The Day After

I must process chickens.
Chicken processing is the mind killer.
Chicken processing is the little chore that lasts all day.
I will face chicken processing.
I will stand here and do this all night if I have to.
And when it is gone I will close my eyes and go to sleep.
When the chicken is gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.  (Sorry Mr. Herbert)

The chickens will be gone and I will remain.  My faith will remain.  My marriage will remain.  My children will remain.  The dirty dishes in the sink will remain.  I have to do something about the dishes.

We spent Saturday morning processing chickens.  We spent Saturday afternoon processing chickens.  We spent Saturday evening processing chickens.  We spent Sunday afternoon processing chickens.  We spent Sunday evening/night packaging up chickens.  That took entirely too long.  Along the way the goats got out of their fence and the cows escaped and ran up and down the road in spite of our pleadings…you know…the normal things that happen when you’re too busy to watch your livestock closely.  Cows and goats have needs.  They don’t have words.  You have to watch them…especially when your heifer is in season.  We were so busy working we forgot to watch.


That takes us to Monday.  Monday.  Glorious Monday.  The laundry room is filled to the gills with some pretty gross laundry.  No dishes were washed over the entire weekend.  In fact, the whole house looks like we have four children under 12 running amok.  Well, we do have four children under 12…and they did run amok.  At least a little.

We do everything we can with our kids.  I want my kids with me.  They are an asset, not a liability.  We don’t force them to do much (even to learn) but we encourage them to at least be outside while we are working.  When I put up hay, they pick raspberries and mulberries nearby.  When we walk 1/4 mile out to the chickens to feed, they walk 1/4 of a mile to feed (or they bicycle).  When we process chicken, they are right there with us…even if around the corner in the sand box.  If nothing else my kids know more about vertebrate anatomy than you do.

We were tired Monday.  The kids were tired Monday.  The house was a mess.  Every muscle in my body was (still is) sore but the work has to be done anyway.  “Honey, wake up.  It’s time to make the chickens happy.”

It takes just minutes to make the laying hens happy.  Dump some corn and oats out in trays, refill their feeder, check the water and open the door.  Then we make the goats happy with a few flakes of hay and a bit of water.  When the cows got out we corraled them in pens next to the horses at the other place (my grandpa called it the home place because he was born there.  I was born there.  Why don’t I call it the home place?  (How many parenthetical phrases can you put in a paragraph?  (You don’t have to answer that.))).  Anyway, the cows had to come home.  It took 45 minutes to walk the cows home along the road.  It makes the cows happy if you let them grab a few bites to eat along the way.  Then we made the compost pile happy by tossing in a few hundred pounds of chicken offal and loads and loads of sawdust, wood chips, mulch and straw.

In total, it normally takes about an hour to make the animals happy.  How do I make my wife happy?  How long does that take?  15 years and still working on that.  It takes hours to hand wash seemingly every stinking dish in the house.  I have to be at work at 8.  Nothing to do but roll up the sleeves.  Oh, and I better get some laundry started while the wife works on breakfast.

How do I make the children happy?  At breakfast, while the kids are dirtying some more dishes, I pay the kids for the help they gave over the weekend.  I pay them generously.  I want them to know there is reward for hard work…and they all worked hard.  Again, I didn’t force them to do it.  They didn’t do it for the money.  They don’t even know we live in a world of scarcity and working is the means to fight scarcity.  They did it because they wanted to.  Sound strange?  Why do you think I do it?  (Hint: I’m a grown-up.  I don’t do many things I don’t want to do.)

Also at breakfast I gave them their choice of one item out of the prize box.  The kids earn points (monopoly money) throughout the week for doing their assigned tasks.  Tasks rotate.  Training them to function as a part a working household is a big part of home-schooling…and is a skill public schools seem to overlook.  It takes time to teach a 6-year old to fold towels.  Many towels have to be secretly folded again but it lays a foundation of necessary life skill early on so we can do more focused learning later.

