It’s the middle of July, we've lost most of our lentils, and something is killing the squash and zucchini. The basil has holes and does not look good enough to sell, the cucumbers are fighting off fusarium wilt even though they are supposed be a resistant variety. The weeds grow best of all and are almost taking over. We are down to the last 2,000 gallons in our rain water collection system and there doesn't seem to be rain in sight. The twenty-five new birds are eating about two hundred pounds of organic starter mash a month but we only purchased one hundred and fifty pounds. This caused us to scramble and ask the farmer down the road for some to hold us until the next shipment. We've upped the shipment to two hundred pounds which should hold them until they go on layer mash. The Japanese Beatles are coming out and landing on the grape vines, Colorado Potato Beatles have found our German Butter Ball potatoes. Oh yeah we are down one worker so we started looking for help and have to go through the interview process again (see “Who in Their Right Mind”...).
So, these are the current problems. I'm sure there are more but why dwell, we'll learn about them soon enough. On the good side the corn looks strong and each stalk has two ears, the tomatoes are coming in and the Roma’s are starting to turn red. The chickens look good and are laying at a rate of 80 percent. On any given day we have about two to three not earning room and board. We know one never lays, we think the others are joining in sympathy. Chickens lay one egg every twenty-five hours at their peak, after about three years they start to decline. They eventually stop laying and can live to twelve years of age. This does cause us great concern.
We say we are a humane farm. Yes there are specific denotations of what humane farm means, to us it is keeping the animal free of negative stress. This is where the philosophical meets the practical. Take out all perspectives, PETA, HSUS, SPCA and others. Animal meat is food; it is protein and essential minerals. Can we survive without meat? There is evidence to suggest we can. There is evidence that the vitamins and minerals from beef, chicken and pork are beneficial to the human diet, too.
We are struggling; we've had the first flock for three years now. The tenant was one of the first six and we decided to keep her. Now the first six will begin to decline in laying and we need to look at production versus feed cost. They have led a happy stress free life so far, plenty of fresh grass and different varieties planted every six months. They have also been prolific layers. Three of the six have names, there is Palely (AKA Broody 1), and she is the tenant and the runt of the group. Next is Gladys Kravitz, from "Bewitched," she looks mean and is always butting in on the others’ doings. Last is Roaster. She is huge. They all started out roughly the same size but Roaster out weighs them all. She is almost too big to fit through the door.
Some people may think you can't be a humane farm and kill animals. We started out not wanting to process chickens and so far we have continued with that standing. But, chicken meat goes for 3.50/lb in our neck of the woods. The potential revenue stream is very viable because of pent up demand and the relatively low cost of production. I have not eaten commercial chicken for over four years. Thanks in part to Joel Salatin but mainly because of how confinement chickens are raised and processed. Joel just happened to write about it and had a pathogen analysis done between his chickens and store bought chickens. Even though he processes his chickens in an open air facility his chickens had tens of thousands parts per million less bacteria than the store bought. That’s all I'm going to say on the matter, Joel has an excellent book that goes into great detail.
So, we are considering meat birds versus layers. Eventually layers stop laying and can live up to ten more years naturally. They eat about two tenths of a pound of feed a day, multiple that by 365 then by 6 (for the first six). 50 pounds of organic food cost $22 a bag. When the math is all said and done we lose money if the chickens are not processed. Even if we take them off organic feed and feed them cheap mash we will lose money. No one stays afloat losing money.
Our decisions are not governed by the profit motive but we do need to make money in order to meet IRS requirements. As altruistic as we've been these past seven years now the rubber is starting to meet the road. After buying the farm this decision is one of the most agonizing we've had to face. No matter how you grow there are going to be pains.
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