Farm & Ranch Living
State-of-the-art chicken houses keep the birds chirping on this Kentucky farm.
State-of-the-art houses keep the birds chirping on this Kentucky farm.
Nestled in the rolling hills outside of Owensboro, Kentucky, is Hayden Farms, a second-generation cow/calf and broiler chicken farm. My husband, Daniel Hayden, manages the day-today chores on the farm alongside his parents, Martin and Joan. I fill in where needed. I also manage public relations and communications for our business. Off the farm I own and operate Two Arrows Photography, a wedding and portrait photography business. Daniel fills in as needed and serves as a second photographer for every wedding.
We raise five cage-free broiler flocks per year. Birds arrive when they are 24 hours old and leave at 46 days as 6-pound birds. Initially we worked with four 40-by-500-foot houses, which we call Short Station, each holding 24,100 birds. These 20-year-old buildings have seen every change the commercial poultry industry has experienced. Years of patchwork improvements and intense ground settling (they were built without foundations) mean they won’t win any awards for aesthetics. But, now equipped with automatic feeding systems and computer-run heaters and fans, they still work surprisingly well.
In 2018, we added New Cut: four new state-of-the-art houses. Each 43-by-600-foot building can hold 30,000 birds. Unlike Short Station, these bright red houses could win a beauty contest if such a thing existed in the poultry world. They are also as technologically advanced as a chicken house can be nowadays. They are sophisticated, secure grow-out facilities with strictly controlled temperature, humidity and vent systems, which provide
protection from the elements, disease and predators. The new quarters are built on foundations, and computer systems alert us on our phones if problems arise. Also in 2018, we added the first broiler viewing room in the country. We want to give visitors a “glass walls view” of a poultry farm. Within one year of opening, almost 500 people had passed through.
Baby News and Sick Birds
July 1 We just finished placing the new day-old chicks in our Short
Station houses. Because of the birds’ size and age, thermostats are set at 94 degrees. They are allowed access to only half of the house, so they’ll flock together to regulate their body temperatures. As they grow, we
gradually lower temps and they are migrated to the rest of the house.
July 2 A stomach bug broke out in House 4 of New Cut, and this morning we lost more than 1,000 birds. The guys spent all day culling sick birds, and by evening the crisis had tapered off. We raise antibioticfree birds and medicate with natural remedies like iodine and citric acid. July 3 We think we’ve gotten control over the sick birds in House 4. Only six were found dead today, which is a relief.
July 4 Since my parents are in from Oklahoma, Daniel took most of the day off. We spent the evening in downtown Owensboro at the big July 4th celebration, with bands, food trucks and fireworks. I picked the winning meal of a spicy chickenand-waffle sandwich and Cajun fries.
July 5 I babied a brisket all day, from marinade to smoking to resting, as the grand finale of my folks’ visit.
When I unwrapped the foil, the meat was so tender I pulled it instead of slicing it. Daniel’s parents joined us for a feast of brisket, fried okra, macaroni salad and deviled eggs.
July 6 My parents headed home this morning and I settled into a day of the worst morning sickness I’ve experienced so far. After a 2½-year journey with infertility, I’m seven weeks pregnant. Since it’s still early, we decided not to tell our parents yet, and I mask my symptoms when they’re around. I finally got to curl up in the fetal position on the couch and watch TV, eating the only thing that sounded good: hamburger dill pickles on spicy Babybel cheese with a Ritz cracker.
July 7 These days, the fridge is Enemy No. 1. Every time it opens, the mingled odors repulse my heightened sense of smell. Today Daniel battled the beast for me, making both breakfast and lunch.
FaceTime and Fireworks
July 8 We were preparing for the next steps in our struggle to have a baby when a friend mentioned a fertility acupuncture clinic in Nashville. My initial appointment was the first week of May and I was pregnant a few weeks later. I still go every two weeks for acupuncture because it has transformed my relationship with anxiety for the better. After today’s appointment, I stopped at Trader Joe’s to look at brands, prices and new products and learn what’s trending in health and superfoods. This helps me step off my “I’m a farmer” high horse and tackle food topics on a more relatable level when dealing with the public.
