“Have Eggs ~ Will Deliver”
by Lauren Ledig Klingbiel of Sointula, BC, Canada
I’ve had chickens for most of my life. When my son Robb was in 4-H, we branched out into all kinds of rare breeds and I learned more than I thought possible about poultry as I became the poultry leader for our club.
Years later, I had a small backyard flock with a few extra hens so we could supply some of our friends in town with fresh eggs. A few years ago our property taxes became so outrageous we began looking for a way to obtain “farm status” to lessen them. I learned there are many hoops that one must jump through to get this approved. There are several categories of farm income that we could try: basically, breeding stock or by-products of animals and crops of vegetables, herbs, blueberries, or trees could be included. Sell enough of one or many of these approved categories, and we were in business.
The next problem was what could we raise that we could sell? Oxen weren’t on the list so I e-mailed the government office. “No, oxen or manure can’t be used for farm income because they aren’t on the list,” was the reply. I then asked if this was the eleventh commandment that was handed down through the ages, or is this something that can be added to “the list?” No reply ensued. Needless to say, I was turned down for that year.
It’s funny. I could sell feathers or wool but not manure. But… worms were on the favored list. Giant red worms are found in our aged oxen compost. We now sell worms that come with their own medium of aged oxen manure. Creative? You bet!
We needed something to sell that would bring in income that the people on our island could and would buy from us. I ended up going down to the nearest government office that did the approvals. This meant a ½ hour drive into town, ½ hour on the ferry, and a three hour drive down Vancouver Island.
The man I talked with was very helpful but he decided I didn’t qualify with my egg sales presently because we needed LOTS of chickens to produce the required yearly income that farm status calls for. BUT, it had to be less than 100 hens or we would need to obtain a “quota.” This is a dreaded word, I found out. You are dealing with the big guys and they don’t mess around. I heard of someone that actually had over the 100 limit and they were visited by an RCMP, and a government representative and all of the chickens were taken off of the farm and they were fined a lot of money. Wow! I certainly didn’t want this to happen.
Dan and I talked it over and we decided to go for it. A new chicken house with an area that could be divided into two compartments if needed, was built. Over $4,000 later it is certified (as much as one can certify) mink proof. Everyone with poultry on our island has been visited by the mink and most were wiped out in one visit. Then, we contacted a hatchery in Alberta and they sent out their catalog. We knew the town people preferred brown eggs so we chose ISA Brown pullet chicks and ordered 50 of them to add to our already flock of 25 New Hampshire hens. I figured it cost almost $10 a hen to raise them from a chick until she lays her first egg. The average hen would lay around 300 eggs per year the first year and then less each year but usually larger eggs.
The old hen house we were using was attached onto the oxen barn. We also added a cement floor in that hen house and yard along with hardware cloth wire on the sides to make it mink proof. So far so good. We would have free run eggs but not free range due to the eagles, mink, bear, occasional cougar, raven and owl, or the errant wandering dog.
We completely clean the hen houses and yards when needed, and replace fresh sand onto the cement. This makes the hens happy so they can dust bathe and the sand makes clean up very easy too when the manure gets packed on the top. We shovel it into our tractor bucket and put it onto our oxen manure pile for future garden compost or “worm sales” in a few years.
During the very rainy months, we use rain shields that attach like storm windows to the wire sides of the hen house to keep the excessive moisture out of the hen yards. This consists of a frame with a heavy plastic inside. We make sure there is still plenty of ventilation for the birds.
We always order the chicks with the Merck’s and Coccocidiosis vaccinations, then feed non-medicated chick starter followed up with non-medicated grow crumbles until they lay their first egg. Then lay pellets with a higher percentage of protein are fed. As their laying cycle progresses, we usually drop down to a lower percentage of protein.
The feeders and waterers are cleaned regularly and the hens get fresh garden treats and I pull grass to add to their diet. Later on in their laying cycle, I have a dish with crushed oyster shell in the pen, free choice, to keep their egg shells from getting thin and brittle.
