The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Culling the Flock January 11, 2013

First our hens weren’t producing enough eggs. Now they are. Only problem is, over Christmas break some of our regular customers weren’t around and our good ol’ gals just kept on doin’ their thing. We should be glad, but instead we find ourselves in a tad of a panic. We’ve got some 200 eggs now in our mudroom, awaiting their hopeful future delivery. Good thing that eggs keep really well. Cuz it’s gonna take a minute to move em. Did you know that your regular, everyday white eggs that you buy at the store may be as much as a month old? And yet still, eggs are just as healthy to eat even a month after that. Truly, this is some miracle food. Our girls eat table scraps, glean what they can from the grass and nearby woods, and turn it all into eggs. I am continually impressed with their efficiency.

These days, however, the snowfall of a few weeks ago has caused an unforseen hitch in our business, Eggs of Hope. Because the girls can’t spend the day foraging in the grass, they now depend entirely on us for food. And that – crazy at it sounds – means we must provide nearly twice as much feed as before. And at nearly $20 a bag, 2 bags a week… well, you can see this has really become more of a hobby these days than a business. It’s frustrating, especially when I’m having difficulty just buying ourselves food, but for now we’re hanging in there. I went through my pantry and cooked up every bit of pasta and flour over six months old, I opened ancient cans of vegetables I knew darned well we would never eat ourselves, and I even added a few scrambled eggs into the mix. Yup, the girls love eggs. And chicken too. ! Hey, whatever works. They are the world’s very best recyclers, of that I have no doubt. Daily I stand in awe of the miracle of a hen and her magical egg.

We sure do have a lot of magic in our house right now. Happily, we’ve got some new customers, and I’ll post some flyers in town, send out some emails. Should be able to move some if I put a little muscle into it. But still, Elihu and I have both been thinking lately that we might need to adjust our strategy a bit. We’ve had a couple of folks ask us if we sell chicken, and while we do eat our own chickens, it might not be a bad idea to step up the meat sales too. Last night Elihu and I spent nearly an hour going over numbers, ideas… I just love that he is so thoughtful about our process, so careful to consider all our options. I am so incredibly proud of him for having such a good business sense about it all. He’s just as mindful of the details as I am – and honestly, sometimes even more so.

And I’m also so very proud of him for being the farmer I myself can’t quite become. When we decide upon butchering all the non-layers next week, I hesitate. It was our original plan – how can I be getting sentimental now? I knew that the old girls were freezer-bound. I just find that it’s an honest-to-goodness personal challenge for me to follow through. But Elihu? Not a problem. In fact, he’s the one coaching me. Telling me that we tend to anthropormorphize them. That they may be individuals, but in the end they’re not that smart. They don’t return our affection. Or at least necessarily remember us from visit to visit. They are simple creatures, he tells me. They know we feed them. They’re funny to watch, and yes, he agrees, we love them…. but they’re just chickens. And after all, he tells me, they were domesticated for this very purpose. Sheesh. All right already. You’re the bigger farmer than me, it’s clear. Ok. Let’s do this thing.

So tomorrow, we’ll vent our chickens. Check out their rears, their egg-laying holes, to see if they’re wide enough to be passing eggs, or if they’re in a dormant, non-laying state. We know that if we have 42 hens but we’re only getting 27 eggs a day, 15 gals aren’t doing their job. And that makes em dead ends. Feed goes in, nothing productive comes out (and what does come out just adds to the mess and future cleanup!). We’ll vent em, paint a big white X on their back if they’re not up to the task, and plan to move em out. I’ll call the Amish farmer on Monday to see when he’s butchering. Then Elihu will help me gather and box the hens up, and load them into the car. I may take him out of school that morning to help, maybe not. It used to be a big deal, a special event, but now, not so much. He’s so nonchalant about the whole thing. Now he knows they meet with a speedy dispatch, and that’s all that matters to him. That they have a good life and a quick, humane death. Like I said, he’s a real farmer. And one with a good heart. A very wonderful combination.

I’m trying to stay focused on our new plan. We need to cull back our numbers over the winter to reduce food costs during the snowy months. We’ll sell our meat birds in mid fall, restart the flock again in the spring (as we do every year with 24 eggs in our incubator) and then start the cycle over. Near the start of fall, as it genders become evident, we’ll butcher the boys as well as the girls who aren’t laying well anymore. We’ll keep the youngish gals and a resident rooster and then just do it all over again.

This is the plan, and although it’s been our plan in years past, we’ve yet to see this process through an entire year without hiccups. Seems there’s always some situation that arises to interfere…  but I feel good about 2013. We have both learned so much together these past four years, and I feel we’re much better equipped to see our business through a successful year. Elihu and I both think that this is the year Eggs of Hope will reach its stride, get its groove. Just need to make a couple nips and tucks here and there. (Our nips and tucks will be a hell of a lot easier to make than what Congress has ahead…) That should do it. Will let you know…

August 2012 921

 

2 Responses to “Culling the Flock”

  1. Gene Burnett Says:

    Yup. Sounds like a good hearted farmer all right. I might have told you this already, but there’s a local free-range turkey farm here…they were interviewing the owner for a Thanksgiving story in the paper and she was quoted as saying “Our turkeys only have one bad day…” Which I thought would be a great motto. I have a good friend who has a bunch of chickens and he brings us a dozen eggs now and then and man, are they good. They are to store bought free range eggs what store bought free range eggs are to factory eggs. They have what another friend calls “stand up” yolks…meaning that when you fry them, the yolk stands up like a little domed stadium rather than limply flattening out. Such a cool thing for a young boy to be so intimate with animals, food production, and decisions like this. I’m sure the lessons learned now will reverberate for many years.


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