Happy Homestead

Renaissance family reaps rewards from fur & feather companions

 By KD Reep

Heather collins with husband brant, daughter maggie, and son james. | Photo by sara blancett reeves

Heather collins with husband brant, daughter maggie, and son james. | Photo by sara blancett reeves

Have you ever met someone who is a walking, talking treasure? Heather Collins is that person. Smart, talented and gracious, Heather and her family have their own mini-farm in Landmark.

“We moved out to our two acres in Landmark from a west Little Rock suburb almost three years ago,” Heather says. “We wanted chickens, goats, rabbits and bees for years, but it always seemed undoable. We maxed out the space in our suburban backyard with a garden, but moving to our homestead has afforded us an opportunity to have a garden and animals, and all of us pitch in.”

The Collins’ interest in gardening and animals bloomed from volunteering with the Dunbar Community Garden in Little Rock. Their 11-year-old, Maggie, joined the monthly garden club there when she was a second grader at Gibbs Magnet Elementary School. In addition to the garden, Dunbar Community Garden has chickens, goats, rabbits, turkeys, bees and other animals so those who participate can learn about how gardening, animals and recycling work together.

“It’s an educational garden, and it gave us a lot of the knowledge and confidence to proceed with starting our own little family farm,” Heather says. “Dunbar is where we got our Nigerian Pigmy goat, Marshmallow.”

Marshmallow does not lack for company. Rounding out the Collins’ menagerie are four dogs—Jolene, Rocket, Lola and Louis—a frog named Five, a fish named Luke, and six Rhode Island Red "hybrid" chickens referred to as Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, Pooty and Brock. “We’ll get a couple of rabbits and, hopefully, bees this spring,” Heather says. “We also ‘share’ our neighbor’s horse, Sable.”

Heather and Brant also have their own company, Tonic Media, in which they create media events, marketing materials and promotional campaigns for clients. Heather is a photographer, videographer, designer, blogger and social media strategist, and Brant is a designer and videographer, as well as a strategist for new and social media. When they aren’t at work or in the garden, Heather runs, sews and prepares the produce from the garden into jams and pickles, and Brant studies Aikido and builds and rebuilds motorcycles.

“All of us have a ton of interests,” Heather says. “Our family is a blended one consisting of Kelcee, who is 22, married and mom of our first grandbaby. Jade is 19 and attends Arkansas State University. Brant David is 16, attends Russellville High School, and plays basketball and baseball. Maggie is a garden and science nerd, loves to sew and sing, and plays basketball and volleyball. James, who is 5, also attends Gibbs with Maggie. He loves to read and play basketball, and he’s the best helper.”

With so many responsibilities vying for their time, Heather acknowledges having so many pets is a true commitment, but what they provide in return is so much more.

“On a base level, we get three to six eggs a day from our chickens,” Heather says. “We use the chick and goat waste to fertilize the garden, berry shrubs and fruit trees, and we plan to get milk from our goat after breeding her in the future. We absolutely adore our pets and farm family. Each creature has very definitive personality characteristics, and the fact that I recognize these little details tells you that we see them more as pets instead of livestock.”

Family and child wellness experts say that having a pet teaches children empathy, responsibility, trust and nonverbal communication. Heather agrees, particularly with her youngest. “James has a big, ‘jazz hands’ personality,” she says. “Caring for the animals and working in the garden has brought out such a kind, thoughtful and helpful side of him. Those qualities have always been there, but they have become more consistent and evolved since we moved out to our little homestead.”

Caring for their brood is a significant commitment of time, effort and heart, Heather says. As she puts it, “You worry that the runt chicken with the small comb doesn't get as much food as she should because her sisters block her away from the feeder. You set a little aside away from the other girls and shield her so she gets the food that she needs.”

The hardest part, however, is when one of the animals gets sick or dies.

“When one of them gets sick, you'll drop everything and do anything to protect and heal them,” Heather says. “Absolutely nothing is harder than when one of them dies, especially when you have younger children who love those animals. But that opens up discussions about learning how to nourish memories and relationships, and we talk about how we benefit from loving and caring for our pets—and each other—no matter what. Having farm animals requires consistent upkeep, effort and empathy but the benefits, in particular the emotional ones, are worth it all, especially when you have young children.”