I cannot do this alone.
This probably should have been listed as lesson#1. I would have had serious issues with animals running out of water this summer were it not for the fact that the younger daughter was at home most of the time and was therefore able to check all the waters around mid afternoon. That one thing alone turned out to be a weak point in the whole set up.
I actually went into the summer knowing it would be an issue, but just didn’t create a contingency plan to deal with it. Last year, when I was still working at the local library branch down in the village, it was a 3 minute drive home – plenty of time on my lunch break to nip home, throw jeans on, add water to all the pens, and whip back to work with time to spare to swallow a sandwich. Now that it’s 15 minutes one way, it’s still possible, technically, but not super practical. Yet this was the thought in my head at the start – if no one was home, that’s what I would do. And when I did have to put it in practice a few times, I quickly realized how unrealistic the plan was. 15 minutes each way, plus 20 minutes doing all the waters, plus 5 minutes to find a parking space again when I got back to work – it was a tight race. If I ran across an issue while I was doing the waters what was I supposed to do? Ignore it and get back to work on time? Call work and say I had an issue to deal with? My supervisor is incredibly supportive of my farming activity and has said more than once that I can do just that, but I don’t want to abuse the privilege. Planning to handle it on my own was not a good plan.
Younger daughter now has a job herself that will likely involve way more hours during the summer months. She’s not an option I can rely on next time. So what should I do? What is the real issue? Do I need a person to be there at midday to do the waters? Could I set up the waters so that they don’t run out? My other daughter has suggested having two waters per pen, at least during the day, a practical suggestion that should be simple to implement. It might mean reducing the number of birds per pen a bit because of the space, but I believe it would be worth it.
It’s not just the water. During brooding, the chicks need checking several times daily. When it’s butchering day, catching the birds goes a lot faster with two people, and I’m not strong enough to lift a poultry crate with 8 birds by myself, so someone has to be up at 4 in the morning to help me catch and load 20 crates worth of birds and unload them a couple of hours later at the processor. On customer pick up day, with fresh chicken and the need to keep it chilled, there is only about a 2 hour window between pick up at the processor and having the chicken in my customers cooler or fridge. Some customers come direct to the farm to pick up, and about half meet me in town to pick up, which means one person stays at the farm and one person goes into town. Astute readers know that I don’t own a truck, so transporting the birds to the processor has meant either renting or borrowing one – borrowing is cheaper (1 chicken or a small ham) but means that I’m depending on someone for yet another aspect of this enterprise. I’d love to get a truck, but the reasons why I haven’t done that yet are numerous, so I’ll spare you.
Even more important than the physical requirement for an extra set of hands and muscles, however, is the benefit of companionship. Someone to talk over the issues, brainstorm for solutions, commiserate over the bad stuff that sometimes happens. Someone to crack terrible chicken jokes with, who will enter into plans for improvement and sees things from a different angle, but can still see mine as well. This of course applies not just to broilers, but to life – although maybe not the part about chicken jokes.
So I’m not completely sure about long term prospects for the broiler enterprise. My plans to expand this enterprise are all well and good, but without a second person available at least at certain points, it will not work. Whether I tap into my local community and neighbours for that, or rely on family, or hire someone, that second person is essential. Part of this depends on scale – like any small business. I could affort to hire someone for an hour/day if I was producing enough to pay for them. To produce that much I need to hire someone. Part of the reason for working my way through my lessons learned in such detail (sorry, but thanks for sticking with me!), is to determine whether I’ve mastered enough of the basics to be able to take a big enough step up in scale to hire someone to help. The answer at this point is – I think so. Do I want to do that? Still thinking about it. What would you do?
p.s. Sorry for all the recycled pictures from previous posts for this series – I simply didn’t take very many pictures this summer, and didn’t want to post such long screels without decorating them in some way 🙂