It All Began with the Chickens
15 Jan, 2012
Orren Fox is an expert beekeeper, chicken farmer, and often-quoted sustainable-food advocate. He has been interviewed by the Huffington Post and NPR, among many others, and he’s on the advisory board for ChopChop magazine. His blog, through which he is mainly sharing what he learns in his care of his chickens and bees, is read by thousands, and he is heavily followed on Twitter and Facebook as well. Oh, and we should probably mention this: he’s only fourteen years old.
For Orren, it all began with the chickens—and he’s not even certain exactly why. “When I was about nine, I must have been reading something or heard something on the radio concerning chickens that kind of caught my attention,” Orren told Organic Connections. “I’m not quite sure what it was, but one day I just had this large interest in them. I looked around online to see what I could find, then went and got a bunch of books about them and read all I could. There was something to do with chickens that was really intriguing.”
Through visits to a nearby farm, his interest really took hold. “One of our neighbors recommended to us this one little farm, about two miles away from our house,” Orren continued. “When I was younger I would go over there every Saturday and take care of her birds, feed them, give them water, do the basics, collect the eggs. There was just something about it that I completely loved and admired, so I kept feeding her birds, getting more used to them. Then one day the neighbor asked me if I wanted to get a few of my own birds. So we went down to the local feed store and got a dozen sweet little hens, and that’s kind of where it began.”
Orren’s interest was further boosted by a report he did in the fifth grade. “Each year at my old school the fifth graders would all do a research project,” Orren said. “It was a very big deal. For my topic, I chose chickens and gave short presentations; a couple of the days I would bring in one of my birds so people could have a bird to hold and touch and feel. The report was a way for me to really find out a lot about birds and to get to know more about them.”
It was while he was researching this report that Orren learned how chickens are treated in industrial farming. “One of the chapters in my research project had to do with factory farming,” Orren recalled. “I found out the unfortunate truth about the way many commercial farmers raise their birds, and some of the conditions the birds are in certainly don’t appeal to me. It was a bummer to learn this, but it’s something that I’m glad to know so I have another perspective on birds and chickens in general.”
This information furthered Orren’s resolve to treat chickens humanely. “I wanted to provide an environment that my birds were happy in, in which they would have lots to do and lots to eat,” he said, “not at all like the factory farming people. I wasn’t into having birds that weren’t happy and were just laying eggs because they had to, not having enough room to settle down and just in bad conditions in general. I wanted to provide them with a great place to live, and I think I’ve held that up pretty well, if I can say so myself.”
Today, for a hobby farmer, Orren has quite a number of chickens: he has 29 that he purposely acquired, and recently 16 chicks have hatched. Nobody will be eating those chickens, however. Except for naturally occurring egg production—which has provided a small extra source of income—the chickens are primarily pets.
A few years after he started with the chickens, Orren also became intensely interested in bees. “I had a friend who occasionally brought honey into school, and he got me hooked on the whole idea of bees,” Orren related. “Then our local county fair, during the winter, offered a course that taught the basics of caring for bees. My mom and I went every Tuesday night for a few months, learning how to take care of bees and how to make sure they’re healthy. That really got me going and has provided the foundation of my caring for my nice little bees.”
In a similar way to the chickens, Orren loves the sheer life of the bees. “Bees are much more self-sustaining, so I visit them less often,” he said. “But I love going to the bees. I’ll open up the hive because I might need to change something—maybe a piece of hive broke, or there’s something that I need to clean out, or some maintenance that needs to be done. As soon as I open it up, it’s kind of a good feeling to have all the bees (don’t take this the wrong way) get really angry and come out, because you know that the hive is thriving and healthy. You open up a hive and you observe this flourishing community and lots of happy, healthy bees. It’s fun to see what you’re doing to their hive, and it’s really cool to see how a queen is grown, how a hive can change over the seasons and produce honey. Every little aspect about it is intriguing.”
Through the blog Orren has created, Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs, thousands of visitors share in his experiences and can learn much concerning the care of chickens and bees, as well as a bit about where their food is coming from. “When I first got my birds when I was younger, I started to keep a little journal and people were curious as to what I was writing in it,” Orren said. “I thought, ‘How can I share all my ideas and thoughts about my birds?’ So I started a blog, and a lot of people began following. Now I have many, many people who consistently go on it. It’s just a way for me to convey information about my bees and chickens. It’s also a way to get people to know about chickens and bees, because in general people don’t really understand where their food comes from. It’s good to know what you’re eating. People aren’t eating my birds, but they are eating the honey that comes from the bees and the eggs that come from my chickens. It’s a nice way to get people on board with local food and what they’re eating.”
The blog also brought Orren considerable attention, and resulted in many media interviews and requests to appear at numerous events.
Orren isn’t planning on a career in farming. But the fun he’s having—and the good he is doing for the future of agriculture—surely isn’t lost on him. “I’m not really aspiring to become a farmer,” he concluded. “But the bees and chickens are a great hobby; they’re a ton of fun. I’ve seen many other kids get intrigued because I’ve had all these animals, and getting children involved is really a big part of what I’m hoping to do through my blog because the kids are the next generation. If they’re more aware of what they’re eating and where their food comes from, it all sets up for a better future.”
Visit Orren’s blog at www.happychickenslayhealthyeggs.blogspot.com.