Meet Emma of Stohmaier’s Peaceful Valley Farm and Home Store in Pownal, Vermont. Emma is one of those people you can trust for tried-and-true barnyard animal advice. You can ask Emma anything: I mean any crazy question about horses, pigs, lambs, sheep, chickens . . . well, the list of critters she has knowledge of is just plain amazing! Emma comes from a well-respected farming family in the Green Mountains. She always shares the antics of her pet chickens, equines, or bovines with an animated story and a smile! Equally important, Emma has a reputation for selling the healthiest baby chicks in town!
I first met Emma many moons ago at a gymkhana at a saddle club in Cambridge, New York. It’s a kind of western horse-riding show complete with such fun games as barrel racing, an egg and spoon race, and a keyhole race on horseback. Emma was always full of spunk and so eager to share quality advice. So after many years of thinking about raising a backyard chicken flock, I went to Emma for professional and friendly advice at her family farm and feed store. Who else better to purchase my first flock from than Emma?!
I started my poultry quest way too early for New Englanders: January! I remember calling Emma shortly after New Year’s Day in the middle of a nor’easter to “talk chicken.” (Spring fever came early that year!) Emma was kind to this newbie and chatted breeds, special order, and pickup dates. She was patient while I took notes and asked questions like a White House reporter. I bet I came off like some lunatic expectant mother! (Again, blame my behavior on a terminal case of spring fever!)
Emma recommended I call back in March to order my young chicks for a pickup in early May. I marked my calendar in red and drew childish pictures of a chicken on the calendar blocks; one chicken picture on the March 1 block to note my order date, and another picture for the beginning of May for my chick pickup date. I was as impatient as a 6-year-old waiting for Christmas morning. I had to pinch myself to remember it was still only January . . . snow, ice, the demons of winter were not a safe environment for baby chicks in my frozen tundra of Vermont.
On that January inquiry-day phone call, Emma told me to call anytime with questions. She apologized for rushing off the phone; she needed to close up shop early, get out the door, and feed her cattle in the nor’easter blizzard. Here was Emma heading out in tundralike elements, while I was in a delusional state thinking about an early January thaw, a brooder box, heat lamp, medicated feed, and, ultimately, my very own farm-fresh eggs frying in Mom’s old cast iron skillet.
January, February, the start of March finally passed as I studied my notes like a high school senior suffering from Senioritis, yet cramming for her final exam. I studied Emma’s breed recommendations for our local climate, egg production, shell color, personality traits, and housing requirements. Breeds to order were Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Sex Links, Plymouth Rocks, Black Giants, Ancona, Australorp, and Dominique. Emma offered various breeds from Ideal Hatchery in Texas based on the breed suitability for our local region. I ordered one dozen chicks to arrive on May 5, with a pickup at the farm and feed store on May 6. This was it . . . with Emma’s guidance I was gonna be a chicken farmer!
I fantasized, seeing myself dressed in a gingham pinafore, with a red bandanna on my head and muck boots on my feet, wearing a red rickrack-trimmed apron — complete with cracked corn in my apron pockets, calling “Here chick, chick, chick”! I visualized how pretty all the plumage would look prancing, clucking, and flowing like liquid as my girls pecked at my tossed cracked corn about the barnyard. In May I would graduate into the backyard homestead league of farm animals! Emma became my guru, my guiding light to raising layers. Between Emma’s advice beyond her years and my studies of every Storey Publishing poultry book, I began to understand day-old chick care, roosting bars, cracked corn, hay, grit. All I had to do now was wait for Emma’s call to pick up my girls. Waiting is easier said than done for me . . . I’m not good at waiting.
Just as Emma had explained, her first special order of three hundred day-old chicks arrived in the wee morning hours at the Pownal, Vermont, post office in early May. Emma inspected her pullets-only order, then trucked the little fluff balls in her preheated 4×4 pickup truck to the store, where brooders, sugar water, feed, and security awaited the spring peeps. She inspected and dipped each chick’s beak to assure its health. After a 24-hour settling-in period for the chicks, local poultry homesteaders, both newbies and oldies, got the promised, ever-anticipated call from Emma to come pick up their girls.
As Emma promised she called me at work to declare my girls were ready for a Saturday pickup. I remember her call distinctly. It was if the stork herself called me to tell me, “It’s a girl . . . I mean 12 baby chick girls!” I wanted to shout from my work desk, “Hey, everyone, My Girls are in at the farm store!!! I am picking them up the minute the store opens tomorrow!!! Who wants to join in the fun?!” But considering I am the only barn girl on my office floor, I decided it was in my best interest not to cluck a word about my baby chicks. I feared my office mates may have me committed, telling the mental health professional I had flown the coop! Let’s just say not everyone understands the level of my spring fever for baby chicks! Let’s also say in Vermont you get a little nuts: you get the worst case of wintertime cabin fever, with no cure until your baby chicks arrive. Picking up your spring chicks is a rite of passage, a sign you survived the harsh 10-foot snowdrifts. Picking up your baby chicks is thumbing your nose at Old Man Winter! After all, what says springtime more than little peeps?
For years now I have seen Emma as enthusiastic as ever with every chick-day conversation. Her good nature, her knowledge, and her encouragement is a perennial Chick Day, an annual tradition. I hope you have an Emma at your local farm and feed store to guide you through the process of choosing the correct breed for your needs and to provide the best in feed, equipment, and advice in your fun adventure of raising backyard chicks. Happy Chick Days!
Storey Publishing brought several authors to both 2012 MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRs. You can learn more about chickens in the book Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds by Carol Ekarius. Please visit the FAIR website for more information. You can also get FAIR updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.