When we bring the chicks home from the closest post office that they ship to (Campbell River ~ only ½ hour closer than the government office), I take each chick and dip their beak into the room temperature waterer so they know what and where it is. After their long journey through the postal system (2 days) they need immediate revival techniques. The hatchery won’t guarantee live delivery at our post office as it would be another day at least to deliver here.
While the new chicks were growing, I put in an ad with our island’s Resource Center’s newsletter for future egg customers, and also ads on our Co-op board and on our Post office board. I called our operation “The NHouse.” I was worried that we couldn’t sell all of them and would have eggs left over. I included in the ad that we would deliver the eggs every Thursday when we made our weekly pilgrimage into town to visit the Co-op for food, go to the post office, and go to the library. I told every potential customer that I didn’t want their business if they already bought from one or the other people that sold eggs on island. I didn’t want to take customers away from them.
Lo and behold, I got calls. Then more calls. Pretty soon I was into “egg futures.” Some wanted 2 dozen per week; others wanted one dozen every other week. Some wanted me to go into their house and put the eggs into their refrigerators, and if they were completely out to leave 2 dozen. Others wanted me to leave them in a certain place in their carport or in a tool box. During the summer, there are commercial fishermen who are gone for extended periods of time fishing and they wanted several dozen at once. They always threw in an extra flash frozen sockeye salmon or two as a bonus to insure they got their eggs.
I had to devise an easy to read customer list for the delivery route so there wasn’t any backtracking. This list had the date, customer, special information for future deliveries and if they paid then or were prepaid. I also left a space for a mark to be put when I posted it on the ledger.
Several people that lived on the other side of the island wanted me to deliver their eggs to the library and they would pick them up on their way home from work. My first egg customer years ago, was our wonderful librarian, Denise Alexich. She found a cubby hole to put them and I would put a sticky note on them to distinguish whose they were. These people would pay ahead so there wasn’t any money to collect.
Every Thursday, we go into town and eat a soup and sandwich lunch at our Co-op before egg deliveries. Sometimes my customers will meet us there and want their eggs then so I won’t have to deliver them. They let me know and then go into our truck to pick them up.
I have a few customers that only get eggs when they need them and not on a scheduled weekly basis. These know that they may not get eggs on a certain week if the hens are molting or not laying as usual or if regular customers want more then they usually take. They know to call me as soon as they decide they want eggs that week, as it is first come, first served. Several times, we have gone without just so I can fill our customer’s orders. We’ve even had customers barter for a dozen eggs in the library if one wants them more than another. It gets really rowdy at times. This could only happen in a small town like ours. I remember as a child going to the library. I was afraid to cough or sneeze because it would draw a ferocious look from the librarian. She was the ultimate in intimidation. I was convinced that she lived in the cloak room at nights because she was always there.
We had a representative from Canadian Geographic come in one day to see if he could meet with someone from our museum, which housed in the old heritage building that the library is in, along with the thrift shop downstairs, and the seniors club beside it. He had asked if Tom was around and Denise and I mentioned that he was out of town as well as another name he asked about. He was so astonished that we knew most everyone on the island that he included this information in the article about Sointula that he wrote in the Canadian Geographic Travel issue.
There are several customers that pay more than I ask just because it’s worth it to them to get farm fresh eggs that are delivered right to their door. I’ve only had one customer complain. In every carton I try to put at least 4 extra large eggs, two at each end and then fill in the rest with medium to large eggs. Occasionally, there will be a smaller one, but still way over the average weight of a normal dozen eggs. This lady only wanted the huge eggs and not the smaller ones. I decided that she didn’t really need to be a customer after all and I told her I didn’t have any eggs that she would want. I don’t think that she ever did figure it out that she insulted me by demanding “only the extra large eggs.” The funny thing was, I had given them to her at a reduced price because she was a neighbor.
