Friday, March 28, 2014

Chick Days Come to Fluster Cluck Farm

A Fluster Cluck Farm Barnevelder chick
Photo © Brett Missick
At the beginning of March, when the lengthy winter in New England was really taking a toll on our spirits, Storey Sales Assistant Meghan Rose emailed the entire company with a remedy for our blues: a few photos of baby chicks, just hatched on the Florida farm operated by her aunt Kymm and cousin Kelsey.

It was too early for the arrival of chick days here in Massachusetts, but pictures of those little multicolored balls of fluff (which will some day be beautiful full-grown Barnevelders) gave us hope that some day, some how, the world where we are would be warm enough to welcome little ones. Better yet? Meghan revealed that last year, when she learned of her family members’ attempts to hatch their first chicks, she sent them a copy of Gail Damerow’s Hatching &  Brooding Your Own Chicks. Gail’s book is now the “hatching bible” on Fluster Cluck Farm in Ocala, and the success just keeps on coming.

When I wrote to Kymm to ask her about their chicken hatching experience, she said that what had begun as a hobby had grown into full-blown passion and a small business. With the goal of inspiring others to start home flocks to provide food and entertainment for their families, Kymm and Kelsey are now selling their first batches of chicks and loving the reactions of small children when they welcome the new babies.

Here’s a little bit of life on Kymm and Kelsey’s Florida farm. Oh, and welcome, spring. We’re so happy you’re finally here.

Photo © Brett Missick
How did you get started raising chickens?

We got started because we’ve never believed in factory farming. We only bought eggs from the farmers’ market and thought, “Hey, let’s just do this ourselves.” Little did we know how addictive chicken raising would become. We found ourselves doubling our little flock in a matter of weeks. Since we don’t believe in commercial hatcheries either, we decided to take the next step and hatch our own chicks.

We started raising Barnevelders last year. They are a Dutch dual-purpose breed that has only been in the U.S. for the last 15 years or so. They have lovely double-laced feathers, and are a quiet, gentle breed. We also have a barnyard mix of laying hens including Rhode Island Red, Delaware, and Barred Rock. In total, we have over 30 chickens. That doesn’t include all the eggs currently in the incubator!

We know all our chickens live a wonderful life, eating the best feed and free-ranging all day.

A beautiful Barnevelder
Photo © Brett Missick
What’s the most valuable lesson you learned from last year’s experience? Did it change how you approached this year? 

We learned that shipped eggs are tricky. Last year, we ordered eggs from both California and New York and had them shipped here to Florida. As meticulous as we tried to be, our hatch rate was still fairly low. Fortunately, we had enough from those two batches to be able to choose our best hens for this year’s eggs. In our first hatch of 2014, 100% of our Barnevelders hatched!

Photo © Brett Missick

Any advice for someone who is just starting out with chickens and wants to hatch their own?

If you don’t already have your own fertile eggs, find a local breeder who probably has extra and needs help incubating. You don’t need fancy eggs, and you don’t even need that many to try it out. Get a few hatches under your belt to figure out what you did right and what can go wrong.  Once you’ve done that, it will be much easier to spend a little extra on the exact breed you want to raise.

Photo © Brett Missick

What’s your favorite thing about your chickens?

Chickens are so entertaining.  They are relaxing to watch, they make funny sounds, and come when called (as long as you have treats)!  And there is nothing better to eat than a fresh, organic, pasture-raised egg.

Florida peaches
Photo © Brett Missick
We’re so anxious for any hint of warmer weather! Indulge us: What else is happening on your farm right now? What are you looking forward to on the farm this spring?

North Central Florida is wonderful in the spring!  It’s still cool enough to be growing cabbages and greens and snow peas, but warm enough to start planting tomatoes and cucumbers. We also have some fantastic peach trees on our farm, which were hit by a freak, late-season freeze last year. We didn’t enjoy a single peach. But this year has been a mild winter for us, strangely enough, as the rest of the country is still struggling with cold and snow. Our trees have come back in force, and we are expecting a bumper crop of peaches. Oh, and did we mention, we are hatching lots and lots of chicks?

Find Fluster Cluck Farm on Facebook! And special thanks to Kymm’s husband, Brett Missick, for letting us use his beautiful photos. 

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