By Robert Williams
Tonya and Jason Trusty of Frazee are one of the area’s families doing what they can at home to combat the diminishing purchase power of their dollars due to rising inflation and also finding a way to help friends, families and those in need along the way.
Tonya is in her third year raising chickens for both egg laying and butchering and her success is benefiting those around her.
“With the price of food rising and supply shortages, we decided to raise more of our own food and maybe help out a few people that might be in need along the way,” she said.
The Trusty family started raising chickens in 2020 after being delayed by COVID-19.
“I wanted to have chickens prior to that,” said Tonya. “We had planned on it that year and then the pandemic hit. We were looking for a coop a month prior to the craziness.”
The desire to raise birds was conceived by a touch of Tonya’s own eccentricity.
“I just kind of get a crazy, wild hair and my husband has to just go with it,” she laughed.
The subsequent three years have been a learning experience that started with her own research, along with helping friends in the area who were keeping chickens.
“I learned from them just by watching what they did. I was out there butchering with them. They did all the big processing and I was in the area where they packaged it up. I bought a book, looked online. It’s kind of a learn-as-you-go thing.”Tonya Trusty
The family originally bought 24 chickens, but cut the order in half initially.
“I was so excited,” she said. “It took about six months for the first egg. It was a lot of work.”
The birds have also been a source of therapy and a welcome distraction.
“I’ve had a lot of depression and anxiety and having the chickens gave me that little bit of peace,” said Trusty.
Jason is a truck driver and the duo are raising a flock of their own with five kids, including three foster nieces, two sons and a baby on the way.
The pandemic was not an easy run for the family and having the chickens helped.
“It hit and everything shut down,” said Tonya. “I had a six-month-old and life was changing. It was nice to just go outside and have something to look forward to.”
Then egg production took off from the small group of birds.
“All of our bids started laying like crazy; I was getting 11 to 12 per day and 13 a couple times,” she said.
Trusty started giving her extra bounty away to friends and family.
“No payment needed, just take them. That was a good way to give to other people,” she said.
Last year, the couple decided to start butchering Cornish Cross chickens. The more widely-known Cornish game hen is quick growing but does not produce a lot of meat. The Cross is a commercial hybrid renowned for its fast growing and high feed to meat ratios.
It was supposed to be my project
Tonya became pregnant this past winter which caused a shift in family duties. Jason became the primary caregiver to the chickens when home on weekends.
“I go out and water and give them food. It’s a shared duty now, but it wasn’t originally. In the beginning, I looked forward to cleaning out the coop and doing it all myself. It kind of became his thing for a while and now it’s back to me. He says he doesn’t like it, but I think he secretly does or he wouldn’t let me get more birds.”Tonya Trusty
The family recently made a big addition to the flock adding 75 birds—50 Cornish Crosses for butchering and 25 Rhode Island Reds for egg laying to go with nine of the original birds.
Trusty has also tried out the Easter Egger breed, one of the most popular birds for backyard chicken flocks, but has gone back to the Reds after some trial and error with the different breeds intermingling. Bigger birds tend to take out smaller birds.
With a few Easter Eggers still in the flock, the Trusty cartons of eggs have a unique collection of hues from brown to blue, pink and green. That was part of what drew Tonya to the breed.
“I wanted to see what colors I could get,” she said.
None of the birds produced eggs over the harsh Minnesota winter, but as the temperatures have increased so has production.
The birds do well on their own in the coop even in the worst of Minnesota cold and don’t need much external heat due to their high internal body temperatures.
“They regulate themselves,” said Tonya. “As long as they don’t have drafts and the wind isn’t directly blowing on them they do really well on their own and some birds like to be out in the winter. When it started warming up and the snow started falling this week they were out like ‘this is awesome!’”
Tonya has also come to enjoy the butchering process and is looking forward to sharing what will be the biggest production year yet of both meat and eggs. Trusty is sharing more than just food, she wants to pass on the knowledge to her children.
“I went into the store and chicken and eggs are expensive. It’s getting worse and I don’t want to put myself and my family in a position where what happens, what if? I want to learn the skills and I want my kids to know where food comes from and how it’s produced. Be responsible with what you’re doing because there’s a theory that we don’t have a food shortage, we have a distribution problem and I’m finding that to be true. You can go to Central Market, or Family Foods, the smaller places and they always have eggs. They haven’t had a shortage problem, but then your bigger places are out.”Tonya Trusty
Raising her own food has become a big priority and that is easy when the benefits are just a few steps away.
“That’s a big thing—where are we getting our food from? Why is it becoming an issue? Did we really have this big of a problem because of the pandemic or is there something else going on?” she said. “We don’t want to be stuck in a position where we can’t take care of our family.”
Along with chickens, the family also gardens, expanding their ability to produce food in the summer.
“I’m learning a lot about living off the land and what it means to be a little more self-sufficient, so you’re not relying on food sources that might not be there tomorrow,” Tonya said.
Sharing the life cycle of the chickens with her kids has also been an excellent learning experience and another priority.
“It’s really important that they see it,” she said. “My three-year-old is really intrigued by it, almost too intrigued by it and my two-year-old is so enticed by livestock and animals in general, and he has this kind heart. He wants to go out and see the chickens every day and feed them and collect eggs.It’s cool to see them develop into their own and where one goes one way and the other goes another.”
The family has also hosted children who are not accustomed to how eggs are produced and introducing those kids to the food cycle has been rewarding.
“It was cool to see that development and change of mindset from a child who has been raised in a city to living out in the country,” she said. “That was my goal, to introduce it to the kids and have something different out here.”
Trusty knows how that feels having grown up in a big city and making the adjustment to small town, rural living took time.
The new flock and a new human family member on the way will make for a busy summer at the Trusty house. Plans for the future are to raise the new flock and hopefully do some incremental expansion from what they’ve had the past two years.
“I’m hoping to keep at least 30 of these birds for myself and kind of go from there. We’ll give some away and the eggs are free. If I have some I usually post it online for anyone who needs them.”Tonya Trusty
The family does accept the occasional donation from those who insist on giving money.
“It goes right back to the flock anyway,” Tonya said.
The family may begin selling meat and eggs to counter the costs of keeping more birds and things like new stock tanks, heat lamps and other equipment needed to keep larger flocks. For now, the status quo is working out well.
“It’s just what I like to do,” she said. “I like to help. Food is something that should never be an issue in someone’s life. It really shouldn’t. There’s too much that goes to waste.”