I know that we are not alone but, I do not know why it is everything we do seems easy until put into practice only to find it to be incredibly hard? Take our latest foray into meat birds. We went to a State sponsored poultry and rabbit processing class. We took the test, passed and made sure the processing facility we would use was USDA inspected. We then submitted our registration along with the fee.
While doing further research on the regulations we found that although our Department of Agriculture would allow us to sell our birds to retailers and restaurants our Health Department does not allow us to do so. We have already gotten our feet wet with two flocks and sold most of them to a retailer. I had to call the vendor and tell them until we got clarification from the State that I could not sell him any more birds.
We have one hundred more broilers in the pipeline and we are having problems selling the last of the third flock. We can sell them from the farm; we just do not have the foot traffic to sell all of them. We have canceled our peep order and will be getting no more for the season. We did not expect to be an over-night sensation. We did however over-estimate how quickly we could get rid of the birds on the farm.
At first, we priced them to cover our expenses. The first two batches were somewhat of a disaster (see Learning Curves). Therefore, cost per bird was high and we still lost money. No matter were you are reading this, chances are you know the heat wave that is engulfing most of the country. It is not fit for man, beast or vegetation right now. We learned from the previous mistake and purchased shade tents (that lasted one day).
We are still loosing birds to the heat despite reducing the number of birds per pen; we have fifteen in an eighty square foot pen. Salatin recommended fifty, but we kept knocking that number down until we felt there was plenty of space and no competition. It is just heartbreaking to walk out there after work and find ten birds expired. The heat index hit one-hundred and twelve. We were able to revive three of the injured but ended up having to put one of those down because he was to far gone and we could not let it suffer more than he already had. That process did not go as planned either. I will spare you the details but suffice it to say it was not a clean, pain free experience for the bird or I.
As I have said before when anything goes wrong with a chicken most times it can be traced back to management and I cannot help but feel the suffering they must have gone through before their demise. It was my fault and my guilt that has put a heavy burden on me. Am I humane when I loose as many birds as I have? I cannot even beat industry averages, and that kills me the most. I know I am better then that and it is frustrating to see otherwise.
In this field, you cannot dodge the responsibility and blame others as we see all around us at the State and Federal governance levels. We cannot sit back and say well it was your fault for not telling us in time or bring up some other lame excuse to deflect our culpability. You take it on the chin, pick yourself up, learn as best you can to not make the same mistake twice and move on. Yet the measures we have taken have failed. The tents blew away twisting the cheap metals that bore the structure. We got replacement parts from the manufacturer replaced them and put the tents up again to only last one day. Yes, they were the least expensive and yes, I did get what I paid for.
We are exceeding the national average for percentage of birds lost and that fact alone does the most damage to the evaluation of my animal husbandry skills. It is not for a lack of trying we purchased shade tents, as mentioned, and fans for cooling. The tents sit in rumpled heaps because they were in fact cheap pieces of animal fertilizer. We are making ten by ten-square frames for the roof and creating lean-to for shade. As with most everything, this is taking time that we do not have and adding work we do not need.
The fans help the most. Once they were installed things changed drastically. However, these are indoor fans not outdoors. If we are home and it starts raining, we can get the fans to protect them. If we are at work and it rains well, I am not an electrician but my guess would be they are not going to make it. It is a temporary risk until we can purchase outdoor fans.
So far, the week before processing has been the worst week for losses. It has happened this way for the first three flocks. Yes, that is a clue to when our vigilance should be most acute with this next batch and we will take heed. Nevertheless, it also shows you that we have sunk the most cost you can into raising a bird before processing. They have been eating feed, drinking water and consuming labor for most of their brief stay on earth. To lose them at this critical time is adding insult to injury.
I have read about the perils of heat and made allowances, such as, reducing the numbers of birds per pen, keeping them in the shade and close to shade as much as possible and providing plenty of access to water. We exceed all requirements for feeding, watering and space. We are now looking into outdoor fans. That will be an additional cost but we hope to keep more birds alive so that we can recoup those costs. It is all a money game and that is why we fail. To us it is a matter of comfort and doing what is right for the animal not the bottom line. Do not get me wrong, I graduated with an undergraduate and graduate degree in business, so I know the bottom line, I know profit and I know sustainability. They are not mutually exclusive but I wonder if they are achievable given our history. I just wonder at times like these..
Buy Local: Do it now before you lose the chance, not all of us are able to do it without you.