our 2022 road trip to collect hatching eggs along the east coast

We are planning a vacation and road trip to collect hatching eggs up the east coast following big life changes

UPDATE: WE RETURNED ON MAY 14th WITH 261-EGGS AND THEY ARE IN THE INCUBATOR!

I WILL WRITE ANOTHER POST SOON WITH STORIES FROM THE ROAD TRIP.

Kevin and I on our last little getaway for a wedding in Gloucester, MA.

This spring, my husband and I will be enjoying the last bit of free time before we are once again devoted to the care of precious livestock. Kevin surprised me last fall with a Caribbean Cruise that ports in Miami. In contrast, we will also be embarking on a hatching egg road trip on our way back to our farm in Maine.

It started with a moose.

The catalyst to this starkly contracted two-part trip began when we returned from a moose hunt back in October. The hunt was mostly unsuccessful, my gun had jammed when the perfect shot at a cow presented itself. The massive moose stood there staring at me while I struggled to put the hammer down, then wandered off to live another day. I had never seen one so close. Worse, other hunters stopped nearby and saw my complete and utter failure.

Mandy Wheaton in the north maine woods with a partridge
This was actually my second partridge. I hadn’t thought to take a photo of the first. By the time Kevin made it around my side of the truck I’d had the bird cleaned out.

I felt like I’d tarnished the image of women-hunters of Maine. But it was ok, I didn’t get too excited when I was aiming, and not too disappointed when I’d missed my chance. I was more embarrassed than anything. Shit happens. That was on a Tuesday and we had until Saturday to find another.

It was a marvelous trip and we relished every second of our time away. I bagged my first partridge, seven total in the three days after the missed opportunity with the moose. So at least I had some small victories. I fried a few with wild mushrooms, and they were delicious.

hunting in maine
I got the hang of it pretty quick, bagging seven in the last few days of the trip, never having missed a shot.

Kevin’s father, recently diagnosed with cancer, and one of his brothers had come up and spent a few days with us. One morning, in the tight quarters of the little yellow vintage camper, I made us all a big breakfast on the last day of hunting. It was perfect. Life was good.

Shit hit the fan…

Upon our arrival home from the week-long hunting trip, we learned our dog nearly died while we were away from neglect. My son left home after I confronted him about it. The very next day we learned our chickens would need to be euthanized following a positive ILT test. The results had come in while we were away, out of contact in the north Maine woods, so we had no idea they had already been forwarded to the State Vet’s office. Our local vet had left us messages, and likely thought we’d been avoiding her.

About an hour after that devastating news, we were contacted by DHS over a false child abuse claim––which was dropped after an invasive mandatory in-home interview and home inspection immediately following their unbelievable phone call. I was a hot mess. I was in complete disbelief that I was targeted by bullshit drama.

Suddenly we were somewhat empty-nesters. Our youngest still came on the weekends, but my eldest son is 18 and our son that moved out to live with my mother is a year younger. Neither of the teens had much interest in hanging out with mom anymore. Just like that, I wasn’t nagging about homework or laundry on the bathroom floor. It was quiet. Too quiet.

I spent some time wallowing in my misery and trying to keep distracted

Mandy Wheaton in maine with chippy
Me and Chippy, doing our thing.

At first, I laid in bed. Stuck in a state of disbelief and depression, ugly-crying. You know the kind I mean. Then I obsessively cleaned the house for a few days. I’m not exactly a model housewife, so that probably concerned Kevin as much as it was nice to have things tidy.

I spent countless hours roaming our property with my son’s dog, which was suddenly my dog—something I would come to accept, then treasure. He’s my sidekick now. My fluffy partner-in-crime.

I listened to bingeable podcasts and music most of the time, to keep from spiraling. From thinking. My earbuds became part of my anatomy. I worked on a trail on out property and experimented with weaving living tree structures. Chickens had been in my life so long. I’d worked on the Buff Polish breed for a decade. Only the day before the crushing news, my first Marans hen from that spring’s hatch laid a lovely dark egg.

  • the breeder barn sits half built at wheaton mountain farm
  • chickens wait outside the door
  • white laced buff polish mandy wheaton maine bucksport midcoast maine wheaton mountain

I lost all the weight I’d gained in Boston when our son was in the hospital for months. He had just thrown those countless hours by his side in my face, and left. Even though I was dead set on keeping as busy as possible, I never worked in the yard where I could see the coops. Where my half-built barn sat, taunting me.

Things started looking up again.