Last month, I gave my husband a signed and sealed letter that looked very official. It stated that through the process of “Imminent Domain,” I was confiscating our old wood shed to make into our LAST (I promised!) new chicken house and yard. This would give us the hen house up at the oxen barn to use for our own meat birds. After he stopped laughing, he capitulated and it’s now a work in progress.
Did I say that three island carpenters buy our eggs too? I’m sure I can get one of them to remodel our new hen house. The head of our post office, Linda, also is a customer as are both lawyers, and our garage mechanic. It pays to have a commodity they want!
On the delivery route, I always carry a pocket full of dog biscuits. It didn’t take long for all the dogs on the route to look forward to my deliveries. They obediently sit and wait for their treats. One hound, Sam, follows our truck to three houses side by side, pretending he’s three different dogs just to get multiple treats.
Sam’s owner, Myrna, often bakes cookies and as I deliver her eggs, she hands me a container of freshly baked cookies to eat along the route. I accuse my husband of going along every week just to enjoy Myrna’s cookies. Many times, I return her container filled with my own cookies along with her egg delivery, resulting in many cookie recipe swaps. It’s become a fun tradition and something we really enjoy doing. I find myself looking in different cook books to find new kinds of treats to swap.
This past winter we had a lot of snow and I had to walk up several snowy roads and driveways instead of driving our 5 ½ ton GMC Topkick crewcab. I walked slowly and carefully and thank goodness, didn’t drop any deliveries. I hand delivered our whole neighborhood route in Mitchell Bay that week. It was beautiful and silent, as nobody was out driving. I wondered if my Mennonite ancestors delivered their goods this way in bad weather.
Our last delivery is to our Co-op gas bar. Our Rhodesian Ridgeback, “Indy,” knows that his favorite people (Auntie Monty, Auntie Becky and Uncle Rob) work there and will give him sausage treats when we make our deliveries. We can just drive by the gas bar and he begins drooling and hanging out the truck window.
When I return home after the Thursday egg deliveries, I immediately post all of the sales to the ledger so I won’t forget any oddities. This part is the least enjoyable so I do it right away and then it will be finished for the week.
If we have to be off island on any Thursday, Iris, my great neighbor who lives on the next 10 acres over, takes the deliveries to town and to the library. She even picks up any books that have come in for me and brings them home along with the egg list and boxes the eggs were packed in. Her husband, Bob, does our feeding and caring of the animals and collects and cleans the eggs. We couldn’t do it without having them as backups.
When we buy chicken feed, we buy two pallets at a time, 100 bags, which last around 6 months. The feed store gives us quite a break doing business this way. Thank goodness for our mid-sized truck. There is some room left over for other “spending accidents.”
One oddity I found. For the past 6 years, every time we brought baby chicks home, we had a power outage. We have a small generator which is being replaced by a 15,000 kw generator this summer for just these emergencies. One year we had to keep the generator running for two days and nights. We slept with one ear aware so we could wake up and re-fuel before it ran out of gas and the chicks got chilled. Not fun and it makes for VERY expensive chicks. It got so our friends would ask us when we were going to bring home chicks so they could prepare for an outage as it seemed to happen every time, no matter which month it was. So far, we had two this time, but they were only a minute or two at a time. The baby chicks have to have brooder lights on until they are 5 weeks old and fully feathered. Last year I turned the lights out when they were fully feathered and lost 2 pullets for two nights until I figured out they were huddling up and they had smothered. Back on went the lights for 2 more weeks until the weather warmed up.
I enjoy having a small farm and take pride in raising something that people enjoy and need. In our society, getting something fresh and healthy locally, is quite a treat. Many of us are trying to buy everything we eat (that we don’t grow in our garden or catch in the ocean) grown within 3 hours from where we live. This way, we know where the food is coming from and who is raising it and how it is raised. It is quite a challenge but one worth pursuing.