Everybody was tired.  There was still work to do.  Throughout the day we tried to encourage the kids to sit and read, to play, to nap or just to relax.  Though we can’t be lazy this time of year we have to have downtime.

After work Monday we tried to relax with the kids some more.  We played some video games and let the kids pick a movie.  They wanted a Star Wars marathon.  Sounds good to me.  We grilled chicken leg quarters and wings, baked potatoes, made some green beans and added hot sauce…all washed down with lemonaide.  The only complaint came from the youngest who didn’t want to eat her potatoes.  I was so tired I fell asleep watching the imperial troops enter the base on Hoth.  But I was sleeping while snuggling my little girl…and our dog.  Important stuff.

After the kids went to bed we closed up the chicken coop, fed the goats again, gathered eggs, moved the cows one last time, closed up the greenhouse, fed the rabbits…another 30 minutes worth of work.

We were tired.  We are tired.  There is work that just has to be done.  Dishes have to be washed.  The fridge has to be cleaned out.  Laundry has to be washed, hung on the line, folded and put away.  Pets and livestock have to be cared for.  We just have to do that stuff.  But the work is not the goal.  The work is not an end.  I need to make time to be real with God.  I need to invest in friendship with my wife.  I have to make time to relax and play with the kids.  Our work is not burdensome, it’s part of life.  Our kids are not a problem they are a solution.  They are not the target, they are the arrow.  We have to teach them to enjoy work, but not to be workaholics.  To respect and revere creation but not worship creation.  To honor God, to make family come first and to make the chickens happy.  That is the stewardship that counts.  This requires balance.  Yes, work has to be done but life has to be lived.

If my children run away from the land when they are grown, my operation is not sustainable.  We seek to inspire, not require, them to continue our work.  We have to demonstrate to them the value of work, the necessity of work and the importance of just relaxing with the family.  I have to show them that I still love mommy even when we are tired and make mistakes.  I have to show them that people have value outside of their capacity for work…that we value live and individuality in addition to honesty and liberty.  I am working to develop my children’t core values.  I am working to build a foundation of business that my children can expand.  I have to make sure they have a clear understanding of what is most important before I hand them the reins.  Their mommy is the most important person in my life.  Everything else can go, but mommy and I are a team.  The chicken processing is gone and our marriage remains.

That was hard.  It will get better.

By the way, my dad is awesome.  He wasn’t there the whole time but he was there when I needed him.  He’s always there when I need him.  Dad has a way of stopping by at just the right time, seeing what needs to be done and bringing new life to the work and entertaining the kids along the way or just to help catch the cows.  Thanks dad.

Featherman Product Review

I initially published this review in April of 2012.  By the end of June 2012 I had a more informed opinion of my gear.  Much of what I said below is still helpful but the updated review should be considered.

My thoughts on my Featherman equipment shifted several times today.  We were so successful working slowly on Thursday night I really wanted to turn up the juice.  I was anxious to test David’s claim that this could handle 200 birds/hour.

It can’t.  I did get to 80 birds and I believe that’s pretty sustainable.  The scalder is the limiting factor.

Here are some notes on each item then I’ll go into the process that I found works best.

Kill cones:
Kill 4 at a time.  This equipment is best-suited for batches of four 4-pound birds.  My only real complaint about the kill cones is the difficulty cleaning the base when finished.  We scooped out 10 gallons of congealed blood with a cottage-cheese container before washing it.  The base is heavy and difficult to pour into another container.  This is a small complaint.

The  scalder nearly convinced me to write a strongly-worded letter to Featherman.  I do not believe it is capable of more than 60 birds/hour on a 45 degree day (this morning), though 80 birds is manageable if the weather cooperates.  It just doesn’t generate enough heat.  60 birds/hour sounds like a lot unless you’re processing 300 at a time and have other things to do with 5 hours of your day.  I bought this equipment under the impression that it could manage 200 birds/hour, 150 anyway.  I do not believe the scalder can go beyond 80/hour.  Be sure to keep it filled with water.

