A little over a week ago, we put a blog post out that announced a week off from new blogs so we could give ourselves some space to think about things. Well, two things happened as a result of that decision. First, I actually enjoyed pulling out some older posts from September and putting them out there (with a little editorial reflection). It was a good exercise. Second, I was able to back off of the build-up of self-imposed pressure to produce new writing for this blog. The blog does not need to live for itself, it only works for as long as I truly feel it is doing something positive for myself and for others.
As far as taking time to think about the future of the farm? Well, we did do some of that too - but we came away with more questions than answers. That's ok. We need to ask the questions first anyway!
How committed is the Genuine Faux Farm to poultry?
Our first post this week (Not That Simple) should have been a warning to you all. Some of our struggle is with the labels and identities that Tammy and I have built for ourselves since we moved to Tripoli in 2004. We raise chickens and turkeys (and sometimes ducks). It is a part of who we have presented ourselves to be. Who are we if we stop raising poultry?
If you were reading carefully, there is a strong realization that living up to a label is not a good reason in itself to avoid change or growth towards something new. But, we do still have to recognize that these critters ARE a part of the identity we have built for ourselves. It is actually not that easy to just drop it and move on - especially if there are reasons why we actually like some of what comes with that identity.
Let's not be too surprised here. Some of these thoughts come on the heals of processing 250 plus broilers in the last couple of weeks. Even though we do not process the birds ourselves, the effort over a period of two days is not inconsequential. The longer days with a fair amount of difficult labor is certainly enough to make one reconsider whether they want to do this again (and again...and again).
A Little Background
Since we are talking about meat chickens right now (the above photo shows a hen - so don't get confused!), let's give everyone a little back story to help you all see where we are coming from.
When we started raising broiler (meat) chickens, we pushed very hard to get all but a few of the birds (which we kept for ourselves) sold prior to the processing day. This wasn't horribly difficult because it seems that there was a trend at the time for people to stock their own freezers with local meats. It was not at all uncommon for one family to buy 15 birds at a time. It really did not take that many sales to move a 100 to 150 bird flock.
Over time, things changed. Many of the people that would buy 15 birds at a time moved away or moved on in other ways. We found that we needed to start adding a trip to the locker to freeze birds. We had to add freezers at the farm to store birds. For this last flock, we had one commercial order for 50 birds. The next largest sale? Three.
For the most part, people who now patronize us want a bird or two at a time. Over the last few years, we are still selling meat chickens until February or March of the following year.
In short, the landscape has changed. While we have little doubt that we will eventually sell all of the birds we want to sell, there is a longer period of time where we 'float' the expenses of raising the birds until we see a break-even point. On the plus side, the commercial order will help us this year - with fifty birds ordered each month until they are gone (assuming various shut-downs don't turn that opportunity off again). As it is, we enter October with about 200 frozen meat chickens that we will manage. Not a complaint - just a fact.
And that's all we're doing here. Giving some of the facts that must influence our decisions for the future.
Realities of poultry at Genuine Faux Farm
First and foremost on our minds is a realization that we are actually pretty good at managing flocks and providing good pasture for them. Over time, we have acquired or built some excellent infrastructure to help us be successful in raising and caring for these animals. Certainly, there are some improvements that we feel need to be made. But, overall, we've got a pretty good system down with some pretty good materials to work with.
We have an excellent record for quality eggs, meat chickens, stewing hens and turkeys. We know that all of these are excellent quality - especially compared to the average product you might find in a grocery. In short - we're pretty good at this by now. I suppose we should be, after many years of practice.
On the other hand, livestock on the farm limits our personal freedom in many ways. Take a look again at our Merry Go Round we do every summer. Yes - good things take effort. Raising poultry require daily efforts - yes, that is a plural. It can be difficult to leave and visit family and friends. And, when you add an off-farm job to the list, you find out how little time and energy you have left for care-taking your crops! As I write this, do you know what is running in the back of my mind? "I have to go and collect eggs and check the turkey's water - I hope they haven't gotten out of their pasture again."
Do not get me wrong here. I know good things require effort and dedication. I am certainly not allergic to working hard and committing to doing things well for a long time. And there are times when it is just FUN watching the antics of the turkeys and there is SATISFACTION that the hens like their pasture and come running when they think you might have some veggie scraps for them to snap up. There is PLEASURE when you realize that the extremely tasty dinner you had was partly due to daily efforts to raise birds well on our farm.
So, Now What?
Once again, we are putting all options on the table.
The two options with the least to discuss are 1) stay the course and do what we did this year and 2) stop raising poultry all together.
How is that for a full range?
Obviously, we are committed to seeing our current turkey flock through. We are also committed to over-wintering the current young hens and probably taking them through the end of next season. But, it is not impossible to find a new home for the hens if we decide to go for the 'nothing' in the 'all or nothing' choices.
Either way, we still need to do the detailed enterprise budget for our poultry to determine whether or not we are actually breaking even (or better) on this part of our farm.
The reality? We are most likely to fall somewhere between 'what we did this year' and 'raise what we need for our own family.' If you have suggestions, opinions or thoughts on the matter - the time to share them has begun!