Running a hatchery is hard work
Justine Strelczyk stands in boots, jeans, and a ball cap on her property outside of Edna. Chickens and dogs crowd around her feet as she explains how breeding for certain egg colors can take generations, how to keep a healthy rooster to hen ratio, and how peafowl “destroy everything.”
She laughs with the last one, but she’s only half kidding. The large, ornate birds known for the brightly-colored tails of the males can be destructive, and shouldn’t be underestimated.
The name of this outfit is Queen Bee Hatchery, a title that was bestowed upon the family by Strelczyk’s mother Debbie, who used to refer to Justine and her children as The Queen Bees. Debbie passed away in 2018, but the name has lived on, along with her animal-loving spirit.
Strelczyk calls each chicken by name and gives a short bio as she walks around feeding, opening pens, and fixing a finicky deer feeder that has been repurposed to dispense seeds as a treat for the birds.
She calls out for a chicken she can’t find.
“Juliet,” she yells, and a tiny little hen races her way back into the field of view. She knows each bird inside and out and she knows when one is missing, almost instinctively. She introduces Jimmie, a huge lavender orpington rooster. Everything she says is accompanied by a background track of rooster crows.
The care takes hours a day, but she loves it. Even after switching to automatic waterers and feeders for the birds, there is only so much one can do to save time. Caring for that many animals just takes a while.
“Four to six hours,” she says. “Depending on what I’m doing. Once a month I deep clean, and that takes longer.”
She also ferments her own feed to help the animals stay healthy.
“I try to do it once a week, but sometimes its more like once a month. I have old cattle cubes, cracked corn, a scoop of feed, some mealworms, whatever I have. I throw it all in there and fill it with water. It takes about three days, and they love it. When you ferment it, it gets all kinds of good probiotics.”
A hatchery wouldn’t be complete without the hatching, though, would it? Strelczyk is already taking orders for this spring. What started as a personal passion has become a business that hatches out 750 poultry birds in a year.
Queen Bee Hatchery offers chicks, quail, ducks, peafowl, and even livestock guardian dogs. Strelczyk’s daughters also raise steers for 4-H and FFA. They can be found on Facebook at facebook. com/queenbeehatchery or on their web- site queenbeehatchery.com.