I’ve been thinking about this a lot ever since my flock of egg-layers was decimated last week by a rampaging raccoon. That very day I went to the feed store and bought new chicks. But now, with over a foot of snow on the ground – in April!, and having hauled all the chicks, both egg-layers and meat, to safety in the garage, I’ve smacked myself in the head and asked, “What am I doing this for? Why can’t I just buy eggs like everybody else I know? Is the money I make and the food I grow really worth it?!”
The reality is that I don’t make money at all from my chickens. I just cover my costs plus a little of what all our grandmothers called “Egg Money” – that small fund they spent on little things to delight themselves or friends and family. I sell eggs to friends, and give plenty away just for the joy it brings me. Friends who help with the meat chicken harvest take home several birds as thanks for their participation, and the rest we freeze and eat over the course of the winter. The whole roast chickens I take to potlucks in town are always a big hit.
This year, my friend who is part of the chicken venture said, “Let’s not raise meat for other people. It’s a lot of work. Let’s just do it for ourselves.” But then, (before the latest blizzard) the grass started turning green, and we thought about all the meat it could be turned into in just a few short months, and we went to the feed store, and saw all the chicks, and before we knew what we’d done, we were hauling home our first batch, and had made an order for the second batch to come a few weeks later. And while we don’t need a dozen eggs a day, we bought enough chicks to eventually lay that many because we have the space, and we have the people who want to eat the eggs. So there you go. We’re chicken farming again, regardless of profit.
We’ve yet to meet someone who got rich farming or ranching. Most are part of the vanishing middle class. Many get by thanks to full-time off-farm jobs or to a spouse that works off-farm. They are hard-working people with little time for sitting around and wondering why they do what they do. But as I’ve traveled across the country, speaking at ag conferences, what I’ve learned is that they do what they do for the same reason we’re producing eggs and chickens and tomatoes for our friends. It’s the most important contribution we can make to our community – to feed them well, and help them make a connection to the land that they might not otherwise have.
Keep up the good work!