This is the first in a series of posts that reflect my post season thoughts on my tiny broiler operation. I’ve been raising broilers every summer for about a decade, and while some things go quite smoothly for me now, I feel like I’m still on the learning curve. For the last five years, I’ve been working intentionally towards setting myself up to run broilers more efficiently, and therefore more profitably, with a view to this becoming a larger enterprise for me. I’ve included pictures of my 2015 broiler season, in which I raised 145 broilers, put them out on the field at 12 days old, and processed 139 when they were 6 1/2 weeks old. We kept 25 for ourselves, and sold out of the rest, which is typical. One issue I don’t have is selling these delicious, pasture raised birds. The pictures start with the day the chicks arrived, and finish with a picture of the pens a month after the birds were in the freezer, if you look carefully, you can see the darker green patches of grass where the pens moved each day on the field.
Currently I raise about 140 broilers at a time. This is mainly due to the size of my brooder set up, which has been a work in progress for a couple of years, and which at the moment, I’m fairly happy with. I also have two Salatin style pasture pens, the dolly which makes them work so well, a trailer for the lawn tractor which allows me to haul several bags of feed down the field at a time, and hundreds of feet of hoses that allow me to run water down the field from the main tap in the back yard. Over the years, we’ve acquired 20 industry standard poultry crates, which has made transporting birds to the processor MUCH easier, and better for the birds. The plan has always been to raise multiple batches of birds as the way to grow this enterprise, but so far, I’ve only been doing one batch a year, due mainly to some of the lessons learned which I’m going to cover in the next couple of weeks.
A lot of things have improved and are going quite well with the broilers. But every year, something happens to make the season feel difficult. Sometimes, it’s just a once off event, perhaps due to weather or predators or a family crisis. Some years, like the season I just finished, the reasons the broiler enterprise ran less smoothly than it should were more about me than any external factors. What follows is probably the number one issue I have with any and all of my farming endeavours. If this one was conquered, things like planning and processing would happen a lot better. As it is, they’re coming up in later posts.
Lesson Learned Number ONE. Pick up the phone and make the call.
True story. I hate making phone calls, except maybe to my immediate family. I do it as part of working at the library, but that feels different, like it’s not really me making the call, but the person I’m acting as. I have no idea why I’m like this. It’s not about chattiness. You can tell from the blog that I’m a talker. Anyone at the library will tell you I talk plenty. I just don’t do it on the phone.
How does this relate to the broiler chickens? I have to order the chicks by phone. I have to phone potential or past customers, I have to phone the processor to arrange a processing date. I would rather muck out a chicken house after a winter of deep bedding. Or butcher roosters. Or do laundry. OK, maybe doing the taxes is worse, but not much else. Does anyone else procrastinate on things they don’t like doing? Here’s the lesson about phone calls – if you procrastinate too long, you can really mess up your schedule, your family’s schedule and perhaps end up not getting any broiler chickens.
That almost happened to me last year, when I found out the hatchery has a last hatch date (which made sense when I thought about it), which I only just managed to get some birds from, and not as many as I wanted, so I was slightly better about phoning on time this year, but not by much. And phoning the processor? Wow. It’s possible he doesn’t like phone calls either, because it took 4 messages from me and ultimately a Facebook message (which he didn’t reply to, but did trigger him calling me back finally). (As an aside, it’s fascinating to me how much of the farm world is still very much phone and paper oriented, vs social media/electronic. Of the 4 or 5 processors (for pigs and chickens) I’ve dealt with in the last few years, ALL have phone contact only – most have no website, and only one has a Facebook page.) Back to this year – then I had the issue of a processing date a whole week earlier than I wanted – not a good thing when a week makes as much difference in growth as it does for broilers. In the end, it pulled together, but it was unnecessarily stressful, and partly due to the fact that I put off ordering chicks till it was quite late in the season.
I have options here. I can continue squeaking by with this last minute scramble of phoning to get broiler chicks, to book the processor, and to line up customers, but it’s super inefficient, and keeps my stress level elevated longer than necessary. I have enough other stuff to stress about, I don’t need more. Increasing the number of broilers I raise and sell would be relatively easy in some respects – a lot of the infrastructure is in place, and requires no additional effort. In fact, ordering birds for more batches can happen with just one phone call. Ditto for the processor; I can book processing for multiple batches in advance, which means more birds does not mean more calls.
So, what’s stopping me? I am done with phone call phobia, and I’m moving on to phone call efficiency. Next year, dear readers, you have my full permission to be on my case by June if I’ve made no mention of ordering chicks before that. You can call me on that.