I was delighted to harvest my first doe from our property on opening day. I was due to have surgery on my arm just a few days after and was determined to get it done. That was a bright spot after a long dark period. Kevin booked the cruise shortly after, in November.

My world had changed so rapidly in so many unexpected ways. I was in shock, and Kevin was right, It is good to have something to look forward to. Eventually, I settled into our new normal. The house returned to the usual cluttered state of chaos. A lathe on the kitchen table, bins of mealworms on rolling shelving in the living room, and barn plans strewn all over the coffee table.

Winter came in full force with a nor’easter just after the holidays passed. I’m not one for holidays and was glad to have them over with. We snowshoed out to Scopan Lake to a family camp for a new nights, just Kevin and I. Well, and Chippy. It was good to get out in winter. The walk in was nice, 40°F and sunny. The walk back out across the frozen lake was 13°F with a wicked headwind.

As the cruise drew near we booked a flight. The cost of the flight down to the Miami port, from our farm here in Maine, was very reasonable. The fight back was ridiculous. So we decided to sell our truck, pocket the cash, then buy a used vehicle when the ship returned to port. We’ve been meaning to buy a new one anyhow, and the Florida trucks aren’t half-rusted like up here in Maine.

Wait a minute… Chicken epiphany struck

Then I got to thinking, if we are going to be down there anyway, I could pick up hatching eggs on the way back home. The viability of eggs drops as they are jiggled around over long distances, tossed into mail trucks and run down roller ramps. For these reasons, our farm will not ship eggs to far-flung destinations––despite flattering requests from other countries.

And just like that, I had something to plan. I had something to look forward to, and it involved chicken math. Things were really looking up.

This hatching egg road trip will allow us to properly care for the hatching eggs all the way home.

The next thing I knew, I had a Google Map dotted with over a dozen farms along the way on my computer screen. Oops, sorry-not-sorry Kevin. My poor long-suffering husband was sucked into a roadtrip of a lifetime, while celebrating our anniversary no less. We’ll be driving from farm-to-farm and taking in the sights along the way.

It was SO hard to choose which breeds to look for along the way. Some had very little availability which made the choices easier. I want an absolute minimum of two sources for each breed, especially given that some are so rare, and only recently imported to the US.

At first, I contacted a couple dozen farms along the road trip route. The handful that I initially pre-paid for made up the primary route, most of which I’d purchased from in the past knew they had good birds.

  • Frizzle Mille Fleur Belgian d’Uccle chicken hen makes an excellent broody mama
  • celadon quail lay blue eggs
  • bielefelder dual purpose chicken

Some of the farms dropped off the radar for various reasons. They all had to be tested NPIP flocks with damn good stock. I asked around and found the very best sources, and cut some hours off the 40+ hour trip by dropping all but nine farms.

It was crucial to find multiple sources for each breed for long term diversity. The only breed I hand’t been able to find multiple sources for were the Mille Fleur booted bantams. I had said I’d never get bantams, and for years I’d scoffed at frizzles—but here I am, gushing over them. I’m so excited to work with this breed.

Hopefully, egg collection road trip by car will be far less trauma for the little embryos-in-tow than a trip via USPS.

I have made the road trip to Florida and back a couple times now, but each time a different route, and never with Kevin. He is super fun to travel with. I’m a very fortune woman to have such a laid back, open-minded husband with a strong sense of adventure. We will find some podcast gems to pass the hours on the road between destinations––and most certainly some serious chicken-scheming!

Palm trees and orange groves seemed so strange and foreign to me the first time I saw them in person. I hadn’t seen them until I was an adult with children of my own. I remember being blown away the first time I saw the white sands of Clearwater Beach in Florida.

This handsome Bielefelder rooster lives at Racing Feathers Farm in Brogue, PA

It’s funny, the slow drawl of southern folks left me feeling like I was in a movie the first time I stopped at a Georgia gas station. The Shenandoah valley always left me awestruck with it’s miles of flat land, dotted with cattle, between rows of rolling mountains.

The church steeples in Vermont piercing the blue sky and pastures of spotted dairy cows are fun to drive through. Then the White Mountains in far western Maine call me home, where I have deep roots and vivd childhood memories.

It will certainly be a trip to remember. “What were we thinking?” will inevitably be uttered at some point along the way. This will be so much fun. Hopefully all goes well and in another five years we will plan yet another hatching egg road trip to bring rare and new breeds to our farm in Bucksport, Maine.

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