WHERE WE GOT THE NAME –
The name "Meadowlark Farms" came about when my husband decided we had far too many animals. He began calling our house "The Farm". He was right you know. We had a dog, 2 rabbits, several mice, a rat, lizards, an assortment of tropical fish and goldfish, a beta, a lot of birds, and a cat. We live on a street called Meadowlark so "The Farm" soon became "Meadowlark Farms"!
Pretty soon he wanted labels for his jams and jellies, canned goods, and breads he gave as gifts during the holidays. What should he put on them he asks me? It was simple -Meadowlark Farms! His labels now bear the name "Meadowlark Farms" as does "The Farm" and all the creatures within it!
Our friends and family think it's funny. We think it fits!
GET 'EM YOUNG, TRAIN 'EM RIGHT –
Our life is extraordinarily busy, as is the life of most people we know with children and pets. There is rarely a spare moment any given day. When we aren't schooling, volunteering, running Meadowlark Farms, teaching classes, gardening or Scouting, we are caring for our pets with love and diligence. Every child knows how to feed, water, clean up after, and give overall care to each of our animals. They have all watched as baby birds emerge from their shell and as the parents assisted the chicks. They are my lab assistants when I perform necropsies and run cultures and gram stains. They have accompanied me to the veterinarian each time one of our critters has a visit. They've watched me hand-mix food for the birds, rat, mouse, rabbits, and chickens and have watched as our dear animal friends pass of old age. They hold funerals for each of those dear friends and plant flowers in their remembrance. They have been taught that animals, no matter how small, are to be treated with kind hands and kind words.
HOW WE ENDED UP WITH BIRDS –
Don't laugh. This is a true story! Back when all the Y2K scare was in high gear and talk of war and biological warfare began to heat the airwaves, my mom and I were having a discussion about how we would know if there was some kind of biological weapon used in our area. Yes, it sounds silly...I agree!
Mom brought up the fact that coal miners used canaries in the mines to alert them to accumulating fumes that could potentially kill the working miners. Birds are very sensitive to fumes of all kinds and will drop dead from the perch if exposed to those toxins. She thought it made sense to keep a canary to alert us. I figured we'd know when we dropped dead, but figured a canary would make a good birthday present!
Some months later, while on a trip collecting supplies for my other pets, I stopped in to my local bird and fish store. There, singing their little hearts out, were two canaries. They were priced inexpensively due to their age making them very affordable for me! I took a leap of faith in a strange, this-is-really-silly-I-don't-know-anything-about-canaries sort of way (because up to that point, I thought canaries only came in yellow - among the obvious other things I didn't know). I purchased the pair.
I came home with Felix, a black and white American Singer cock, and Rusty, a red mosaic Gloster consort cock (no, I had no idea what I had at the time!). Felix came home with me, Rusty went to mom as a birthday gift. I immediately went into full fledged research mode to find out all I could about them, and to be able to properly care for them. The more I read, the more I realized I knew absolutely NOTHING. To begin with, I had no idea there were so many types of canaries. I had no idea they came in so many colors! In fact, I had no idea there were so many bird species kept in captivity! That little “click” in my brain was almost audible...I'm a sucker for feathers and I think I like birds!
I DIDN'T KNOW I WAS A BIRD PERSON -
Even though I'd hated my sister's Zebra finches as a child, I was completely and utterly entranced by Felix. He was a lovely bird. I loved the way he'd flit from perch to cage bars and hissed at me when I got too close to the cage. After a few weeks he was no longer hissing and began to sing to me. You see, single canary cocks will often court their caretakers when there is no hen present. I had read this on the Internet somewhere but was skeptical. Being one to buck authority at every turn, and never believing something until I can prove it, I was surprised to find out it was true! Then it hit me...I was in love with my bird! Oh my goodness, I'm a bird person! I didn't know I was a bird person!
Soon I realized I had to have more...that little click turned into an obsession...can you say uh oh???
Canaries turned into more Canaries. Then Zebra finches. Then Parakeets, an African Grey - rescued from certain death - Society finches, Orange Weavers, Spice finches, Strawberry finches, Cordon Bleus, Owl finches, and finally Lady Gouldians. I bred for color, for type, for song. I had dozens of birds. My entire flock lived in my living room in front of my big windows. It was noisy but wonderful! But they made an awful mess! And during the molt? Whew! It looked like it had snowed in my living room!
I spent so much time cleaning cages and vacuuming that I got calluses on my hands from the over-worked, overheating vacuum cleaner! My obsession had just added to my already large workload at home. I finally decided it was time to move my birds to a space where mess didn't really matter.
THE BIG HOUSE -
So we built them an aviary in the basement. We had no idea how to go about it and spent many long hours on the Internet looking at pictures of other peoples' bird rooms and housing arrangements. I figured out what I wanted to build, wrote a parts list, then took the kids to the local home improvement store to purchase the items we needed. I hijacked some long work lights from my husband's stash in the garage, wired them with long cords and fitted them with full-spectrum bulbs. I merely had to lay them on the roof once it was built then plug them in!
NOTE: I thought I would be moving the entire aviary outside eventually, though I'm glad I didn't (read why below).
However, once it was built I realized it didn't make much sense to use UV protected roofing when I was using full-spectrum bulbs. Live and learn! (Also a good reason to build a plan first! Be sure to think it through!).
