Note: This is part six of a series about our family lifestyle change and move from the coast of California to the country of North Carolina. In case you missed parts one, two, three, four, or five I’ve linked them here.
This is it, y’all! This is the part I’ve been waiting to share with you. I think it’s the part you’ve been most excited to hear about too. It’s without a doubt what family, friends, and my audience on Instagram ask about most… How did we acquire all the animals?! The animals are definitely my favorite part of our lifestyle change and heaven knows the stories are endless, so get comfy!
I’m hoping I can get to all of it in one post, but this may be a two, three, or possibly four parter. There are so many fun and funny stories and I want to make sure I share them all with you. So let’s get started!
You may remember me mentioning that when we first visited the farmhouse, the previous owners had left us farm fresh eggs on the kitchen counter which I immediately got very excited about. After our tour of the home, the real estate agent mentioned that there were animals outside and she thought the kids might like to see them. They bolted out the door before she could even finish her sentence.
As we followed behind the kids, I remember rounding the corner to the barn and that’s when I saw it… (cue the heavenly music). The chicken coop. I grabbed my husband’s arm and he muttered under his breath, “Now, don’t get too excited.”
You see, from the minute we had made the decision to move to North Carolina and make this lifestyle change, I had declared the first animals I wanted to get were chickens. And there they were in all their feathered glory. “It’s a sign!” I thought to myself.
For as long as I can remember, I had dreamt of getting up in the morning and going out to collect farm fresh eggs from beautiful chickens in my backyard. (My vision may have included me in perfectly distressed rolled up jeans with bare feet carrying a French country egg basket. I am wearing a dreamy white linen smock and my is hair tied up in a loose romantic braid with curly tendrils of hair gently blowing in the wind while blue birds sing around me and sweet squirrels scamper by my feet… Hey! A girl can dream.) I envisioned bringing the eggs in the house and scrambling them up for the best breakfast the family ever had.
Side note: I wanted chickens in California, but unfortunately, chicken ownership was frowned upon by the home owner’s association in the housing development we lived in. They never let you have any fun!
Back to the farmhouse in North Carolina… After seeing the coop and pining over the chickens, my husband and I could tell the kids were very excited about something behind the fence that they were standing at. As my husband and I got closer, we couldn’t help but giggle at the most ginormous and adorable pot bellied pig standing at the fence in front of us. She was snorting and breathing very heavy. Her wet piggy snout was right up against the fence trying to figure out if we had any treats with us. Seeing her size, it was clear she loved her treats! Hanging above her was a sign with her name painted on it in hot pink letters, “Pheobe.”
Pheobe’s face was so fat you could hardly make out where her eyes were in all the rolls and creases on her head. She was so large, we could not tell if she was laying down or if her legs were just swallowed up by her enormous body somewhere underneath. The kids were over the moon about this pig! She was so sweet and watching her you couldn’t help but love her.
While we were swooning over Pheobe, we kept hearing a repetitive noise. It sounded like something hitting a chainlink fence. When we went around the corner, we discovered that in a small pen there was a goat. He just kept ramming his horns into the gate, over and over, and over, and over again. He had done it so many times that the chain link fence of the gate was protruding outward. Poor guy. I think he needed more space and some friends. I’m pretty sure if he could talk he would have agreed with me given his behavior.
It was at this moment that we realized if we bought this house we would definitely be able to have the animals, that as a family, we had dreamt about. First and foremost, chickens! The realtor said to me and my husband, “The owners want you to know that if you want the animals, you can keep them.” (They were downsizing to a lake house that was not zoned for livestock.) The kids immediately exclaimed, “Yes!”
Sadly, keeping the animals at that time was not a possibility. We had about a years worth of renovations to do on the farmhouse and for the most part they would be done remotely while we were selling and packing up our home in California. There would be no one to take care of them, so we had to decline the previous owner’s offer. Side note: We were told that all the animals went to very happy homes.
