Raising poultry for meat is almost as scary as raising kids. & if I’m being honest, at times it may be scarier. I like to compare raising birds to raising babies…it’s full panic for the first year, or in the case of chickens – eight weeks. Times seems to stretch out for weeks and weeks when, in reality, they only need us for such a short period of time. We coddle them, make sure that they’re at the right temperature, that they can snuggle into their bed of shavings & straw for a sweet slumber, keep them fed, dry and happy. We are outnumbered by a longshot. They’re one of the most temperamental species that I’ve ever come across and truthfully, it’s why a lot of others don’t do what we do. It’s a lot of dang work.
Over the last 4 years, Jesse and I have poured our hearts into raising broiler chickens and it hasn’t come without frustrations, heartache and learning things the hard way. When we raise a hog or a steer, we can almost pencil out exactly what our profit margin is going to look like on that specific animal and even our year as a whole for those individual species. When it comes to broiler chickens? Hold your breath and say a prayer because anything could happen.
Poor genetics from the hatchery? Loss. Grounds too cold? Loss. The sun decides not to come out for days at a time? Loss. It wants to rain an inch in 2 hours? Loss. They get too fat too quickly? Loss. They get an air pocket in their lung has no impact on the quality of the meat, but the USDA inspector doesn’t like? Loss.
They’re sensitive and they are needy and they are NOT for the faint of heart. When I look at our time since the start of raising poultry, I can see how much stronger of farmers that it has made us. How much stronger of a team that it has made us. We have quite literally kicked rocks, scratched our heads, thrown things at the wall to see what would stick (& simply just to get some anger out), and hit our knees in the pasture field begging for some mercy. Then we got up and tried again.
Four seasons into this and we are still learning every day. There is a reason that so many farmers that operate on our scale have given up raising chickens or won’t even consider starting. They’re a lot of work for a little money. But they are what sets us apart, what keeps us going & what drives us to better ourselves as farmers single every day. I can’t say that avian influenza doesn’t scare the crap out of me, that whatever is going on with processing facilities going up in flames doesn’t make me nauseous or that the anti-meat initiative doesn’t keep me up at night with steam coming out of my ears and my heart thumping through my chest. Those things are all a part of my daily thoughts. Not daydreams but nightmares.
By shopping local and putting your money directly into the hands of a farmer, you help minimize those fears that keep us up at night. It’s not the easy way, that’s for dang sure, but I am strong and confident in my statement that it’s the right way.
Last week I was outside with one of our State Vets & she gave me one of the biggest compliments that we have ever received. She said, "You and your husband are a perfect example of how people could be and should be farming in New Jersey. I know that you're frustrated with this batch but they're still better quality than what I walk into anywhere else. The inspector knows that too." Here is a virtual toast (of something strong) to the start of the 2023 pastured poultry season. I have 1600 new babies hatching tomorrow and my sleepless nights of worry, but mostly love, have already begun.