Another strongly-worded letter opportunity.  Thursday we were plucking four birds at a time each dressing out at 5 or 6 pounds.  That’s more weight than this little rotisserie motor can swing.  Birds that will dress out at around 4 pounds are perfect.  You have to keep the load balanced and the scalder full (more on that later) for this to work but it can work for you.  Also, we found the birds inch along head-first as they turn in the dunker and their heads will stop the rotation.  We also found that putting the heads toward the center wasn’t a solution because the feet would drag the rotation down.  The solution appears to be pulling the heads off of the birds before you put them in the dunker.  This way they will work across the cylinder and drag their necks against the sidewall without their big head being in the way of the rotation.  2 headless birds, facing the same direction, appears to be the way to go.  I also found it was best to flip the birds over halfway through their scald.  The roto-dunker doesn’t totally submerge all birds so you can end up with a feathery patch that will need to be hand-plucked.  Finally, there are a number of sharp edges on the roto-dunker and my fingers are pretty shredded. Gloves maybe?

Gamebird Plucker:
The plucker is terrible at plucking a single bird.  My whizbang did a far better job.  However, if you put in three or four birds at a time it does a great job.

My wife gives these 5 stars.  She says, “You just line them up and cut, cut, cut then gut, gut, gut.  It’s much faster than laying them on the table and better on my back.”  I agree.  They are easy to load and handy to use.  Highly recommended.

Chill Tank:
This little beauty doesn’t hold 200 5# birds.  It just doesn’t.  It is nice though.  Very nice.

There is a pattern I found in the afternoon that kept the scald water hot, kept my wife busy eviscerating and cut through the birds at a reasonable pace.  First, the scalder has to be full.  Full.  The roto-dunker doesn’t work if the bird isn’t totally wet.

I’ll start at the end.  Take the birds, one at a time, out of the roto-dunker and place them in the plucker.  Turn the water on, start the plucker and step away.  Grab the hose and refill the scalder to about half an inch from the overflow.  This little bit of water makes a big, big difference.  Keeping the scalder full makes or breaks the plucker.

I’m assuming you have a helper monitoring the plucker.  If not, put the hose down and go empty the plucker.  This gives time for the scald water to warm up again.  Now, go kill 4 birds.  While they finish up, grab the 4 birds that were already dead in the cones one at a time.  As you grab them, remove their heads.  You’ll need two full rotations to load four birds in the roto-dunker.  Both birds go in facing the same direction.

Once the scald is complete (8 rotations or so), unload them one at a time into the plucker.  Just like loading, you’ll need two full rotations to unload the roto-dunker.

You may feel like you’re standing around quite a bit in this process but believe me, it’s the right pace for this equipment.  I may find ways to go faster.  I may develop more comfort with the gear but at this speed the burner never shuts off.

David won’t be getting a strongly-worded letter from me.  I had to adjust my expectations.  Initially I was disappointed.  My scald was pretty awful.  But once I settled into the pattern above I found we could manage quite well.  I don’t think 60-80 birds/hour is a bad pace for 3 people.  And, for the price I could run two roto-dunkers and still save money over the Ashley or Poultryman scalder.  If one broke I would still be in business.

We have 50 birds left to process.  I have little doubt that we can finish them up in an hour plus cleanup time.

Also, everything fits in the scalder when cleaning.  That’s pretty handy.

These are my thoughts after one solid day with my new equipment.  My thoughts may change as I settle in more with the gear.  I’ll keep this post up to date.

Getting Started with Broilers

If I were just starting, if I knew absolutely nothing, and if I lived in town and wanted to raise broilers, how would I get started?

