This past winter, my husband and I only had good intentions while free ranging our hens. Our eggs yolks were huge and orange, the land was fertilized every day, and our girls were happy. Then, one by one, our chickens disappeared. Trails of feathers every morning just hurt. Without delay, we moved our hens back into their electric fence and movable coop. Although we clipped wings for our birds, we made newbie mistakes on our first batch of hens. They could still jump the electric fence. Caught on camera, a hungry fox returned again and again as some of my favorite hens disappeared.
Replacing part our flock would take time. Purchasing hens that are already laying are hard to find and expensive! Our customers were understanding about our limited supply of eggs, but every egg that was slightly cracked or incredibly soiled made me anxious. To compound issues, we had nothing left for our own family to eat. I purchased some local chicks knowing that they would eventually help, but I needed something immediate.
While looking for laying hens to replace our reduced flock, I searched everywhere. When Magnolia Marans advertised hens for sale, I immediately reached out to Dan to see if he had any available. Months before, there was a LONG waiting list! With birds NPIP certified and from the Bev Davis line, I was confident that his Marans were the real deal. The thought of those dark brown eggs added to our cartons made my rainbow egg obsessed heart soar.
After exchanging a few emails, I learned that he was selling not only his hens, but his whole breeding program of Black Copper Marans. Of course, the wheels started to turn in my head and I decided to call. In hearing his passion about the years of work that he put into the flock, I toyed with the idea of continuing his breeding program. A few hens would turn into 28 birds. Were we even ready for this? No, not really. What did I know about chicken genetics?
I went back and forth. If we purchased only some of his birds, it would satisfy our loss and we would have plenty of eggs. Throwing them in with our flock, the problem would be solved immediately. On the other hand, Dan already started this breeding program and the hard work was in the past. Certainly I could just pick up where he left off. Then, we could add another aspect to Belle Oaks by incorporating a breeding program of first class Black Copper Marans.
Honestly, homesteading is a full time job. Already, we had way too much on our plate. Our kids exchanged glances like, “Here we go again!” Unfortunately, some things would have to give and I would have to turn around and dedicate 200% to this business.
Before I could commit, I knew that my husband and I needed to visit Dan’s farm to look at his whole breeding program and understand the process. We were both so impressed by Dan’s dedication to the breed as well as his knowledge. I was in. (I mean, I admitted it to my husband out loud). My husband would be the coop builder and was about to start a new job. Was he ready for this? Again, no.
After weighing all the pros and cons, we gave Dan a down payment and started planning. We had four weeks to build coops. Because of the predator pressure on our farm, the need for a secure spot was paramount. There would not be any free ranging of these guys. We designed our three breeding pens (two black and one blue), ordered the supplies, and spent every free moment dedicated to the pens! Thankfully, we had some help from our children and their friends throughout the final push in completing the build.
To be sure, time will tell how successful we are breeding black, blue and splash Marans. I am sure that Dan will be an invaluable resource. For now, we are learning the personalities of our birds, watching the baby chicks adjust to their new pens, and supplying our customers with beautiful eggs and quality birds. The first batch of eggs rests in the incubator and we await our NPIP certification. Our faithful livestock guardian dog, Gus, is parked near the hens and is so proud of his new job.
Life is good at Belle Oaks!