Forrest Pritchard writes humorously and truthfully at Smith Meadows about the real-life challenges of chicken farming. For the aspirational poultry farmer, this post is a healthy dose of realism:
Can you feed 500 hens at dawn, ring an egg-eater’s neck at noon, and shoot a fox at dusk? Can you ensure that your hens have fresh water on zero degree mornings, as well as 100 degree days? Are you a Type-A time manager who can properly introduce new flocks every six months, while processing older birds the week they turn one year old? In short, do you ‘have it in you’ to perform the unsexy aspects of chicken farming?
Pritchard’s honesty is invaluable in an age where many are gravitating back to an agrarian lifestyle. It’s easy to see the farming lifestyle as pastoral and quaint, “simple” and lovely, while glossing over its dirty work. But it’s no easy thing to build a chicken farm, and Pritchard makes that clear.
Some time ago, my farmer grandpa decided to retire. He gave my younger brothers, both in high school at the time, all his chickens. He knew they could make some money on the eggs, and would benefit by learning to care for the poultry. For a while, everything went excellently. The chicken produced almost more eggs than my brothers could sell; we had plenty leftover for personal use. Sure, the work got tiresome at times, and neither of the boys liked tending to chickens in the cold winter months. But it was a business, and the boys enjoyed seeing it thrive.
Several months later, while our whole family was at a dinner, the older of the two boys went home to get ready for an evening work shift. As soon as he walked into the front yard, he saw our two dogs: bloodstained mouths, fur littered with feathers, guilty looks in their eyes. He ran out to the chicken coop—and saw the horrid, bloody mayhem that had ensued. He called my dad and told him the dogs got into the chicken coop. When we got home, my father and brothers gathered up 10 dead birds, and began burying them. They scolded the dogs, and started cleaning them up. They tried to sooth the frightened live birds—many of which played dead in order to stay alive. It took weeks before the birds began laying again, months before they began doing so at a regular and productive rate. Three or so have died since, of “war wounds,” my youngest brother says.
Such is the work of the chicken farmer: messy, frustrating—and even tragic, at times. Is it even worth it? Ultimately, it’s up to you. When I go home, I watch my brothers proudly bring in baskets of nutmeg-speckled eggs. They make me omelets sometimes, crack their eggs into a frying pan and we watch them sizzle. Sometimes I walk to the hencoop, and listen to the happy birds cluck and scold. The produce takes work. But there are a plethora of benefits also involved: good work, money—and healthy pride in work well done.