Let’s make sure you know what you’re getting into.  You’re going to raise a broiler.  These are typically a hybrid chicken selected and bred to gain muscle mass in the minimum amount of time.  The cornish cross hybrid will eat nearly 18 pounds of feed over the course of it’s life.  That’s nearly $6 worth of feed per bird if you buy at the major farm supply stores.  Each chick will cost you at least a dollar, purchased mail-order from a reputable hatchery.  Because these are high-octane birds and you are inexperienced, there’s a fair chance several chicks will die.  In spite of my experience, there’s still a chance my chicks will die.  The animal and the feed will cost you more than a similar-looking finished product costs in the store.  No, your chicken will not compare to that $7 factory bird but there really is no comparison on quality.  With me so far?

Good.  Let’s start at the end.  These are birds for eating…as in they will die..and you will eat them.  These aren’t pets, they are radishes.  You harvest and eat them.  Don’t think you can do the work personally?  No problem.  You can drive (possibly for hours) to a processing plant.  Go into this with the right attitude.  These are food.  You are growing them for food.  If you’re still with me you need to see the work being done right so you can make sure you handle your birds in a humane and safe manner or you can make sure your processor does the same.  Several of these videos that were filmed by David Schafer of Featherman Equipment feature Joel Salatin.  Those two men have done more than anyone else to pioneer efficient, humane small-scale poultry production.  I’ll post links because they aren’t for the squeamish.  We got the most out of the Polyface Processing Overview video.  The Other Featherman Videos are the very best we have found online for every stage of poultry processing at various levels of scale.  If you want to see true, large-scale processing there are videos you can watch but I don’t have any I can recommend.  I can’t imagine standing in one place all day making the same cut over and over and over.  I can’t imagine wanting to watch a video of a worker standing in one place all day making the same cut over and over.  That’s tipping toward a rant so I’ll just stop there.

You also might try to find a local pastured poultry producer who processes his own birds for a more personal demonstration.  You’re welcome to stop by our farm anytime.

Now, assuming you’re still in for the long haul, how many are you going to raise?  Let’s say you’re just going to put your toe in the water and raise 25 birds in your suburban backyard for your own consumption.  Yes, it’s probably illegal but that’s the hypothetical situation.  You can deal with issues of morality vs. legality vs. nobody will care, they are only on pasture for 5 weeks and the healthy meat is worth the fine besides your lawn will look great.  Begin by reading this book.  You can read while you are waiting for the post office to deliver your chicks.

Image from Polyface Farm website. Click image for detail.

So, 25 birds.  Those 25 baby chicks will need a brooder.  Almost any brooder will do.  Use plenty of wood chips or course sawdust from a sawmill to build up deep bedding underneath.  Make sure there are no right angle corners where the birds could pile up and crush each other.  Watch the birds under the lamp to see if they are huddling, panting or whatever.  There are a million resources online for brooding chicks so I’m wasting your time here.  Don’t forget to add creek sand.

While your brooder is keeping the birds warm you need to build a chicken tractor.  I’m going to suggest you build an inexpensive hoop structure as in this link.  It’s going to cost you $200 and a couple of hours to put together but you can cover it with plastic and use it as a greenhouse to extend your garden season spring and fall.  That will help you recoup some portion of your infrastructure costs.

At 3 weeks (at the latest) you’ll move the birds to their new home on pasture.  Get ready for growth.  The chickens will flourish on grass and clover.  Every day that structure needs to move to fresh grass.  If the structure is 8×12 (as mine are) and you have it stocked with a mere 25 birds you can get away with moving it every other day, though every day is better for the birds.  That means you need at most 35 8×12 spaces for that tractor…about 1/8th of an acre…half of a suburban yard.

Still on board?  Good.

99% of Christopher Columbus’ trip was just going there. Once the chickens are in the tractor it’s just a daily grind of move, feed, water, feed, water, feed, water and move again.  They don’t need much from you, just fresh pasture, feed, clean water and security.  Security.  Everything likes to eat chicken.  There are a lot of raccoons in suburban areas.  Good luck.