About a month after we moved into the farmhouse, our daughter and I started watching the local papers, Craigslist ads, and livestock auction sites looking for animals for sale. We had made a list of the animals we’d like to have on the farm and we had empty pens that we were excited to fill. We couldn’t wait to get the animal side of farm life started.
Within a week of looking, I had found a nice older couple about thirty minutes away looking to sell some of their chicks. We woke up on Saturday morning and after a blueberry pancake breakfast, we jumped in the car with a leftover moving box and headed to pick up some chicks.
As we were getting closer to the farm, I was getting more and more excited. Soon I was going to have the chickens and farm fresh eggs I had been dreaming about.
We turned off the main road and onto a dirt road. It couldn’t have been a more fitting setting for picking up our first farm animals. A long dusty dirt road with green pastures on either side filled with beautiful summer wildflowers surrounded by weathered wood fencing and barbed wire. I’d be lying if I said country music wasn’t playing on the radio. It was a picture perfect moment and I was giddy with excitement!
The GPS had told us we arrived at our destination, but all we could see was a metal mailbox holding on to a wood post for dear life by one screw. We continued down the driveway. As we approached the double-wide at the end of the drive, we saw a sweet, white haired, southern woman in her housecoat come out the door. She was wiping her wet hands on a dish towel and quickly waved to us as she came down the porch steps. She introduced herself and said her husband was “down the way,” waiting for us at the chicken coops. “Y’all go on ahead now.” She shooed us in his direction.
We walked down the dirt driveway with our cardboard box toward chicken coops. When we reached them, we couldn’t believe our eyes. We had never expected to see so many chickens, roosters, and chicks.
The nicest gentleman, a Vietnam vet (we knew because of the cap he was wearing), walked up to us and introduced himself. He had on a tattered t-shirt under his denim overalls and his southern accent was thick.
He told us all about the different breeds of chickens they had on their farm and said we could take as many chicks as we wanted. Before arriving, we had talked over breakfast and decided that we thought a good starting point for our new chicken adventure was four chicks. Each of us would pick one. We agreed that we had a lot to learn about chickens and we needed to take it slow. Needless to say… We left with nine.
After a lot of research prior to looking for chicks, I learned that Rhode Island Reds were one of the most docile and friendliest breeds. They are also great layers which means that they lay regularly and frequently. They are the perfect chicken for beginners. (Now having chicken experience, I couldn’t agree more.) I was over the moon when I found out that inside the chick pen were mostly Rhode Island Reds.
We each carefully picked out the chicks that caught our eye. There was a caveat to this selection process the farmer explained to us… Due to the chicks being so young, he could not guarantee that all the chicks were hens. There was a chance that we could have a rooster or two in the mix. No worries though, he said if we ended up with any roosters we could call him and he would exchange them out with hens when the time came.
It sounded like a good deal to us because we were certain that we did not want any roosters. We still hadn’t met all our neighbors and we did not think roosters crowing at the crack of dawn was going to make the best first impression with any of them. We did to want to start out on the wrong foot.
How did we end up with nine chicks when we originally planned on starting with four, you ask!? Thank you for asking.
Everyone in our family (of four) picked out two chicks (instead of one), because they were so cute. Choosing one was just too hard! Then, our daughter’s eye caught one of the few yellow chicks (an Orpington) in the pen. It was chubby and fuzzy and she decided she could not go home without it. “Nugget,” as she immediately named it, made nine chicks. Nugget was gently placed into the box with her siblings and we headed home with our first North Carolina farm animals.
The kids sat in the backseat of the car with the chick box in between them and all you could hear was giggling and peeping all the way home. I glanced over at my husband who was driving, he glanced over to me and a huge smile spread across my face. He chuckled and said, “This is just the beginning, isn’t it?”
I winked at him and said, “Yup!” I was so happy.
A few months after we brought the chicks home, my husband and I were outside doing yard work. I heard, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” I looked up from where I was weeding and looked over at my husband. I could tell he heard it too. We both started laughing.
