KODIAK, Alaska — Frozen eggs, expensive feed and slick ice. These are the problems facing Chris Ford as she expands her Bell's Flats poultry operation from a hobby to a full-fledged business.
Then there are the bears, hawks and foxes.
"We haven't had the problems some of my neighbors have had with hawks," she said on a chilly Tuesday afternoon during a tour of her poultry yard. "We've put up electric fencing all along (the perimeter), and that seems to keep (animals) out."
Ford's business, named Bell's Flats Poultry, is a new venture for the avid hunter who works as a nurse and at Kodiak College. Ford said she started keeping chickens three years ago as a hobby, but only incorporated her business in October, when she realized that she has become one of the go-to sources on Kodiak Island for fresh eggs and newly hatched chicks.
"I could see potential with people coming to me with requests for chicks or eggs or adult birds — that, and I enjoy doing it," she said.
In winter, her flock shrinks with demand, but even in the shortest days of the year, she still has more than three dozen chickens, ducks and geese.
"It varies," she said of her flock's size. "It depends on how many chicks I have."
Growing the flock hasn't always been easy.
"I remember the first challenging thing was the frozen water in the wintertime; I was carrying water buckets out twice a day," she said.
Then came the frozen eggs.
"I get cracked eggs because when (the hens) start laying about three or four o'clock, then get off the nest, the eggs freeze," she said. "Some of the doors on my coops may end up freezing, too. I have to take hot water out to thaw the doors."
She's also had to find a solution for the high price of specialty feed that has to be shipped from off-island.
"There's different places in town I can get scrap produce from and spent grain to feed to my birds," she explained. "They really like the fresh fruits and vegetables I give them, but I can't afford to buy them, so I go out and get scraps from different places in town."
To provide calcium supplements, she grinds crab shells from Kodiak's seafood industry. To stretch out feed, she uses octopus and other bycatch from the island's fisheries.
Gathering and preparing the feed takes a lot of work, but it's a worthwhile effort, she said.
"I wasn't happy with what I was seeing in stores . because they weren't as fresh or there were hormones that had gotten into their food," Ford said. "I can control what my animals eat, so I know what's going into my food."
USDA regulations limit what she can provide without buying expensive processing equipment, so for now Bell's Flats Poultry is limited to providing live birds, chicks and eggs, she said.
While slaughtering poultry may not be attractive in much of the United States, it's less of a problem in Kodiak, where so much of the population fishes and hunts, she Ford said.
"Some people, they just can't handle butchering a bird; they can be too squeamish," she said. "I grew up hunting and fishing, so it's not really hard for me."
Even with federal regulations blocking one avenue of expansion, Ford said she still looks at other ways to grow.
"This year, I'm going to hatch out more eggs with my incubator, and I have had requests for Guinea (hens)," she said. "I'm not sure how they'll do, because this is a colder climate and they're originally from Africa, but I'll see."
Information from: Kodiak Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com