Early one morning in the 8th week after the chickens hatched you’re either going to sharpen your knives and get to work in some way displayed in the videos above or a variation thereof or you’re going to truck the birds off to slaughter elsewhere.  The end result is the same: nearly $350 worth of meat.

Let’s review.  You paid $25 for chicks.  You paid $150 for chicken feed.  You may have paid $2 per bird to have them processed or you bought some good knives, heated water on your stove, hand plucked, eviscerated, chilled and bagged the chickens yourself…maybe totalling $50 anyway.    That money is spent and gone.  You paid $200 to build a chicken tractor and another $20 for the brooder and supplies for it.  Thest two could be sold to recoup costs.  At this scale, you’re paying an absolute premium for your chicken.

Obviously, I think it’s worth it.  Beyond the meat you have also gotten a broad education that covers how to raise poultry from start to finish, ecological and environmental stewardship and a new depth of understanding of what real food costs.  You also either learned that this is something you could do or you learned that it’s better for you, personally, to outsource your chicken raising to a gifted farmer nearby (like me).

I hope you find out it’s for you.  I can’t raise anywhere near enough chicken to meet customer demand.  Not only do I need help and assistance with bulk purchasing, I need competitors.  I need someone to push my efforts toward ethical efficiency.  You, as a consumer, need pastured producers with open door policies to become more numerous and more efficient so prices can fall.  We can only achieve this goal with more consumers.  I can’t handle more consumers alone.  I need additional growers…who will become competitors.  With luck I’ll be pushed out of the poultry business and can focus more on dairy, hogs, forestry, gardening or whatever is next.  I’m ready.  I need you to get started.  Now.

Featherman Initial Thoughts

I’m not ready to give a final review of my new Featherman equipment so I’ll try to make this fast.  We ran 35 birds through tonight in about 45 minutes because we didn’t want our big processing day on Saturday to have any surprises.  We weren’t running at full speed because we had so many changes to adjust to.  I think we’ll be significantly faster as we make some adjustments.

Here are my initial thoughts:
-The kill cones and stand are awesome.  The best thing ever.  Ever.  It could be improved if the sides of the base were higher to catch more of the blood but that’s not a deal breaker.  Next time I’ll put a layer of sawdust around the base and cleanup will be a snap.
-The scalder is pretty darned good.  I’m not sure it generates enough heat to process 200 birds/hour as David claimed but I’m going to try to find out.  After about 15 birds the burner kicked on and stayed on for the duration.  For the most part, the birds came out clean…then I remembered to add soap to the water (blushing).   As I understand it, the scalder was recently redesigned and I have the new model.  I think she lit the burner around 4:30 and it was hot at 6:00.  No complaints.
-The roto-dunker is going to need some getting used to.   There is a youtube video where a user has problems with it.  I can see what his problems were.  I think I have it figured out but we’ll see.  The motor may just not be powerful enough for four giant, wet birds.  It ran flawlessly with only two birds.  I think it is fine though, I just need to load the birds right…and maybe park a 6-year old next to it in case it stops.
-The plucker did a great job.  I bought the gamebird plucker with extra fingers.  By “extra fingers” I mean “extra hard to clean”.  Otherwise it did a great job.

At this point I hand the birds off to my wife and son for evisceration.  The wife gave positive feedback on the shackles saying they will need some getting used to but they are good.  She was working on four birds at a time, making the same cut to each one before returning to the beginning.  Then the birds were handed off to our oldest son for lung and scent gland removal and final inspection.  Ultimately the shackles will hang from chain on a pipe.  For now, we just wanted to verify the hype so I whipped up something quick.

That’s really all I have time to write because I still need to cut and package the birds…after I eat dinner…after I tuck the kids in.  I also have to make plans for a more permanent pipe to hang the shackles from.  And close up the chickens.  And move the cows.  And…

Ah, the joys of being a sundown farmer.

Patience and Kindness

These aren’t my kids.  These aren’t my cows.  This isn’t my farm.  I don’t even know these people…but I would like to meet them.  This isn’t an average dairy.  Nothing about these videos is typical…but it should be.