You see, there were a couple of chicks that we wondered whether or not they were cockerels (or young roosters). Their feathers, combs, and demeanor were different from the rest. We suspected they may be roosters but it wasn’t until we heard them crow that it was confirmed.
We didn’t end up returning the roosters to the farmer because by this time I had made friends with a few neighbors who had chickens and they were interested in having chicks, so the roosters found good homes where I’m sure they were very happy.
Since that day when we picked up our first chicks, there have been several chicken pick ups since. For me, one of the hardest part about owning chickens and allowing them to free-range on the property is that it does open them up to being more vulnerable to predators. In my heart of hearts though, I just can’t keep them cooped up all day, every day. On our property, the most common predators we have are raccoon, fox, and hawks. Sadly, we’ve lost chickens to all three at one time or another.
The worst attack was the on Christmas Eve of our first year in North Carolina. Can you believe it!? Christmas Eve for heaven sake!
My parents were visiting for the holiday and my dad came into our room at about two in the morning. He woke me and my husband up and told us there was a strange noise coming from the coop. My husband jumped out of bed and he and my dad went outside. They were gone for quite some time.
Upon their return, they said that when they opened the door to the hen house, the chickens were running around frantic as if Satan himself was chasing them. Initially, they could not figure out what had gotten them so worked up. They looked in all the laying boxes and all around the coop and couldn’t see anything. Then my dad said he looked up.
His version of the story was that there was a chubby little raccoon hanging in the rafters. To hear my husband tell it, there was the most gigantic, fang-snarling beast holding on for dear life at the top the hen house. Oh, and it was smirking at them.
It turned out that said chubby raccoon had found its way through a tear in the screen over one of the openings at the top of the hen house. To this day, my dad and my husband still cannot figure out how that chubby bugger got in through such a tiny opening in the coop. Needless to say, where there’s a will there’s a way and that raccoon proved it that Christmas morning.
Fortunately, it wasn’t worse. The last thing I wanted was for us to be waking up on our first Christmas morning in North Carolina to exclaim, “Merry Christmas, kids! By the way, there was a chicken massacre while you were sleeping… Who wants to open gifts!?!” … C’mon Mother Nature!
The hen house that previously existed on the farm was pretty dilapidated when we moved in. After the raccoon attack, my husband repaired and secured it for the chickens as much as he could and no further attacks occurred after that. However, discussion about a new and improved coop also began at that time.
After a couple of years on the farm and more experience raising chickens, my husband and I decided that we wanted to relocated the chicken coop. Where it was originally built was low lying on the property and it would get quite flooded after a rain. It wasn’t the most healthy environment for chickens and it was quite messy for us to care for them too. We also wanted to construct a more sound and larger hen house because the flock was growing!
That’s when the Fluffy Butt Hut was built. You can read all about the building process here. It was a true labor of love and a lot of hard work, especially because we built it during a sweltering southern summer under the sun for weeks until it was complete. It was totally worth the blood, sweat, and tears (from sweat dripping in our eyes). I’m happy to say that since we moved our flock to the Fluffy Butt Hut, we have not had any casualties.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this year we lost our oldest chicken, Ol’ Red. She was the soul survivor for over five years from the very first group of chicks we got from the farmer. She was the sweetest hen. She would run to you any time she saw you and stand at your feet as if she was asking for you to pick her up. She loved being held. She survived countless predator attacks (she found the best hiding spots), tropical storms, and hurricanes. She was my buddy and loosing her was especially tough.
Chickens were the perfect way to introduce animal farm life to our family. If you are interested in more details about how to keep chickens you can read my post, Farm Fresh Eggs, Anyone!?
Chickens opened the flood gates at Hidden Acres Farm. It wasn’t long after acquiring them that more animals were welcomed to our farm. I can’t wait to tell you about Mufasa, the mini horse that was brought to the farm in the back of a Jeep. That’s right, you heard right, the back of a Jeep! There is also the story of our three hour road trip to find Apollo, our thoroughbred and the adventures of bringing Willy the piglet home. Wait until you hear these stories…
Time to put another pot of coffee on!