July 9 It’s county fair week! My mother-in-law is on the board of the local Lions Club and does behindthe-scenes work to bring the fair to life each year. Daniel is the county 4-H livestock leader. During fair week, our full-time workers step up so we can leave the farming to them.
July 10 Today was the first day of the fair and cattle show. I worked the ring gate—except our county isn’t livestock-focused, so instead of a proper gate, it’s just panels all tied together. I operated panels for five hours to let people through. Next year I’m lobbying for an actual gate.
July 11 A friend of ours owns and operates a successful CSA farm, and I filled in as a produce deliverer for her today. Along with smaller boxes of produce, we delivered large boxes of watermelons, cantaloupe and sweet corn. The muscles in my arms burned as I carried them up staircases, and I made a note to check “go to gym” off my to-do list.
July 12 My sister, Alexis, called me on FaceTime to tell me she is pregnant. I let her in on my secret. She is due Feb. 11, 2020; I’m due Feb. 22. We cried happy tears. She said our folks have been an excited mess since she told them, and I swore her to silence about my condition since I won’t tell them until next month. My poor parents! Little do they know they’re about to have their first grandbabies only 1½ weeks apart.
July 13 Our neighbors hosted their annual fireworks display—a community favorite. I made sure our pups were home in their pen so they wouldn’t be afraid. But as explosions
filled the sky, I began to worry how the chickens were doing. I checked on them once the show was done, only to find everyone roosted, asleep and unbothered...except by the light of my phone, for which I received a few annoyed clucks.
July 14 The almost full-grown birds at New Cut are going through a lot of feed. While Daniel worked on another stomach bug problem, I switched feed bins over for each house. The soybean oil in the feed can make clumps of feed stick to the sides of the bins instead of falling into the auger, and House 3 wasn’t flowing. I grabbed a mallet, jumped as high as I could, and beat on the bin to get things moving.
Taming the Landscape, Helping a Neighbor
July 15 Daniel left for the Kentucky Ag Leadership Program, a two-year intensive program that isn’t easy to get into. This session he and his classmates will be camping in the Appalachians for a few days. Because all of our camping stuff is in storage, he left underprepared.
July 16 With a break in the rain, I jumped on the opportunity to get our overgrown garden back in shape. Daniel attempted to clean out the rows last week with a Weed Eater. He informed me the situation was beyond repair, so I set out to prove him wrong. Unfortunately for me, he had replaced the head with a heavy-duty one. Each time the tool’s speed picked up it made my whole body shake. I called Daniel’s cousin and she sent over her husband with their push mower. We got to work, and in an hour the yard was mowed and the garden was tamed—at least to a point that I could finish it myself.
July 17 The rain gave us a day off, so I prepped for my next photo session. Meanwhile, the guys brushhogged pastures to mow down the thorns and vines. Once this is done we can start the fencing projects that have been left on the back burner.
July 18 Daniel and I have spent the last four years spraying weeds and reseeding with grass. We’re still
working on the ironweed and thistle, but the thorny wild rose bushes that once covered most of our land are nearly gone. I’m excited to watch the farm inch closer to our dream.
July 19 An appraiser came this morning to do the official inspection for our Farm Service Agency home loan. We hope to have the go-ahead next week to break ground for our new house! We’ve already moved our trailer out of the way, and we’re staying in my 10-by-12-foot office inside our education building, using an outdoor shower built by my dad. These rent-free amenities will only work until winter arrives, because with winter comes this baby.
July 20 One of our neighbors was in a car wreck last night, and his chickens are arriving while he’s in the hospital. It’s all hands on deck to get his farm ready for birds. He and his wife don’t need to stress while he recovers from his injuries.
July 21 My best friend, Suzi, is coming from Oklahoma to visit us. I made her a “suite” in our education room, with bed linens for temporary walls, then spritzed everything with lavender to make the space feel cozy.
Sad News, Supportive Friends
July 22 I gave Suzi a tour of the farm, from cow pastures to chicken houses. She was most interested in the chickens, as people usually are. The Short Station birds are in their awkward teenage phase. They still have yellow heads, but their bodies are growing white adult feathers. “I can’t believe it doesn’t stink,” Suzi said in amazement. This is one of the biggest revelations people have when visiting. But if we’re doing our jobs right, it shouldn’t stink.
