet farm animals has taught us what farm life really is all about.
Our beautiful farm with thirty-two acres, seven pastures, an open barn with four stalls, a goat barn and pen and two chicken coops enticed us to offer a forever home to any and all types. But, we knew we needed to start slowly. We wanted to find the perfect caretaker to watch over our flock and provide the time for daily chores of feeding mucking stalls and protecting what have become our mountain pets.
Fortunately we found Danny. Born and raised in this small mountain town, he owns horses and works for other neighbors attending to their properties and animals on a daily basis. He is a great fixer and can tackle any job that might arise. And, if he doesn’t know how to fix it chances are pretty good he has a cousin who can.
We started out with seven Lavender Orpington chickens recommended by our niece who has a small farm in the Eastern North Carolina coastal town of Wilmington. She searched Craigs’ List and found a breeder just twenty miles from us. Upon visiting the breeder we purchased seven six week old unsexed chicks. (The seventh chick lived just two days.) And then there were six.
It was fun preparing the chicken coop to meet Brie’s specifications. Her Dad and brother helped us with repairs while I visited the local feed and seed to find chicken pellets and bedding she said would provide the proper nutrition and make their new home comfortable.
It would be another four and a half months before the chickens would attain sexual maturity and begin to lay eggs. Our hope was that at least one of the fluffy lilac feathered birds would be a rooster, but it was too early to be sure. It ended up all six were hens.
Most of the summer was spent watching those six chickens grow and embrace their surroundings. When we added two goats to the adjacent goat pen and barn they all seemed to live in harmony. When the grandchildren visited, especially the five youngest age seven to just months old, they were intrigued by these gentle birds. They would rush out of bed mornings to let out the chickens so they could roam free range on our fenced land.
Pets need names we agreed. But it was impossible to tell them apart and the names the children tried to attach to them didn’t seem to stick except for one name…”Karen”. There was one Lavender who was always lagging behind or on her own agenda picking at bugs and seeds as the rest of the flock quickly waddled back to the coop each afternoon when I called them to return for the night. Typical to her name, Karen was the exception.
As they matured we were thrilled to see the small brown eggs they produced. Each afternoon we would collect one, then two then four or five of the most delicious eggs on the planet. The kids learned how to gently wash the clear dry membrane from the shells and place the eggs in cartons in the refrigerator to await breakfast the next day. If the membrane was not washed clean, the eggs could be kept on the kitchen counter indefinitely. It was a personal choice.
By late fall the golden and fire-red leaves had fallen and the mountain took on a completely different appearance as winter approached, the first signs of the seasons and the circle of life at the farm. Birds of prey began to soar and dart through the sky. Red-Tailed Hawk were famous for attacking chickens, but our neighbor felt our chickens were too plump for the hawks to carry away. So we just admired the beauty of these large birds visiting our home.
Until one day in late December…all six chickens would visit our main house searching the gardens for bugs and seeds. I would always reward them with a treat of dried mealworms when they tapped on my kitchen door windows. They expected a treat from their adopted mother.
One afternoon all six chickens had made their daily visit. I was talking to Tom on the phone when I looked out past the deck to see a large Lavender laying on the grass very still! As I frantically ran to it’s aid I heard the cry of the hawk as he observed me from a nearby maple tree. I ran to the house to grab my phone to take a picture. When I returned, the hawk was back perched on the chickens back. After videoing for a few seconds, I flung my arms at the predator and he flew back into the tree.
The other five chickens were gathered under the evergreens in a nearby garden. They looked like statues as they huddled to protect one another. After removing their fallen sister, I attempted to entice the group back to the safety of their coop. Once inside they remained for three days. Now there were five.
Tommy and I spent most of January at our home in Florida as Danny cared and protected the animals in our absence. Each day I would have him report on all of the animals but mainly wanted to know if any more chickens had been attacked. Regretfully, one day he reported that one more Lavender had been lost to a predator. Now there were four.
When I returned to the farm in late February, I was sad to see the remaining flock. They seemed as sad as me. They had changed their routine, never to return to the main house and staying in the thicket adjacent to the chicken coop. But, one late afternoon as I was walking down to put the chickens to bed, I heard squawking. I noticed the goats and the donkeys gathering and looking toward the coop. As I ran toward the noise I found the injured half-dead beauty laying close to the fence. While I knew I couldn’t help her, I searched the coop to see where the other three were hiding. As I peered in the dark coop I didn’t see any signs of the others.
I ran along the fence calling the ladies and ruffling the bag of dried worms that always brought them running for a treat. Nothing! Finally huddled like a statue along the fence I found one lonely chicken. I managed to entice her back to the coop where once reunited, the two others hiding behind their food bin began to make soft sounds. And then there were three.
What we have learned in this short ten months of farm ownership is what nature provides is there for the survival of many others…all of them having a unique purpose.
The beauty, the miraculous purpose of each animal has touched our hearts. But the true lesson, all Gods creatures big and small are all part of the circle of life.
Today I saw the first sign that spring is coming. I saw a red-breasted Robin. There is always hope.
Hebrews 1:10-12 “In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”