Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The weird alien chicken and people who "want to farm"

This is the story of the weird alien chicken

Last summer I was doing my normal thing, and I had a fellow come up, and over the course of a half hour basically interview me about my operation. What I raised. How I raised it. Where I purchased my feed, how I fed the animals, where I got the feeders. What I thought about watering systems, problems with predators... on and on. Eventually he purchased 10 chickens, and I chalked it all up to curiosity, and put it out of my head.

That's too cheap

A month or so later he's back, and he's found a fellow who can sell him started laying hens cheaper than me. Ridiculously cheap. Like for $3/bird.

How much does it cost to raise a laying hen?
I thought about that. A laying hen chick from a hatchery runs you between $1 and $3, plus shipping. And then you have to feed it for 6 months, which runs about $8, and then you have to have the equipment, land, and labor, to do all of that, which runs you $4-5 ($1 overhead per chicken per month), which gives me a cost to produce a started laying hen of $13-16. And then you have mortality, which can run as high as 10% even on a good day, and 50% on a bad day. Stuff happens.

Profit: Means you stay in business

I sell those birds for $22, which covers the mortality, and provides a 10% profit margin over my cost. I can't sell the birds for less and be here next year. So I can't figure out how these folks are selling theirs for $3.

Too good to be true
I tell this fellow that the price is too low. That the birds being sold are probably spent laying hens 2-3 years old, and that their best egg-laying days are long behind them. He assures me that they're 9 month to 1 year old birds. I can't get it. Maybe someones going out of business. Do I want some of these birds? No, not really. I'd rather know exactly what I'm selling and that they got the best care I could provide for maximum egg laying capacity. But thanks for asking.

What he ended up with

Two months later he brings in 4 tattered hens. They've all had their beaks dubbed (the top part of the beak cut off, a dead giveaway that they're confinement hens) and they're all molting. He asks me how old they are? I tell him that birds don't typically molt until the end of their 2nd year, and from the look of the ears and legs of these birds that they were at least 3 years old. How much did I think they were worth? $2-3, I said, wholesale, as stewing chickens. He'd bought 100 of these birds, and none of them were laying for him.

It's the dot-com thing all over again

Over the course of the summer he ended up purchasing about 100 birds from me, of various sorts. Every week or so he'd show up with a bunch of birds he'd bought from somewhere, buy a couple of hundred pounds of feed from me, and off he'd go. Meanwhile he's got ads up on craigslist, he's rented a bit of farmland just down the road from me, and he's in the chicken business. As my competitor. Lovely. Selling for less than it costs me to produce. Great. Echoes of the dot-com thing... what do you do when your competitor does crazy things? you stick to your knitting and mind your business. It works out in the end.

Farming in the summer is a joy. It's warm, the weather is nice. You're outside a lot, it smells green and lovely. And then September came. and the frosts. And the freezing mud.

The end is near

And this fellow came by one day and asked if I'd be interested in purchasing his flock. I asked why. "farming is hard work. Boy, I was raised on a farm in Minnesota, and I'd forgotten how hard it is. ". Yes, indeed, it's hard work. I did the math in my head, figuring the number of sales I'd lost because his sign was between my farm and the offramp from the freeway... and made an offer. He had purchased over 300 birds. We concluded the deal and I handed him the cash, and that's how I came to own this particular bird.

A golden campine is not a production bird, it's not a great egg layer, and its kinda small for eating, but it sure is pretty, and has done very well on the farm. So I think I'll keep him, and I'll probably order some chicks because it turns out that I like this breed. This particular rooster is making his living eating the feed spilled from the feeders in the smallest pig pen, and doing quite well.


Dave said...

sure is a pretty bird, supprised your competition stayed in business as long as he did, sounds like he had more $$$ than sense.

Bruce King said...

I was surprised he made it that far, too. I'm guessing he put $10,000 into it overall.

Snowi-Ella said...

That is a pretty bird. He looks familiar. This will be the third time I've commented your blog, and I may have mentioned how I commute to Everett for school every morning. I tend to look out the window, particularly at the farmland. On yours, I've sometimes noticed a really pretty rooster strutting around - is that him?

Also, I saw calves today. Are they new?