These kids do a great job of walking you through their tiny dairy and their herd, though they filmed these in shake-o-vision…lol.

Patience and Kindness.

We found these videos when we were reviewing milkers.  We’re going to milk two goats and a cow this year, four goats and two cows next year.  That’s a lot of work for my poor wife’s hands so we’re going to upgrade.  They use two of the milkers we were looking at.

Embedding is turned off for part 1 so you’ll have to follow the link.

Here’s part 2.  Look out for the cow rear and also notice the milker that is like those used 90 years ago.  Nothing like a lasting quality product.

There are lots of things I would do differently but we learned a lot watching their videos.  Again, I don’t know who these people are but I’m going to try to meet them.  Shoot, they only live 12 hours away.  They haven’t just taught their kids to work, they have taught their kids working is fun and that the animals are to be respected and loved.  They are inspiring greatness in their children.  Well done.

Patience and Kindness.

Market Day or The Great Pig Rodeo

So there I was.  Backed up to the chute at the locker.  There was a gap between the chute and the trailer but not so much that I was worried.  Then Eyeliner broke through.  He didn’t walk down the hallway, he made a break for it.  7 adults with a rope and a few muttered curses corralled, chased and herded the pig.  Nobody lost their temper but nobody was amused.

…20 minutes later we unloaded Blue.  More carefully this time.

Ah, the joys of keeping a 300 pound intelligent animal that doesn’t have a handle.

It didn’t start this way.  It started pretty well in fact.  I made a long, thin corral of pig quick fence leading from their pasture to the trailer.

You can see in the second picture I have narrowed the corral so the pigs can’t wander away to explore.  Any exploring they do will be around the trailer.  We put a straw bale at the rear of the trailer so the pigs could step up easier and put a little food inside to coax them in.  It didn’t take long and Eyeliner’s curiosity got the best of him.  Once Eyeliner was in, Blue decided breakfast sounded pretty good but he wasn’t willing to put his back legs in the trailer.  I jumped the gun, grabbed him by the back legs and tried to wheelbarrow him in.  Well…it was a good plan.

Eyeliner stayed put.  In fact, I closed Eyeliner in the front half of the trailer.  Blue wasn’t having any more.  Ultimately, we used sorting boards and pizza to get him back to the trailer.  Then I just picked him up and helped him in.  Lifting 220 pounds of weight is well within my range.  Lifting 220 pounds of wriggling mass when there is nothing to hang on to is something else.

I love keeping pigs.  I just like having them around.  I like the noises they make.  I like the disturbance they bring to the pasture.  I like that they are always so happy to see me…I mean, I bring them food and scratch their ears for 5 months.  They think I’m the greatest person in the world.  I make them lie down in green pastures, they tear it up and I give them another green pasture.  Don’t worry, the clods will be rolled flat with cow hooves, the grass will grow back stronger than ever before and the thorny trees will die.  Die!  DIE!!!!!  Sorry…

Anyway, are you with me here?  I like these animals.  Today could have gone much worse but it could have gone better.  Again, nobody lost their temper, no animals were abused and the bacon will be great but I know I can make this better for my pigs.  To this point, our pig operation has been an experiment.  I have been reluctant to make any investments in permanent handling equipment.  I even house the pigs under pallets and tarp for crying out loud.  I think it is time to reopen our copy of Humane Livestock Handling and get cracking on a real loading chute.  As convenient as the pig quick fence is, a real loading chute would be better for all parties involved.

Joel Salatin says his animals have a “wonderful life and one bad day.”  I want to cut that down to a few bad seconds.  My loading and unloading has to get better.

One more thing, this is Blue.