July 23 Suzi accompanied me to my acupuncture appointment in Nashville. We did tourist things, too, including driving down Music Row and eating 100-layer donuts at Five Daughters Bakery. We also ventured to Franklin (one of my favorite little towns) and wandered through the shops. I made sure we hit White’s Mercantile (owned by Hank Williams Sr.’s granddaughter, Holly Williams). The last shop we visited had sterling silver rings featuring positive sayings. I bought “Be Brave” for myself and slid it onto my right ring finger.
July 24 I woke Daniel at 4:50 a.m. and told him we needed to get to the hospital fast. Around 6:30 a.m., I lost the baby. As we left the hospital a few hours later, I stared at my new ring, hoping I could live up to the words inscribed there.
Daniel helped me clean up and get comfortable before heading to work. Suzi, who had planned on leaving early in the day, helped out around the house and farm. It was 2 p.m. before she felt comfortable leaving me by myself. Daniel came home early so I wouldn’t be alone.
Daniel drove us toward the pasture to move cows. The sun on my face was the first time after this morning’s events that I felt any warmth on my body. I closed my eyes and cried.
“I don’t know what the right words are, but I have pie.”
July 25 I returned to town for bloodwork rather than brushhogging as planned. What should have been a quick draw turned into a quest to find a vein. The tech at the second lab looked at my paperwork and then my arms, covered in BandAids over cotton balls from all the unsuccessful pokes. She said, “Bless your heart. You’ve had a rough 24 hours.” I fixed my gaze on a wall, willing the tears to stay in my eyes.
Later that day a friend arrived with a casserole and flowers in one hand and a cherry pie in the other. As she handed me the still-warm dessert, she said “I don’t know what the right words are, but I have pie.”
July 26 New Cut chickens were hauled out all last night and into the morning. It usually takes six or seven semi trips to load up a house of birds
and take them to a processing plant. Trucks run throughout the night because there is less traffic and it is less stressful for the birds.
Semis began arriving at 10 p.m. for the first house and 4 a.m. for the last. Daniel got out of bed at 7:30 to meet the convoy ready to load out chicken litter at House 4. Between the semis picking up chickens from House 1 and trucks loading out litter at House 4, our farm looked like the ag version of Grand Central Station.
July 27 After learning our baby news, two of my college friends drove from Oklahoma to be here for us. They arrived about 10 a.m. with coffee in hand. Daniel worked half a day before catching up with us. We spent the rest of the day swapping stories and laughing until our sides hurt—definitely what we needed.
July 28 My friends came back the next morning to do some light cleaning while we chatted. There is something so special about longtime friends who don’t ask “what can I do?” They just know what would make you feel better and do it.
July 29 After the chickens were shipped, we needed to move quickly to clean out the houses for the next flock. First we did “crust removal.” The crust is the hard top layer of the floor in the chicken houses. Then we hooked a windrow machine on the back of a tractor and used it to pile the dry litter and sawdust into rows. The flooring is a mixture of chicken litter and wood shavings that has a consistency like dirt. We windrow a few times between flocks to get the floor soft and fluffy for the next group and to make sure the good bugs in the soil are able to thrive.
These good bugs are what I call “chicken yogurt” when speaking to tour groups. Chickens get probiotics by pecking at the ground, so while
we do a full cleanout down to the dirt twice a year with new sawdust, they usually grow better on more seasoned ground. House 4 is getting a drastic cleanout. Since the flock in that house shared a stomach bug earlier in the month, we want to eradicate whatever they contracted to keep future flocks healthy.
July 31 It has occurred to me that I’ve been neglecting myself as well as my business goals. Today I made dentist, dermatologist, hair and facial appointments. I called my favorite mum farmer to schedule a fall pop-up market on our farm and found vendors for the event. Then I contacted my go-to yoga instructor to set up a pre-Thanksgiving “yoga on the farm” day I’ve been dreaming about for years. Finally, I scheduled a live wreath-making workshop to be co-hosted by a great local florist.
This month was hard and filled with curveballs I couldn’t have predicted. On this last day of July, I vow to myself to make it a month that helps me grow. So, August, let’s do this!
To keep up with Danielle’s day-today life on the farm, follow her on Instagram at @haydanib. Her blog can be found at haydenfarms.org.