Farming is a lifestyle, not just a hobby — as shown by Joe and Dawn Quintana of Ridgeline Farms in Lake Point.
Their farm, which began by accident eight years ago with just a few chickens, has now grown into a successful business that not only wins the Quintanas awards, but shares their love of birds and farming with others.
“We got into it completely by accident,” Dawn explained. “We wanted to have some chickens. We went out and got about a dozen chickens … and then one of the hens went broody.”
The hens had chicks, and that’s where it all began. The chicks were posted for sale online and the Quintanas, both 52, suddenly had a rapidly expanding business.
“Next thing you know, we had people asking us if we could hatch more … our door was getting beat down because nobody else in the area had chicks,” Dawn said.
“We started hatching, we researched it … and literally within probably a month to two months, we were hatching hundreds of chicks and selling them,” she said.
Now, eight years later, Ridgeline Farms has grown even more. Boasting more than 10 breeds of chicken, along with show-quality goats, sheep, a horse and a cow, running the farm has become a full-time job. In their last hatching season, the Quintanas hatched and sold over 1,000 chicks.
They sell eggs, chickens for meat and for competition, and goats and goat milk. But the farm isn’t just about business — since 2017, the Quintanas have been showing their best birds in competitions.
Chicken shows are surprisingly competitive. The birds are entered in with others of their breed to be judged on what best fits that breed’s standard of perfection, or SOP. The judging criteria is strict — chickens are judged on everything from feather color and weight to toenail color and the amount of feathers on their feet.
“If it doesn’t meet the standards for the breed, it’s disqualified,” Joe Quintana said.
Birds have even been disqualified for having a single white tip on a feather, he said.
Even the preparation for a show can be rigorous. Birds are washed, blow-dried, and trimmed to get them looking their best.
The process can be exhausting.
“Take your feather pillow, soak it, and now dry it, without the cover to hold the feathers in,” Joe said. “…You can be taking 20 to 30 birds at time, and they all have to be washed and blow-dried.”
In their first competition, the Utah Fancy Poultry Association’s Fall Show in 2017, the Quintanas took Champion Continental with their black copper marans and Champion Asiatic with their light brahmas. Black copper marans are famous for their coppery coloring and dark eggs. The Quintanas are one of the only breeders in Utah with marans. They have been offered as much as $300 for their champion maran, a high price when most good birds sell for about $65.
After such a great start, the Quintanas have continued entering their birds in competitions. At one of their most recent competitions, they won Best in Show once again with their marans, this time from a virtual show against over 100 other marans judged by one of the top Ohio Nationals judges. At a virtual show, judges base their grading on photographs of the chickens rather than seeing them in person.
“That was a really big honor there,” Dawn said. “They’re looking at photographs of hundreds of birds, and we won.”
However, it doesn’t always go perfectly. Although their marans took Champion Continental again, the judges gave their light brahma a non-type — an indication that the bird didn’t quite fit the SOP assigned to its breed.
“You can’t win them all the time,” Dawn said. “The fun thing about showing is that you learn. Just like with our brahmas … we knew what we needed to work on.”
And the chicken world isn’t just competitive; it can be brutal.
“There’s always your snippety groups, your cliques and things,” Dawn said. “ … We try to stay out of the drama, but there is a lot of drama in the chicken world!”
Joe said that part of the reason Ridgeline Farms has succeeded is because they avoid the drama.
“That’s part of why … we get the reputation that we do, is that we don’t really care about the drama,” he said.
The Quintanas pride themselves on being honest and reputable breeders, always willing to help those new to the chicken world.
After eight years of farming in Lake Point, the Quintanas have noticed some changes in the area, and not all of them are positive. Tooele County is losing more and more of its farmland to urban development.
“It’s kind of sad,” Dawn said. “In this area around Tooele, all the farmland is going away. All of a sudden people are expressing interest in this (farming), and … a lot of it is going away. I don’t know how much will really be left for them to do all of this.”
Urban areas are filling in the valley’s farmland, and Dawn and Joe believe that this will make it harder for small farmers to succeed and be self-sufficient. New neighbors from the city don’t always understand what goes into farming, and noise complaints about livestock are common.
“If you move to a farming community, expect farming community atmosphere,” Joe said.
As a member of the American Poultry Association and Utah Fancy Poultry Association, as well as District 5 director for the Marans Club, Dawn believes that the best way to combat the decay of farming in Tooele County is to get more people involved. She recently started the Tooele County Poultry Club with Kevin Coulter, the manager of Coulter House in Stansbury Park. Its first meeting was May 7.
“We need to do something out in this area to bring more awareness, bring the birds and the love of the birds to everybody,” Dawn said.
Besides starting a poultry club, Ridgeline Farms also donates chicken eggs to high school science programs around the valley to hatch for projects. They even include show-quality chickens like marans, Ameraucanas, and svart honas as a surprise for lucky students. These efforts get more youth from the Future Farmers of America programs and 4-H Clubs involved with agriculture. The Quintanas also taught a beginner’s poultry class at the Tooele Health Department.
“That’s what we’ve been focusing on the last three or four years,” Dawn said. “We’re spreading awareness. We’re having fun with the showing, and we’re bringing more people in.”
The Quintanas admit showing chickens and running a farm has upsides and downsides, but it’s the experiences that matter most.
“It can be stressful,” Dawn said. “But, at the end of the day, you sit back and you watch the sun go down over your farm and all of your animals … What’s better than that?”