Thursday, April 12, 2012

Flying Pig Farm: The Chickens Arrive and Provide Cackleberries for All

A postcard from Sam Miller — indexer, molecular biologist, poultry addict.

I’m sure she didn’t intend to turn me into a poultry addict, but that is what happened when Deb Burns at Storey Publishing e-mailed to ask if I was available to index a new title. I had written indexes for a few books about horses without even feeling a glimmer of interest in owning a horse myself, but the book Deb offered me on that day, Chick Days, by Jenna Woginrich was the beginning of a very different story.

Three major tidbits in Chick Days caught my attention. First, a rooster is not necessary for egg production. I am a biologist, so that should have been obvious to me, but sadly, this was a surprise. Second, my cats (and there are quite a few of them) would not immediately and unavoidably hunt down, torture, and consume adult chickens. And third, chickens have personality. I am not a big fan of the “ambience” of roosters, but I do love character in my pets. The icing on the “character” cake was that some breeds of chickens lay colored eggs. I was hooked, and luckily, my husband Andrew was, too.

Our unsuspecting pigs were about to get a few roommates. Herbie (the Love Bug), Stretch, and Spider Pig are Kune Kune pigs, a small, extremely friendly breed that grazes tidily instead of rooting for their food. They live in a three-quarter-acre fenced pasture with some woods, a barn, and a small pond. We decided to build a chicken coop within the fenced area and let the chickens forage with the pigs.
Stretch and Herbie the Love Bug grazing before the chickens arrive
The first order of business was “Operation Build Some Sort of Coop.” We decided not to buy a prefabricated coop — they seemed more expensive than necessary. However, we didn’t consider the impact that a professional building inspector (Andrew) would have on the costs. Approximately $450 and 3 weeks later, we were the proud owners of what is probably the first chicken coop ever engineered to withstand both the category 5 hurricane winds and large earthquakes that are possible here in South Carolina. The ramp easily supported Spider Pig when he attempted to climb up and have a look inside. If we ever are hit by a hurricane, I am going to take shelter in the coop!
The Super Coop
We had planned to acquire four chickens, so of course we ended up with eight. Only 100 percent over budget — it could have been far worse. Fraidy and Scaredy (Ameraucana/Easter Egger mutts) arrived first, followed closely by Snoopy (a light Brahma) and the Red Baron (a Golden Comet). Bertha (a dark Brahma) and Puff the Magic Chicken, Robin, and the Lone Ranger (all Araucanas) arrived over the next couple of months.
Snoopy and the Red Baron hunting for bugs
The gang has been great! They supply us with more than enough cackleberries (a great term for eggs that I learned while indexing another book for Deb). I don’t think that any of our friends have had to buy eggs since the girls started laying. The eggs are both tasty and funny. They arrive in a variety of different colors, sizes, and shapes. Bertha and Snoopy, our large feather-footed Brahma hens, lay surprisingly small, round eggs. They look like brown Ping-Pong balls and are about half the size of the eggs laid by the rest of the (much smaller) chickens. Robin lays large, blue torpedo-shaped eggs, and the other five chickens actually lay egg-shaped eggs!

We have found that the chickens do, as promised, have personality. They proudly announce the arrival of each egg with a crazed-sounding jumble of cheeps and chirps and sing happily to us whenever we come to visit them. It is hysterical to watch them rush to greet us. They wobble back and forth and appear to be running as fast as they can with their “hands” tied behind their backs. The ladies love to hunt for bugs, scratching madly at the ground, then hopping quickly backward and looking down with enthusiasm to see what treasures they have uncovered. And every night at dusk they meander slowly toward their coop, climb the ramp, and rustle around inside, murmuring quietly and hopping around as they organize themselves on the roosts for the night.

With the addition of the chickens, our family was complete. There were now 6 dogs, 11 cats, 3 pigs, and 8 chickens. Perfect! Until we saw the Craigslist post about peacocks. . . .

— Sam Miller, Flying Pig Farm

Samantha Miller is a molecular biologist by day, a freelance indexer by night and weekend, and an animal lover at all times. She has a BS in biology from Stanford University and an MS in civil and environmental engineering from MIT. Sam and her husband Andrew live on an 8-acre minifarm just outside Charleston, South Carolina. When they aren't working or playing with their critters, they enjoy running, backpacking, and scuba diving.


iacowgirl said...

You are an indexer?? So am I!! How long have you been at it?? I have been indexing for 15 years...nice to meet ya!

I'm also a farmer (in Iowa) and have a science background as I'm assuming you do with a molecular biology degree...

Which software do you use for indexing? I'm a Sky person myself..


Sam said...


Yep, I have been indexing since 2004. Not quite as long as you, but I'm working on it. Would love to be able to index full time someday, but I am keeping the day job for now because of the current economic situation. I use Sky also, and love it!

What do you farm out in Iowa?


iacowgirl said...

I think cyber space ate my reply. sigh.

But it is 12:50am and I just checked my heifers and am headed to bed...I'll try and re-reply tomorrow!

iacowgirl said...

OK. I'm awake. It's raining here and cold. My horse will think he should be here in the house - he's kind of a weinie 8-).

We have a commercial beef herd and are calving March-May, so I live at the barn a lot right now. We've got 50 calves on the ground and about 25 to go. Also have soybeans, corn (or course), hay, oats - we're diversified and my offspring are the fifth generation on the farm here. We're kind of weird farmers here: don't like hog factories (at all!) and lean quite a bit to the left politically. Anyway, nice to meet ya and I'll be back! Now off to the barn...

BTW, I just got done indexing a two-volume set on fullerenes..nice!
I usually don't turn any work down, but can I contact you if I have an overflow? It's nice to have a few contacts for that...

Sam said...

Sounds like a lot more work than my operation!

About the indexing, sure that sounds great. Feel free to contact me by email at