Thursday, June 17, 2010

Confessions of a Chicken Farmer

As a child, I had this dream of owning a farm. At one point it was a horse farm. I would own and breed horses, selling the weanlings, or two year old colts for big bucks. Later, once I figured out just how expensive that hobby could be, I thought about getting a flock of chickens. A couple dozen happy hens, cackling and scratching, producing wonderful eggs and cute chicks.

Reality, unfortunately, is quite different, again.

That's the most interesting part of this post - unless you are interested in economics. Or world building if you want to push this into the context of writing. Or even politics if you are a 'real' farmer.

I just sat down with my receipts to figure out if I'm making any money on my eggs.

The answer is: No, I'm about a hundred bucks in the red.

Mind you, after making the chickens buy their own feed and grit this week I was about $1.50 to the good. That lasted until I found the receipt for the new chicks.

The total bill was $95, or $6.33 per chick.

Mind you, this is 50 dozen eggs. I get between 6 and 8 eggs per day, so we are looking at 75 to 100 days of egg production.

Out of the 19 chicks that Smudge was raising, there are only 14 left. Assuming the chicks that died were the Dominiques I paid for, (Murphy's Law says they were) I lost $31.65 to the rain storm last week. I'm going to need to buy cartons before long, which is another $50 for 100 cartons.

My farmer's market sales for the last two setup days was $9. I made more money selling ducklings at the flea market. However, I'm out of ducklings. The yearling duck hens are lousy mothers. Now what shall I do?

Well, I have an incubator of 36 chicken eggs. Ever heard of 'don't count your chickens before they've hatched?' Ever wondered what it means? Well, the last batch of 46 eggs hatched 6 chicks. Of those 6 and 4 duck-hatched chicks only 5 have survived to 8 weeks of age. (BTW - 1 of 3 chicks is female.)

It looks like I'm going to have to sell babies to make up for my loses. That means my incubator is going to be my money maker, not eggs or dried herbs.

It's a darn good thing I'm not in this for the money. However, it's really interesting to see how this is panning out. I may be able to use this experience later in my writing. Expect to see a novel about a woman struggling to survive in a lousy economy.

Wait, I wrote that novel already!

Okay, I'll have to write another one...hmmmm.


Jean Davis said...

hmm. Interesting. I had no idea as to the numbers behind the eggs and such. Though, I suppose, going with the the struggling chicken endeavor was a far less costly choice than the horses. (attempting to look on the bright side)

Ms Kitty said...

You are right to look on the bright side. (My favorite place.)

Good horses cost in the thousands of dollars. Though I have two mares it would still cost me at least $1k to breed them both. Then about another $1k to get through the 11 month pregnancy, barring disasters.

I tried it, once. I found that I could not part with the little mare. She's grown to be my juvenile delinquent. (G)

With chickens the numbers are much smaller. I'm playing around with $100, a whole different scale.

I'm playing with a rare breed chicken. I can spread these birds around, knowing that I'm preserving something that might otherwise become extinct.

The story ideas that come to me at the farmer's market are my pay off. I can imagine a market of the Dark Ages, or in a dystopian future.

My favorite is to play out the "peak oil" senario, with horse drawn vegetable carts creaking through the subdivisions, the drivers calling out their wares. "Tomatoes, peppers and eggs today!"

Let's not forget the characters! I meet all kinds of characters!

Ms Kitty said...

PS - the last incubator of eggs was a ZERO! Two chicks got out of the egg, but none survived.

My opinions are: Load up the incubator again, or sell more eggs.

Incubator's smell - I'm going to sell more eggs.

Ms Kitty said...

This Friday was a good day. The market stall is actually paying for the chickens.

Unfortunately, Trouble killed Smudge, my broody hen and all but 7 of the expensive new babies.

Not sure what I'm going to do at this point. Giving up is not an option.