Sunday, February 15, 2009
Backyard Farming Disaster - Broiler Apocalypse
This is the first in a series of backyard farming disasters that I will share with you over the next few weeks so that you can learn from our mistakes. The second year on our small farm we decided to get into pastured broiler production. We would raise 100 chickens, put 25 in our freezer, and sell the rest to neighbors and friends. In late March we ordered the chicks and brooded them in our garage. In the meantime we built three pasture pens. They were 8’x8’x2’ half covered with plywood and half covered in chicken wire. They each had a 5 gallon bucket attached to a waterer and a bin for supplemental feeding. When the chicks were old enough, we put them in the pens. Each morning the kids moved the pens to fresh pasture, replenished the feed bins and filled the water buckets. The chickens grew fast and in early June they were up to market weight. A couple of days before slaughter, I was working at my office in the afternoon. A coworker came in from outside with sweat on his forehead. “Wow! It got hot all of the sudden out there!” he commented. I didn’t think much about it. A while later my phone rang and when I picked it up, a sobbing voice cried, “DAD! THE CHICKENS ARE DEAD! THEY’RE ALL DEAD!” I jumped in my car and raced home. Under the shade trees on the lawn, my kids were trying to revive some of the heat stroked chickens by forcing water down them with eye droppers. I went out to the pens to survey the extent of the disaster. Broilers are dumber than _ _ _ _ and when it got hot they panicked and started piling up and smothering each other at the back of the pens where the temperature was the hottest. The death toll – about 70 dead and 30 survivors. My oldest son and I formed a burial detail. It takes a big hole to bury 70 full grown chickens. When we were down about 2 feet and both in the hole, we started hitting each other accidentally with our elbows and shovels. Finally I turned to Allen and said, “Allen, there are two kinds of people in the world, those who dig holes and those who fetch dead chickens. I will dig while you fetch.” For you youngsters, this is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s lines to Eli Wallach in the cemetery at the end of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. Allen brought down wheel barrow loads overflowing with the dead chickens. He offered his own comic relief from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, “Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!” I was hoping one chicken would perk up and say “But I’m not dead yet!” The whole experience was painful. We felt so bad for the chickens and the kids lost $1,120 for their 2 months of hard work (70 broilers x 8 lbs. avg. dressed weight x $2/lb.) We learned our lesson and since then we have raised several flocks without incident.