I can say from experience that raising a small flock of backyard chickens is not without its perils.
One hen surprised me when she “came out” as a rooster, crowing at dawn for the entire neighborhood to enjoy. Another decided to lay her eggs behind the shed, unbeknownst to yours truly.
My trusty Ameraucana laid beautiful brown eggs like clockwork until the dark day when she suddenly “became broody.” The stubborn bird wouldn’t budge from her nest except to caw bloody murder (she wanted so badly to be a mom. How could we not understand that?).
- PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS
- IT’S A CHICKEN THING: Dare 2 Dream Farms owners Jeremy and Megan Raff supply chickens to folks looking to get into the backyard chicken lifestyle.
Let me also mention: My husband built a beautiful handmade coop for this motley crew of ladies. Of course, they preferred to nest in a nearby tree.
Sigh. What can you do? I just wish I’d heard about Dare 2 Dream Farms sooner. Those four words can bring immense comfort to any chicken newbie (just ask New Times’ own Glen Starkey, who did not have to contend with strange Craigslist ads or unreliable home breeders).
Dare 2 Dream Farms owners Jeremy and Megan Raff raise more than 1,000 chickens on their 40-acre homestead just west of Lompoc. In a few words: They are the professionals. The chicken gurus. The hen honchos, if you will.
“We’ve always been excited about the backyard chicken movement, to do things in a different, sustainable way, and to be closer to the Earth,” Megan said. “‘Dare 2 Dream’ is an inspirational name that we hoped would spur people to go in that direction, too.”
Together, the couple raises day-old baby chicks, juvenile pullets, and every stage in between (hens generally lay at about 6 months of age depending on the breed). Although you’re welcome to make an appointment to visit the farm, you don’t have to.
That’s right. Just like your favorite pizza joint, Dare 2 Dream delivers. Maybe you’ve seen the Raffs’ van making the rounds in San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego, or San Francisco? Thanks to a colorful egg-emblazoned car wrap, you really can’t miss it.
“We have delivery down to a science,” Jeremy said, adding that before purchasing the van, the couple put quite a few miles on their old Toyota 4Runner. Now, farm employees usually take on the task—which really helps, considering Megan gave birth to baby Wyatt just five months ago.
“As it turns out, he hates car rides,” Megan said. I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like lugging chickens, a diaper bag, and an angry infant around the state. Isn’t parenthood hard enough as-is?
Whether you want a calm, cuddly “teddy bear-like” Cochin or prefer the small eggs and distinctive, long-haired look of Asian Silkies, Dare 2 Dream Farms will bring a compatible clucker to your doorstep. And that’s not all, folks! They’ll even throw in a custom-made chicken coop or brooder box, too. Oh, and most important to this writer and her neighbors? Sex is guaranteed! Get a rooster by accident and Dare 2 Dream Farms will replace the noisemaker, free of charge.
- PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS
- HOME AND HEART: Hens and roosters forage and free-range outside their mobile chicken tractor at Dare 2 Dream Farms.
“People are busy, with 9-to-5 jobs, kids, soccer tournaments, and stuff going on over the weekends,” Megan said. “It’s a long drive for people, so if we can take care of it all in one fell swoop, great. It saves gas and time for everybody.”
This is true chicken know-how, signed, sealed, and delivered.
Jeremy, a Columbia College business administration graduate, grew up on the ranch with his grandfather, who taught him about land management. Megan is a city girl who went country, leaving her marketing/accounting job in SLO for the wilds of Lompoc.
It’s not hard to see why.
Driving up to their place, I passed exceedingly pastoral views, including fields of artichokes, acres of dayglow flowers, and a house that literally collects old windmills.
In 1969, Jeremy’s grandfather, Lloyd “Mike” Raff, purchased the ranch, then a diatomaceous earth mine. One of 12 kids growing up in Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma, he gained a reputation for taking on and fixing old farm equipment.
“He had the mentality of hanging on to whatever he could in case he needed it later,” Megan said.
Over the years, the land accumulated 80 tons of stuff.
Jeremy moved to the farm to take care of his grandfather in 2008, followed by his soon-to-be wife, Megan.
“It took about two years to clear the land,” Jeremy said. “During that time, we bought a few chickens for my grandfather to raise. He named them, fed them. That was the start of it all.”
It wasn’t long before the 82-year-old took a shine to the birds. At that time, Jeremy and Megan were mulling over what to grow on the land. As is turns out, the answer was pecking right under their noses.
- PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS
- CROW ON: Roosters soak up the Lompoc sunshine at Dare 2 Dream Farms.
“We had been selling our extra eggs to New Frontiers in Solvang, and people were calling us saying they needed more and more eggs,” Jeremy said. “So, we got more chickens.”
It was a slippery slope, and not just because of all the subsequent chicken poop that followed.
“More chickens” turned into “more eggs,” which turned into “more chickens.” In 2011, the couple began selling the hens to local enthusiasts and urban farmers.
“We had never thought about selling hens, but we looked at each other and said, ‘Why not?’” Megan said. Dare 2 Dream Farms was born, and it was a work in progress. In the early days, chickens roamed the field behind the family farmhouse, eating whatever vegetation they could get their beaks on.
Enter: The chicken tractor, a mobile coop that allowed the hens to go to wherever the land needed their pecking, pooping, and scratching most. By moving the coops around the property, the chickens received fresh pasture. The land, happily fertilized and free of weeds, thrived.
Dare 2 Dream Farms’ 1-acre garden is currently overflowing with rainbow chard, kale, onion, purple cauliflower, squash, leeks, and tons of garlic. During my visit, I had the unique pleasure of basking in the scent of the Raffs’ massive garlic harvest. CSA boxes—with or without farm-fresh eggs—are also available for pickup or delivery.
And just who harvests all this produce?
It wasn’t long before a WWOOF (WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteer walked up to say hello. A handful of these helpers work on the farm in exchange for lodging and on-the-job education.
Oh, and there is work to be done!
About 500 laying hens free-range on the Raff family land, munching on nutritious rye grass, buckwheat, flax, clover, and sunflowers (this makes for rich, hearty eggs). A few turkeys, geese, and roosters hang with the flock. The whole gang is guarded by the Raffs’ trusty dog.
Although the Raffs lose a few birds now and then, life on the farm is generally very good for these gals. Laying hens to be sold and delivered live in a large, covered barn. The clean, insulated space provides loads of room to roam and protects from airborne illnesses and external parasites. The biggest predators of all—coyotes, raccoons, hawks, and the like—lurk just outside.
Jeremy warned against getting too overly attached to your birds.
“They’re not like dogs and cats—expect to lose one every once in a while,” he said. “You can treat a chicken like a pet if you want, but you will run up a lot of vet bills.”
A side note: In my own newbie chicken obliviousness, I did end up in a vet waiting room with my hen, Loretta, who had been chewed on by my chiweenie, Peyton Manning. Long story short, I logged onto backyardchickens.com and decided to deal with it at home. Bactine and rest can do wonders for these durable creatures.
“It can be a great lesson to learn about death, livestock, and farming,” Megan said. “Our customers are awesome for wanting to be more involved with their food source, but with that comes responsibilities, too.”
The reward? Farm fresh eggs with yolks so firm they stand up in the pan. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.
As for the Raffs, they’re in it for the long haul. Rewards come unexpectedly on the farm, where so much depends on the ebb and flow of Mother Nature.
“Sometimes I feel like I am going gray a lot earlier because there is so much stress, but most days, we just feel so blessed to not have to deal with the rush of life in the big city,” Megan said. “We’re lucky that we get to live and work out here.”
HayleyThomas is frying eggs at firstname.lastname@example.org.