Will stop the farming. This Saturday was our first scheduled processing day for our broiler chickens and thank goodness for the ability to forecast the weather. We’ve been receiving gargantuan volumes of precipitation this year and with the knowledge that a significant storm front was moving in, I knew i needed to do a lot to get ready.
I asked for the shift off from the fire department on Thursday and spent the day tilling and planting, getting 60+ tomatoes in and 30+ squash. A part of that time was spent putting my burgeoning mechanical skills to use to keep our tiller going. Farmers have to be handy and somewhat mechanically inclined because if you use any machine long enough, it’s going to break. I’d go broke if I hauled something to the repair shop every time a belt burned off, a fuel line cracked or a head gasket needed to be replaced.
Friday I had two things that I knew would absolutely have to be done; pick up our feed order and prep a covered area for chicken processing. We have a large car port type shed next to our barn that I suppose was once used to keep a camper or other large vehicle under cover. In the past year and a half, it became something of a “catch-all” for various junk like an old riding lawn tractor, leaking hose, an antique freezer, a recliner, and garbage cans full of… well garbage. So we went to work pulling out all the junk and the worst thing was there wasn’t time to go to the dump or scrap yard. I got the call that our feed order from Countryside Organics was ready to be picked up, so I hitched up the trailer and picked it up. Then we had to sort through it and separate the order into individual orders for those who order with me (otherwise we could barely afford to feed this stuff) and get it covered up.
Once we had the new processing area cleaned out, I realized it was time for me to run to Douglasville to pick up my oldest son from his mother’s. After returning and eating supper, we moved the processing equipment into the newly cleaned out area. (Somewhere in the middle of all this we got all the critters took care of.) The I got to thinking about how we were going to move chickens from the pasture before the rain arrived. Our wagon had finally bit the dust after 14 years of hauling kids, toys, rocks and chickens. The only other option is to use a wheel barrow. So we go down to where the broilers were in the pasture and start catching and loading them into a crate. I then pushed a loaded crate with about 50+lbs of chicken uphill to the barn. That was killer. The second trip just about did me in.
If I was going to get all these birds up to the barn, I needed to do something else. So we decided to have a chicken drive. We moved the poultry netting around to make something of a long paddock that stretched from the chicken tractor to the top of the hill which would get us half way to the barn. We used a bucket of grain to try to lure them to follow us and after a bunch of chasing errant birds, frustration, and persistence we finally got them corralled in a small area. We went back to hauling birds to the barn but after a few more trips, I was done. The week had caught up with me and I could not carry another loaded crate. so we pulled a vacant chicken tractor over and loaded them in it to spend the night and weather the storm.
As I was getting into bed, Katie says over her shoulder, “Are you going to sharpen knives in the morning?” Sigh. I got back up, went to the kitchen, got out the knives and went to sharpening. The storms moved in and buckets of rain fell.
When I woke up Saturday, it was still raining. I roused up the kids and we got busy with our chores. While I was filling the scalding tank, my 9-year-old comes to me and says something bad has happened with the next flock of broiler chicks that we had moved out onto the pasture a few days ago. I walked down to the tractors that housed them and in one, there was a pile of dead chicks. These tractors are mostly covered but there is an area covered with wire. These poor, stupid, immature birds had tried to huddle together in the uncovered section and all died from exposure. I began picking up their cold limp bodies and counting. 15 small corpses were place in a bucket and two more that I could tell were on the verge of death, so I went ahead and ended their lives. I said a prayer, asked God for a positive attitude and carried on with our tasks.
The processing actually went quite well. The covered area was great and there is just enough room to get the entire “disassembly” line under shelter. I wasn’t surprised that about half of those who had said they’d be coming out to help didn’t show but our two consistent stalwarts, Amanda and Sandra joined us as did two first timers, Brad from Atlanta and my very own mother! I made an executive decision that to save us time, we would be leaving the necks attached and boy did it. It also saved the blades of our knives. The day went without a hitch, anytime there was a lull in the downpour, we’d fetch a load of chickens from the pasture. Our volunteers had to depart and in the end we finished the last eight birds simply as a family and we got done right as our first customers arrived. Everyone was super gracious and as always we received some tremendous words of support and encouragement. The worst thing that happened was that as one was slowing down to turn in our driveway, she was rear ended by someone. Fortunately no one was hurt.
Now for the icing on the cake; several days prior, I had been in tentative talks with some folks who were looking for a second vehicle as a trade for a young Jersey cow. I had (somewhat jokingly) offered to trade our Tahoe since we have three fuel hogs. I was rather surprised that they decided to go with the barter. I was looking at selling it anyway and with my bottom price being about $1200 more than their asking price on their cow, they offered to include her heifer calf en lieu of cash. So after the final customer had left (barring a couple of stragglers), the Barnett Family arrived from Elberton with Rachel and her calf whom we’ve named Rosemary. Now we just need to see how Rachel is going to take to being a milk cow.
Post Script: Katie called me at the fire station today to tell me that seven more broiler chickens have died. Seems we’ve got some serious figuring to do.