Backyard Poultry: Taking a Village


Ames Family Farm’s first article is now live on Backyard Poultry Magazine’s blog! Here is a reprint of the article. To read other amazing articles, see the blog here…




You won’t leave me all alone… will you?

We don’t go anywhere. No, really. When clients ask if I work holidays, the answer is yes. Except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m home, taking care of work, family and the farm.

But when your baby sister gets married all the way up in Idaho, you just don’t miss that.

Ames Family Farm has taken quite a foothold in my neighborhood. I’ve had chickens for more than two years, and a substantial garden for more than five. Each year my little homestead grows, and I grow with it. I didn’t realize how much work I actually did until I sought caretakers for a week’s vacation and received expressions of panic.

We did manage to leave town. We enjoyed a beautiful wedding, and a satisfying visit with family. However, I have much to remember in case I ever get the chance to go out of town again:


Idaho as seen through a dirty car window.

Delegate Carefully

After receiving looks of panic, I started adding, “But the work will be split up!” My friends were much more open to doing a portion of the job.

It also helped to choose the right person for each job.

My next-door neighbor, who works evenings, agreed to let the chickens out in the mornings and fill food and water dishes. Another friend offered to do a mid-day check on her way home from work. My retired friend, who adores her own chickens, ensured that my babies were locked up before the raccoons came out at night. (And she knew from experience exactly when the raccoons came out!) My natural health friend got the task of watering my gardens.

Remember the Details

As I walked each friend through my backyard farm, I advised that Tater, the half-Pyrenees dog, would run from the yard if they gave her the chance. She would bolt straight across the busy street but would stop at the nearest yard that had another dog. When she did just that, my friend knew exactly where to find her.

I also told my friends what to do if one of my animals met an untimely end. Only one of them had dealt with livestock death, so the others were grateful for the instruction. Thankfully, nobody died.

Have a Backup Plan

My most valuable backup plan was Sheryl.

A few days into my vacation, my good friend Linda needed a place to stay while traveling through Reno. “By all means,” I said. “Use my house. Do some laundry. Cuddle the dogs. Turn on some lights. Make the house look occupied.” Linda took good care of my house; such good care that she called me the next morning to inform me that nobody had let the chickens out. All of the animals were out of food and water. Linda cared for the animals before continuing on her journey, but I still worried. I had six days left of my trip, I was way up in Idaho, and my neighbor often doesn’t have a working phone. I sent a text to Sheryl, who immediately offered to check the chickens in the morning and at night. I knew my chickens would be fine until I got back.

And they were.

Reward Well

Even if your caretakers are your best friends, tokens of gratitude are always appreciated.

We paid one friend in cash, knowing he needed that more than gifts. My garden caretaker gleaned produce to feed to her four young children. When the mid-day friend goes out of town for her son’s rodeo in November, we’ll take care of her horses and dogs.

We have already cared for Sheryl’s poultry, and she said she only returned the favor, but we also had a little gift for her.

Before I left Reno, I contacted family in Idaho, looking for elk, venison or huckleberry products. My family donated generously. I brought home venison burger and jerky hunted by my cousin, elk steaks hunted by my dad, wild serviceberries picked just above my childhood home, and raspberry/huckleberry jam picked and canned by a good friend. We found more huckleberry products up in Idaho. Sheryl received a handsome gift basket, and the other friends received gifts as well.


No, you can’t find most of this online.

We have no vacations planned for a long time … I’m still catching up on work. But, if we do have to leave town again, I know I’ll have a team willing to help me again.

About marissaames

I am a novelist and freelance writer with multiple works in progress. When I'm not writing, I come home from a daytime job to care for a husband, two teenage children, and an entire urban farm just a mile south of downtown Reno, Nevada.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Backyard Poultry: Taking a Village

  1. Sally Chandler says:

    The hen you have at the top of this page looks just like one I have. Do you know what breed she is? Thank you.

    • marissaames says:

      Hi, Sally! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Kung Pao is an exchequer leghorn. I got her as a chick from Ideal Hatchery. Does your hen lay white eggs? I don’t know of many other mottled black/white hens, other than houdans.

      • Sally Chandler says:

        Spot isn’t old enough to lay eggs yet but she will soon. She had a black spot on the back of her head as a chick, hence the name. I’ve been told she will lay while eggs. She’s the smallest of my four pullets and has a “I’m the boss” attitude. Funny little chicken.

      • marissaames says:

        That sounds like an exchequer leghorn to me! Kung Pao is dainty, but she’s definitely not lowest in the pecking order! She’ll show a much bigger hen who’s boss. However, she is my sweetest and friendliest chicken. I didn’t expect that from a chicken that’s supposed to be skittish. I can call her and wiggle my finger, then pick her up and cuddle her. Right now she has a respiratory infection, so she’s isolated in a cage in my bedroom.

      • Sally Chandler says:

        Definitely sounds like the same breed. I hope yours gets better soon.

        I’ve seen Spot chase away wild Doves. lol Her attitude is “Hey! this is MY yard!”

  2. Sally Chandler says:

    Does your peer in the windows?
    Here’s the story: I found a gas can by my car one day that wasn’t mine. I had absolutely not clue as to where it came from so I gave it to a neighbor. (I didn’t want whoever left it there to come back and drain my gas tank) A few days later I noticed the light on that side of the house was on. It’s one of those outside lights that comes on from movement. Bingo! The person w/ the gas can ran away because the light came on. Guard chickens! My girls peer through the window every night (especially Spot).

    • marissaames says:

      She doesn’t peer in windows, but she is extremely curious and intelligent. I love the variations of the breeds in that way. A production leghorn can have a lot of intelligence bred out of it, but the more heritage breeds still have some brains!

  3. Sally Chandler says:

    My local Ace Hardware starting carrying chicks last spring. They’ve gotten so many requests for different breeds that you never know what is going to be in there when you stop by. I prefer heritage breeds too. If you’re going to go through the trouble of having chickens why not have a variety? (:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s