When we first got Blue he had a rupture (hernia) in his penis.  It was swollen, had three distinct bulges, was dragging the ground and had a red, raw, bloody patch where it hit the ground.  This weakness would have killed him in confinement.  We gave him no antibiotics and no medications.  We did rub a Neosporin-like salve on the wound the first day but beyond that he has been on his own.  We were afraid we would have to butcher him at about 60 pounds but he came out of it.  It was just a matter of changing his conditions, his feed and his feeding schedule.

Good old Blue.

It has been 2 hours.  I already miss the pigs.  I need to make a phone call to make arrangements for the next group.

Ghosts of Processing Equipment Past

We have used a variety of homemade equipment for several years.  Today we remembered why we were upgrading away from it.

We use transport boxes and kill cones we got from this APPPA article.  The transport boxes are great.  I cut them out and my then 10 year old son assembled them.  I probably need more than 10 but where do you store empty boxes when they are not in use?  When we were much smaller we used a wagon to tote the boxes around.

The cones listed in the link above could be better.  I won’t say they were awful but they aren’t great.  They served their purpose for two years but needed a lot of attention along the way.  $35 seemed like a lot of money for a cone but I now believe it is worth the it.

We have been using a turkey fryer or the side burner on our old hand-me-down grill to keep our scald water hot.  This could be better.  Normally we also keep several pots of boiling water on the stove so we can replenish the water when it cools down.  Cool water leads to an incomplete scald and and unhappy Steward pulling wing and tail feathers with a pliers.

Then we move to the Whizbang plucker.  Really, this isn’t a bad little unit and can be used to amaze your friends but it’s not good for more than 20 birds at a time.  After about 20 birds you need to move it away from the pile of feathers or the mass of feathers will knock the belt off the drive pulley.  This gets old when you are trying to process 150 birds.  A belt tensioner would be a good addition.

We got a stainless steel table from some friends.  It is awesome and will continue to be a part of our process.  However, Mrs. Steward’s back gets sore eviscerating chickens at this table all morning.  She wants to move to hanging shackles.  Hanging shackles it is.

We needed to find an upgrade solution that was a good value and met our current and near-term production needs.  I am not processing 400 chickens/hour. I just need equipment appropriate to keep three adults and a child or two busy for a couple of hours in the morning.  Something that will get about 80% of our capacity so we don’t kill ourselves.  We are going with a package from Featherman Equipment.  After today’s fiasco I can’t wait for it to get here.  It should arrive Tuesday.  We don’t plan to process until Saturday…if we can wait that long.

I would like to add that we weren’t even considering Featherman Equipment until we met with David (the owner) at a recent conference.  His price, quality and proximity all favored his product.  Plus, the videos he put on Youtube years ago showed us everything that the books couldn’t quite describe.  The videos alone make him a hero in our book.  His prices put him over the top.

Vocabulary word: Audible

Normally, this kind of post belongs at the 20 Acre Academy but I’ll post it here.


Used in a sentence:

I lifted the metal top of the chicken tractor with my left hand and heard an audible pop as the wind blew the electric fence against my back.

or another sentence:

Language I normally contain may have been audible by the pond as my left arm began to tingle.

Just so you know, this solar charger kicks like a mule.  I’m going to relocate the fence.  Whew!

What should this cost?

What should a chicken cost?  Mr. Steward, you sell a chicken for about $15.  I can buy one at the supermarket for $7.  Why should I pay more?

Thank you for asking.

Mine is better.  Need more detail than that?

Efficiency.  Everyone who has seen Fight Club knows that waste is a thief.  Efficiency is key.  Profit is the reward for efficiency.  If I, as a chicken producer, can make my chicken more efficiently I can either lower my price or keep it high so I can  make more money.  My profit margins are ultimately driven by either my direct competitors or by consumer substitutions (beef vs. chicken).   I am driven to increase efficiency to punish my competitors…rewarding consumers who buy my product.  You with me so far?

But what happens when we allow our motivation for efficiency (profit) to override morality?

This is called Free Range/Cage Free...

Highly Efficient...

