This could be subtitled: How I went from California suburbia to a chicken ranch in Arkansas. I was minding my own business one day in February, managing a busy veterinary specialty hospital in the San Francisco Bay area when I received a phone call from a veterinarian in Arkansas. It seemed I was on the reference list for the practice management software program we used, and this doctor was trying to get information on how we had the program and our IT system set up. After three months of occasional phone calls, I was asked if I would consider moving to Arkansas.
Of course, my knee jerk reaction was, "Arkansas? I do not think so!" After all, I was born and raised in California. Why on earth would I want to move to Arkansas? But, you know how things have a way of running around in your brain. That night I did some research on line. I discovered that Arkansas was not as backwards as it is presented on the Tonight Show, the school system received better scores than the school system my son was attending in California, and the cost of living was much lower. I did a quick real-estate search, and found that I could actually purchase a house with land – something I did not think I would ever be able to afford to do in California.
So, I took a giant leap of faith. I revised my resume and processed it with a cover letter, and booked a flight two weeks out. I contacted a real estate agent to schedule some walk-throughs while I was there. The drive from Little Rock airport to Clarksville in the Arkansas River Valley convinced me that this was where I wanted to be – whether or not I got the job at the veterinary specialty practice. Two weeks later, they made me an offer, which I accepted. The last week in August, I moved my family (mother, sister, son and dog) to Arkansas.
It took three more months of looking, but I finally found the perfect house sitting on 15 acres, about 1/2 wooded and 1/2 pasture; a decent-sized, year-round pond, cross fencing, and a barn. I had only been there for a couple of months when a friend of the veterinarian called and asked if I would like to have some chickens. The doctor's neighbor has a Tyson farm, and during the pick up, several chickens "escaped." Once they've been free-ranged, Tyson does not want them. So, 25 chickens were delivered to my house. Now, the most experience I had had with chickens was trying to raise three silkies in our backyard in California until the raccoons got them about 3 weeks into the project. Suddenly, I had 25 full grown, laying hens to take care of. Just for the record, when asked how many I wanted, I said a dozen. Obviously, a dozen is more specifically in Arkansas than it is in California!
Unfortunately, for my poor hens, I learned a lot through trial and error in those early months. But several years later, I have a good-sized, mostly free-range flock. We enjoy farm-fresh eggs almost year round. I have successfully incubated and hatched chickens. And though some of my family members still have a problem with the idea, I have butchered some of the roosters and served them up for dinner when my rooster to hen ration was too high. In future articles I'll discuss specifics about raising backyard chickens and running an animal rescue.