The kids had a blast! We worked as a family to build that darned thing. And when it was done, it was a work of art! It was 9 feet long, 7 feet high, and 5 feet deep. We could walk right in and sit among the birds! It was a beautiful sight to see. A few months later, we adopted a cat...
BACK TO THE CAGES –
Katalyn is a beautiful tuxedo short-hair cat that we rescued from a caged existence. She is loving and friendly, very social and, like any other cat, likes to stalk birds. The first time she saw the aviary she looked as if she had just found Nirvana. She sat for hours staring at the many birds flitting around among the natural tree branches and hanging perches. I swear I saw her drool! She watched but never touched! I was impressed!
Then one day a cheeky finch decided to fly down and introduce himself. It was nearly his last introduction! I just happened to be sitting there, staring at the aviary and watching the interaction inside, when the cat jumped. No, let me rephrase that. She didn't just jump...she FLEW! Before I could move, she was hanging from top of the fragile screening...then she was at the bottom, claws tearing through the screen as she came down. *heavy sigh*
It was the first of many holes to appear in the screen. A few of the canary juveniles figured out how to chew their way out, then proceeded to show their siblings how to escape. There was duct tape everywhere in an attempt to conceal the holes for as long as I could. Somewhere along the line I lost control of the population as well! I was losing track of who belonged to whom, their birth dates, the genetic trail...even how many birds I actually had in there!
This was no good. I'm a control freak...my birds were out of control! It was becoming apparent...my lovely aviary wasn't going to work out as well as I'd hoped - and on so many levels (planning, planning!). So I gave in and purchased new, larger cages, and back to the cages the birds went!
THIS IS RIDICULOUS –
It was back to cleaning many cages and accessories. At this point I had about 170 birds of various species. I had to figure out a better way to care for them. After cataloging all of the volunteer; birds, banding them, and guesstimating their birth dates, I was back to a more controlled, reserved, breeding setting. My husband suggested I keep only the Gouldians because they were neat, quiet, and calm. I was spending too much time cleaning and vacuuming and my family was suffering.
So I made the decision to concentrate on a smaller number of birds - hubby was right! As much as I loved the canary song, the feisty zebras, the silly societies, the breeding colors of the weaver males, I needed to downsize. So I sold most of my breeder canaries, all of my zebras, the weavers, the spice finches, most of the societies, and all other species. I started researching better breeding cages. I found some lovely, easy to clean European type cages that I really wanted. Then I looked at the price. YIKES! They were definitely NOT in the budget!
I began to hunt for breeder cages elsewhere, then stopped in to my local bird and fish store again. I lost my mind, and neglected to heed my own best advice, NEVER PURCHASE USED CAGES! The battle of a lifetime ensued with a rip roaring case of Blood Mites (dermanyssus gallinae) that left me exhausted and my flock devastated. Read more about that nightmare HERE.
AND NOW –
My entire flock is as much a giant research project as it is a break from daily life. I don’t just want to know, I NEED to know what makes them tick. My birds are pets first, show birds, breeders, and sale birds last. They are my children as much as my own flesh and blood children are. Their health and well being is my first and only concern. I have learned to listen to my birds and hear what they tell me. I know every single bird in my flock like the back of my own hand, from the tiniest missing eyelash, the color of each and every bird's skin, to their exact weight from egg to old age. I know instantly upon entering my bird room if even a single bird is ill just by the smell (there shouldn't be ANY smell other than warm seed). I keep exceptionally detailed records about every aspect of their lives and record it all for future reference in expansive spreadsheets and databases. I can trace the lineage of many of my birds back for more than a decade.
I do not breed my birds to make money, nor am I in this hobby to make money. But money is what feeds my flock. People always ask me why my birds look so good, yet in the same breath ask why I charge the prices I do. In my humble opinion, you get what you pay for - in my case, lovingly raised, genetically sound, carefully fed birds who very rarely fall prey to stress or illness, and who receive the best nutrition possible. I am constantly improving their diet as I see the need. I have created my own mixes and supplements to meet those needs through careful testing and detailed research.
I still pair my Gouldians to preserve the natural colors and, on rare occasion, produce mutations, but do not “deliberately” produce mutations. To this day I do not understand why someone would want to pay more money for a bird with less color! Why mess with what God made perfect?? In the wild, these mutation birds would never exist, or if they did, would not live long enough to reproduce. Who am I to play God?
After years of breeding Lady Gouldians exclusively and showing them successfully, I have broadened my horizons. Lady Gouldians are still my first love and always will be, but it is time to learn about other species and what makes them tick. I add and subtract from my flock as I find new and engaging species. I intend to add single pairs of new species as space permits so that I may help as many people as possible with their own flocks.
It is my intention to continue learning every single day about my flock's health and maintenance. I hope you find my results and experiences useful!
Thank you for reading! Happy birding!
Kristen Reeves, Meadowlark Farms Avian Supply, Inc.
ABOUT THE FARM
KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.
"I must clarify...it's not really a farm. It's actually a small home in the suburbs of Detroit. Here, along with our four children, we garden, can our own goods, play hard, and happily care for our many critters and each other!"
Kristen Reeves, Meadowlark Farms Avian Supply, Inc.