Not only are the chickens packed in, they are typically fed the remains of other manufacturing processes, not whole grains, and subtheraputic levels of antibiotics.  They get the remains of the corn that has already been made into ethanol, corn oil, corn syrup or ???  They are not in the sunlight.  They don’t have their large talons in the grass.

Because I am a moral man I cannot go beyond a certain level of efficiency.  These are biological, not mechanical structures.  My chickens are healthy, given enough room to grow and play, and are given a healthy diet consisting primarily of locally grown whole grains sans antibiotics.  As they eat grass, alfalfa and bugs they make a mess.  I move them away from that mess daily onto fresh grass, alfalfa and new bugs.  This is good for the chicken and great for the soil and local ecology but fairly inefficient.  I am not trying to feed the world…maybe 25 families.  My lack of scale and efficiency raises my sale price.  You can either be efficient or moral.  I chose not to compromise my morality.

If you, as a moral consumer, think it is important to buy a healthy chicken that was raised in a way that is beneficial to the environment you will not only be willing to pay more for this bird, you will refuse to buy from efficient, but immoral producers.  An unmedicated chicken raised on pasture in small numbers, fed whole grains and treated respectfully costs more money.  It also tastes better and is healthier to eat.  That’s a lot easier to swallow.

This thinking may also apply to t-shirts but that’s another conversation for another day.

Doing it All Wrong!

I’m doing it wrong.  All of it.  It’s wrong, wrong, wrong.  Grandpa didn’t do it this way.  Dad doesn’t do it this way.  None of the neighbors do it this way.  It’s wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I’m going to either go broke or wear myself out doing this.  Oh, the things people say to me…

“You’re going to kill that beautiful alfalfa stand running chickens over it like that.”

“You can’t sell enough chickens to make a living.  Even if you could, the workload would kill you.”

“Nobody is going to pay $X for eggs.”

“You’re a smart guy with a good job.  Why do you want to be a farmer?”

“You’re not a farmer.  You don’t till soil.”

“We can’t feed the world farming the way you do it.”

“Who has the time to move the cows several times each day?  That’s a lot of work.”

“What do you mean you’re only feeding your cows grass?”

“Who in their right mind would want to milk a goat?”

“Raw milk will kill you.  Look at our ancestors…they’re all dead!”  (OK, that was a joke.)

“Did you see [Popular Reality Show] last night?  No?  What do you do out there?  I would DIE without my TV!”

“How can you just kill a chicken?  I mean, it’s alive.  I couldn’t eat anything that used to be alive.”

“Oh.  You home school your kids.  You’re one of those people.”

“Even if it pollutes drinking water and helps to destroy the Earth, a flushing toilet is a basic human right!”

“I just can’t imagine why you would want to live out here.”  (Nevermind that they live here voluntarily…)

“Well, you’ll learn.  No, just go on ahead and do that.  I tried it once.  You’ll learn.”

“Your kids will hate you for this.”

“I used to think like that.”

Yup.  Again, feel free to move out to the stix, buy a little scrap of land and try to make it productive.  Be sure to have thick skin, write down your vision and be in total unity with your spouse/business partner/whatever.  Well-intentioned friends, family and neighbors will fearlessly tell you how wrong you are, how quickly you will go broke and what a mess you will make of things if you do it your way.  Find a way to filter their input while maintaining relationships.  You need those people, even if they tend to be negative.

Not everything you do will work.  Not every idea is great.  Once in a while your detractors will be right.  Don’t be defeated.  There will be awful days when you feel like a total failure, when you have wasted significant sums of money, when your dreams become nightmares or when that little goat you spent a week feeding, loving and worrying over dies in your arms…poor Shivers.  A friend recently filled a 5-gallon bucket with dead baby chicks.  He analyzed the problem, made some adjustments and worked to do better.  Don’t be defeated.

Finally, never tell the next generation, “I used to think like that” or “I tried that once”.  Tell them to keep improving.  Expect them to keep looking for new ways to solve old problems.  Button your lip as you help them back to their feet.