Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Opportunity vs Principle

First off I'd like to say I have neglected the blog something fierce these last 3 months. Life got busy and I let it fall by the wayside. I have spent much of that "free" time working on the farm's Facebook page, which has been received with such positivity by more people than I would have ever imagined. Today I pledge to get back on track and start writing again, especially since being busy gives me a plethora of things to talk about and we all know how I like to talk.

Yesterday we, as a farm, were presented with a very generous opportunity, but after mulling it over we have decided not to proceed with the venture. I think everyone can relate to this story on some level so I'd like to share it with you today.

As many of you know we are a growing poultry operation. We consider each hen in our flock to be part of our little family, with her own personality and spirit. Demand for our eggs has grown much faster than we anticipated and much faster than our golden girls can keep up with. Our little ladies are almost 12 weeks old so they should start laying in the next month or 2 which will be great when it happens, however we really need laying hens now.

We've been looking at several different options to growing the farm. We really want to do it in a way that is both economical and adheres to our core principles as farmers and people. In a perfect world, with unlimited funds, we would just incubate our own eggs and grow our flock in a way that is 100% controlled by us. The problems with that are; 1. We don't have unlimited funds 2. Baby chicks take 18-20 weeks to mature into layers, that's not going to help us have more eggs in the short term. So we looked into alternate ways to meet demand.

We heard about a local chicken operation that is closing down. Patrick contacted the owner and he invited him down to see his operation. He has his chickens set up to free range during the day and roost and lay their eggs in these super sized chicken tractors. It really is a neat operation. He would even be willing to work with us on the payment arrangement if we purchased one of his flocks of birds (100 hens per flock) along with one of the trailers to house them. The price was right. Monetarily we could swing the transaction. We would have a place for the chickens to safely roost at night from predators and would have the benefit of having 100 established layers added to our flock. They are heritage breed chickens and seemed to fall perfectly in with what we were trying to do at our little homestead farm. It sounded like the perfect opportunity. As Patrick toured the facility and got closer to the chickens he realized they didn't look like our chickens, they were debeaked. This became our conundrum.

I am a firm believer that happy chickens make better eggs. To me "happy" means nutritious, grain and vegetable diets, supplemented with treats, table scraps, oatmeal, oyster shells, bugs, grasses and whatever else they can scratch out of the ground. It means having roosters, to fertilize eggs to make future itty biddies. AND it means they have their beaks.

When we first got the idea to start raising chickens we really did put a lot of thought into the whole operation. We did a lot of research on the different breeds, different coup designs and the different styles of raising backyard chickens. We really wanted our chickens to be more than egg machines. It was important that we take good care of them, and hopefully they would return the favor and lay us beautiful eggs. They have definitely kept up their end of the bargain and we have tried to keep up ours.

Some people believe that you can't have a large chicken flock without debeaking your chickens to prevent them from pecking at one another and possibly injuring each other.  From my own personal experience and from much reading on the subject I have concluded that debeaking is unnecessary if your chickens have adequate space. Do my chickens peck at one another from time to time? Yes, it's called a pecking order for a reason. Have they ever injured each other doing so? No, if they get into a squabble they have room to run and get away from one another.

As Patrick and I mulled over the decision on whether or not we would purchase these birds, I got an overwhelming feeling of Ick. No, we didn't debeak these birds ourselves. Yes we would give them good homes.They would have no way to defend themselves against our ladies that retained their beaks, but they should have enough space to get away from our ladies. We went back and forth about the decision because the numbers say it would be a great opportunity. We would have more eggs, we would expand our flock and we would be able to expand our growing business. But it's not all about the numbers.

In the end the overwhelming feeling of Ick won out. And after making the decision I am at peace with it. No we will not grow our supply as fast as demand would like, but we will stick to our guns and raise our chickens with our original principles intact. We will work hard and stick to what we believe in, and in the end I believe another opportunity will come along. One that will sit right and allow us to be the farmers we want to be.

1 comment:

  1. A very well thought out decision. I agree with the feeling of Ick. I will be in Charleston in June and hope to score some of your wonderful, beautiful eggs from your mouthy flock! :)