As I’ve mentioned before, I am a fan of podcasts. They are perfect for surviving commutes and help me stay focused when I’m doing chores. One of my all-time favorite podcasts is the storytelling podcast, Risk, where the whole idea is for people to tell stories “they never thought they’d dare to share.” They are taking a risk telling the story, but also, a lot of the stories come from a place of true risk-taking. At the end of every single episode, host Kevin Allison sends out his encouragement by saying “Folks, today’s the day. Take a risk.” Every time I hear Kevin say this, I find myself wondering what risks there are that I’m avoiding taking. What are we holding back on because we’re afraid of it not working out?
I try not to discuss it too much here, but a simple fact of life for anyone trying to transition to self-sufficiency and/or farming is the difficulty of succeeding financially. It is hard to compete with factory-style farming, where they are able to dramatically cut costs because they work in such great volume and are able to invest so much upfront. So even something simple like raising hens to supply your family with eggs is relatively expensive. I won’t get too into it, but let’s just say that the cost of getting from baby chick to that first egg would buy many dozens of grocery eggs.
It seems like everything requires an investment. You need land. You need equipment. You need infrastructure. We’re trying to raise a family too. We’re trying to stay afloat. How can we justify investing in farming, something we’re very new to and frankly have a lot to learn about?
It’s just too risky.
So we’ve held off. We’ve inched into things, reused materials, worked with what we had, and I held a day job–actually, not past tense–I HOLD a day job. It is a struggle sometimes to do the things we want. We want to have greenhouses, a cleverly designed chicken coop, flat fields of rich soil.
To contribute to the costs of our chickens and vegetables, we sell chicken and sometimes eggs. Read more about that in another post:
We have a vision of growing, but we have been holding off. Definitely because we’re afraid to take a risk and invest in higher quantities.
But we put so much time into raising chickens and yet don’t really have much to show for it. Sure, we get to keep chickens for ourselves at a lower cost than it would be to buy them from another farm, but if we want to really make a go of it, if we want to make it worth our time, we need to increase our numbers. We need to raise more and sell more.
The key for handling higher volumes is to streamline our processing. Finding efficiency in every step is the way to have a chance at doing well with small-scale farming.
When it comes to processing broilers without special equipment, the bottleneck is plucking feathers. Plucking just one chicken by hand takes me somewhere around 10 minutes. Imagine raising a flock of around 50 birds, knowing you have 500 minutes of plucking feathers ahead of you. That’s like one full day at a 9-5, only instead of sitting at a desk, you’re plucking feathers. That’s a lot of podcasts and a heck of a lot of backbreaking work. Trust us, we’d know. That’s how we did our first flock two years ago. On our best day that first year we processed 12 chickens, and it was so. Much. Work. We upgraded last year to a drill-style plucker, which doubled our plucking speed. Still very time consuming, though.
Other farms don’t pluck by hand. They don’t even use the drill-style plucker. The equipment I speak of is a barrel-style feather plucker. These bad boys can take a broiler from fully feathered to completely clean in TWENTY SECONDS. Just knowing about these while plucking last year made me go just a little insane. As I did the hard labor over our drill plucker, I kept thinking in my head: “20 seconds. Just 20 seconds. This could be 20 seconds.”
Barrel pluckers can actually handle 3 birds at once, too. So really the average time to do one bird could be as low as 7 seconds. Compare that to 10 minutes when plucking by hand and we’d be going 90 times faster. 45 times faster than the drill plucker.
With this improvement, we could go from 12 chickens a day to, well, who knows. 100 a day? That could mean we’d have the capacity to sell enough to actually make a–dare I say it–profit?
But a barrel plucker ain’t cheap. The cheapest models seem to start around $500, and as they improve in durability and capacity, they can get as high as $3,000 and beyond. Goodbye profit?
Not exactly. I’ve been swimming in spreadsheets for the past weeks, trying to figure out if we should invest in a plucker. And Kevin Allison’s voice is telling me to take a risk a few times a week lately as I catch up on old episodes of Risk.
I’ve determined that, if we increase our sales by just a bit and don’t expect a profit for the next year or two, we can justify a plucker.
So are we committed to raising chickens for the next 2+ years? Will we take the risk?
I’m going to check our savings account one more time, but I think we’re ready. This is our first significant investment in our farming. It might seem small compared to other farms or businesses, but it’s a huge step for us.
Today’s the day.