My oldest goes off to college this fall, and it will mean changes on many levels for us all. She'll be attending the DAAP (Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning) school at the University of Cincinnati to study graphic design (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree it seems.)
Aside from the usual emptying-of-the-nest issues all families and parents face when kids go off to school, those of us who live on farms also have to deal with losing our chore helpers when our fledglings spread their wings and fly out into the world.
This has made me reassess just how many chickens I need here on the farm, and how many breeds I will want to work with. When breeding purebred chickens you need at least one pen, if not many, for each breed. Ideally you have several breeding pens and maintain several separate lines for each breed. And each pen needs to be chored individually, of course.
Losing half my chore force to the wider world means cutting back. In the past we've worked with many breeds of chickens: Leghorns (Brown and White), Ameraucanas, Marans, Orpingtons, Dominiques, Silkies, Dutch Bantams, Cochins, Olive Eggers (a strain of which I created myself, known as the Charlottes, from the Six Feet Under characters Charlotte Light and Charlotte Dark), and of course, Buckeyes.
As of this fall, we'll be down to just one breed, Buckeyes in large fowl and bantam. It's an odd thing to contemplate, but must be done. I work from home doing several part-time jobs as well as the farm gig, and with just my younger daughter to help with chicken chores (DH does the horse chores), there's just no getting around the need to reduce our numbers.
At our highest numbers we likely had about 200 birds (not including chicks that were hatched and shipped to others.) That's a lot of birds to chore, especially when they are in many separate pens. My goal is to get things thinned down to about three pens, and a couple of smaller cages.
I had my eyes opened to this requirement last summer. DD#1 was away at an art seminar for two weeks. During that time, DH and DD#2 went back to Ohio where my family has a farm. They took the truck and two of the horses with them, and I stayed home with all the critters. Doing chores all by myself for the first time made me appreciate my husband even more than I do (he stays home and does chores when the girls and I go out of town.) It also made me realize that 3 hours of chores every day just wasn't going to fit into my work schedule (that's how long it took to feed and water everything twice a day.)
So sadly, I'm selling the last of my Dutch bantams. I love them dearly, but their temperaments do not allow me to keep them in a large flock the way I can with the Buckeyes (the males fight too much.) I've found homes for many of them, and know I can place the rest well with people who will appreciate them. But it's hard to give them up.
This fall will be bittersweet on several levels and while much will change, the rhythms of farm life reassure me that much will remain the same. As Bowie said in that song from all those years ago:
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same.
As I turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes...