A Farmer Rant

I don’t rant often. I keep it to myself, or complain to a select few farmer friends. Mostly I try to keep things positive. It’s better for me, and it’s better for everyone else.

But as I was just finishing my last chipper blog post about chaos and spring, Mike was out doing evening chores. He calls, and says, “We’ve got an emergency here!” Never a good thing.

I grab my coat and boots and run out there, and much of the smoke has already dissipated. But it’s still smoky. There are a bunch of little dead chickens in the brooder, and the shavings on the floor are smoldering with a few coals. Of course, it’s amazing that it’s not in flames. It’s amazing that any of them are alive at all, considering that the first time I got a whiff of smoke from INSIDE our house was several hours earlier. I checked the dryer vent, I checked the space heaters. I looked at all the neighbors’ houses who usually have smoky fires in their fireplaces. Nothing. I wrote it off.

Those poor little three-week-chicks. Some were dead. Many were nearly dead. Most were wheezing and coughing and sneezing. Smoke inhalation is nasty, and even more so for birds. They have more delicate lungs than mammals do. You’ve heard about “the canary in the coal mine”. More delicate. More sensitive. And they are babies.

So, we get air flow going. We shovel out the smoldering shavings. We stop new smoke from forming. And then we pull out the dead bodies. 26 out of 100. We know there will be more in the morning. It may take several days for them to stop dying. And there’s just no way to give all those little chickens emergency oxygen therapy to help them.

And after we are done cussing at ourselves, and blaming, and cleaning up. Then we wonder why we do this. We wonder why, and we wonder if we should start more. And then we come in the house to make dinner, because life goes on.

And during dinner, we complain about the people who complain about egg prices. We gripe about how many chicks your ordinary egg-buyer could keep alive. How many would they be able to keep safe from cold snaps. From wind storms. From that first hot day in July that threatens to overwhelm everything. When young birds die from heat stroke. From predators.

Just how many eggs would your ordinary egg-buyer get from their attempt at chicken-raising. How many years would they perservere, and keep trying, and trying to get enough eggs to reach that magical “profitability” number? And then they complain about the price of eggs. Some are genuinely shocked into standing open-mouthed when an egg-farmer says “$9”. In January, when those chickens aren’t laying very many eggs, but they are still eating $20-$30 of feed every day. When they are not paying for their keep.

The average egg-shopper doesn’t realize that all of this goes on, 6 months before the first egg is laid. $7 per dozen doesn’t make a profit. Even $8 per dozen doesn’t pay a farmer a living wage. Really, at $9 per dozen, not really either.

Of course, I realize that most of our loyal customers are not in this group that we complain about. But I see it every weekend at the farmers markets. That shocked look. And the ones who actually verbalize their shock. It makes me ill, and it’s hard to not retort. Really hard to turn the other cheek. Hard not to accidentally throw a bunch of wet kale in their direction.

Because they really have no idea at all.

7 responses to “A Farmer Rant

  1. Hang in there Shelley. So sorry to hear about the chicks.

  2. Hang in there my beautiful farmer friends. I am so sorry to hear of your loss/our loss today with those little innocents. Life is precious and so very fragile. We are lucky to know you, and give thanks for life with you. Thank you for holding the tension that life is, so gracefully.

  3. Sorry to hear about the chicks, must be extra tough when they are fragile babies. We are thankful we can get eggs from you! We’ve debated raising chickens at home for eggs numerous times, but we know how much more there is that goes into raising healthy and happy chickens. Everything you mention above, plus what to do with chicken when they stop laying. The people who don’t want to pay $9 for eggs are missing out on some tasty eggs.

  4. Julia Patterson

    And those shocked egg-shoppers don’t have any idea (or don’t care) about the horrific conditions of chickens in industrial farms that enable them to buy cheap eggs. Thank you for doing the right thing. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  5. Amen, my friend! I am so sorry about the birds. Absolute worse part about the animal keeping is unexpected emergencies resulting in deaths and people who don’t understand what a special person it takes to farm.

  6. Sorry about the chicks, and will help you throw the wet kale.

  7. I’m so sorry, thats a rough loss. We buy eggs from you and Mike because we know how you raise your chickens and that they have a good life doing the things chickens are meant to do. Most people have no idea what real, true food costs – for the animals, for the farmers, or their wallets. I’m there to help throw wet kale, or take a deep breath and start educating people with you. Its how Mike converted me, one winter squash at a time on a broke college kid budget 🙂

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