Sunday, June 19, 2011

a visit to the hatchery

With ACR (anticipated chick readiness) about a month away, the time has come to make a decision about where we will get our next flock. In the immediate wake of the massacre (what I've taken to calling it in my  head), I felt like receiving chicks in the mail a second time might just entail more uncertainty and stress than I could manage. About the same time I started to feel clear that we would try again, I ran a google search on "chicken hatchery missouri" hoping to find one within reasonable driving distance that would allow us to simply pick up the new babies rather than subjecting them (and us) to the incredible journey via US mail.

Up popped Cackle Hatchery, located in Lebanon, Missouri. Cackle has been family owned and operated since 1936 and bills itself as specializing in "hatching and shipping day old pure bred poultry to your local post office." Their website offers a dazzling array of not only chicken breeds but turkeys, ducks, geese, pheasants and game birds. An email elicited confirmation that we could pick up our chicks instead and that they would have many (although not all) breeds of egg layers available in July. We would have to pick up on a Tuesday or Thursday and could call that morning to see whether they had what we wanted and ask them to hold it while we made the trek. An email to Chickens for Backyards confirmed that they would have all breeds available in July, although if we wanted Wyandottes or Ameraucanas (the Easter Egg layers, which I'd thought too frou-frou the first time but was starting to think would be a nice addition to the flock) we'd be advised to order pronto. What to do?

It seemed like a visit to Cackle might help us make a decision and their storefront is open Saturdays from 9-3. Hank had a matinee performance of Daughter of the Regiment, but Max and I agreed we'd make the pilgrimage to Lebanon on Saturday.

We got a somewhat later start than I had hoped but were on the road before 10:30. I anticipated a two and a half hour drive on a route that took us straight out I-44. An hour out of St. Louis we needed a pit stop and Max predictably clamored for lunch. His request for Quiznos was easily redirected to barbeque; I'd been seeing signs for "Missouri Hick: the Ozarks finest smoked meats" and was intrigued.

Missouri Hick sits along a stretch of old Route 66 just outside Cuba. My initial impulse to grab a sandwich and drive on gave way to a seat in a booth with a cheerful napkined piggy placemat.

In the end, service was so quick we were in and out within half an hour, after enjoying some of the moistest pulled pork ever.

As we pulled out and drove a spell on Route 66, I explained to Max that it had once been the main thoroughfare for travelers headed west, a concept all the more outlandish given the modest state of this particular slightly crumbly, 2-lane stretch of the road. We passed the cottage-y Wagon Wheel Motel:

note the eponymous wheel at left
And the world's largest rocking chair:

And, in Lebanon, spotted two relics of another age:

this is still fully operational, with a lovely central motor-court style swimming pool
But we finally arrived at Cackle, behind an unassuming storefront:

Inside was just as unassuming, but alive with the smells and sounds of baby chicks. Just inside the door was something like a bakery rack stacked five high with various breeds of chicks along with a few ducks and geese and a bunch of turkeys. 
Each level has a trough around the edge with water on two sides and feed on the other two. In another tray was a mix of exotic breeds and bantams:
Another tray, marked "sold" was mostly covered. The young woman who showed us around explained that these were turkey poults that had been spoken for. An aside: baby turkeys are perhaps even cuter than baby chicks. But as she lifted the lid and I leaned over the brooder I was struck by the smell: very strong, completely different from the smell of baby chicks--and identifiably turkey. When we had our first flock, several people asked me how they smelled, wrinkling their noses as if the answer was obvious--and unpleasant. In fact, our chicks never smelled bad, partly because we were so diligent about  keeping their brooder clean. The truth is that before the massacre I had become rather enamored of the smell of our baby chicks, which was not unlike the slightly milky smell of the top of a human baby's head (you moms know exactly what I'm talking about). But these turkeys were another animal (literally) altogether.

We spent some time watching the chicks. Max especially enjoyed the geese but also formed an instant attachment to several chicks. I looked at (and measured) a very nice galvanized nesting box they had on display and checked out their library of chick lit. I discussed our situation with the very helpful young woman at the counter and she talked me through my options. It would not be possible to pre-order any particular chicks for pick up in July and even if I could, I would be required to order a minimum of 5 of each breed. Contrary to what I had been told in the email, July hatchings take place only on Wednesdays, so pick up would have to be on a Thursday. She said I would have to take my chances that they would have breeds I wanted on the day I made my pickup. She also told me that this year has been huge for them, with demand unlike any they'd ever seen. I asked her whether she had a sense of why that was. "People want all natural," she said. "They're sick of chemicals and hormones and antibiotics in their food. These [gesturing at the trays of chicks] are all natural." Indeed.

Armed with information and a copy of their glossy color catalog ("We Sell Chicks! 187 Varieties"), Max and I headed out, after checking out the pre-constructed coops on display in an adjacent yard. Seeing the chicks, hearing their peeps was heartening. The coop project has grown to the point it often threatens to overwhelm and it was good to have a reminder of what all this lumber and sore muscles are all about.

Home again, I pored over the Cackle catalog and re-visited CFB had updated their website with a handful of new breeds for 2012, including a Partridge Rock. The mystery of Sadie's breed was finally solved: she had seemed to have partridge markings but CFB had listed no such breed as among the potential inclusions in the mixed bag of brown egg layers we ordered. Sadie was clearly a member of an early generation of the new stock. 

Perhaps it was my road-weariness from the drive (was that really something we wanted to do again and take a day off work to do it?), perhaps the winsomeness of the CFB website got to me again...probably some of both. But more likely the promise of predictability and a guarantee of certain birds delivered to my door won out. I placed an order. With any luck, sometime during the third week of July, a peeping box will arrive at our door or at our post office for pick up. Inside will be two Ameraucanas, a Dominique, a Barred Plymouth Rock, a Golden Laced Wyandotte, a Buff Orpington, a Golden Comet and a Mystery Chick, to be determined by the breeders. And yes, if you're keeping score, that's more than five. With the incredible effort (not to mention expense) we're putting into coop and run construction and the large scale of the finished product, it feels like we might as well be in for a pound if we're in for a penny. The new digs will easily accommodate this flock and I don't imagine their eggs will ever go begging for homes. 

And perhaps the readers of this blog will forgive us for a little dissonance between title (not giving that up) and reality!

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