Stories of Rural Life! Chicken Farming - Part 2
Date Posted: 26/02/2015
By Jim Reid, Caledon, Ontario
I bet most people have no idea how quickly chickens grow. I guess all birds are like that. To get to be about the size of a Swiss Chalet chicken, you only have to be about 8 weeks old. Chicken farmers must make a fortune. Here lies a great little opportunity for me. If I could figure a way to keep these little guys alive for 8 weeks, then as soon as they were gone I would buy some more, maybe lots more. It wasn’t long before my final 18 were too big for the crate, but I had them well protected in the chicken coop. I wasn’t sure when to take them to be slaughtered, so I decided to do a little experiment and have 6 butchered every week over a 3 week period. It was when I was down to the final 6 when I ran into problems.
One day I noticed that one was missing one. It was me against some little dumb critter who thinks he can out smart me. But there was no way that was going to happen. I purchased a trap, a good investment I thought, if I am going into the poultry business. Maybe I could expense it on my income tax. The next day all birds were accounted for and the trap was not disturbed. However, the next day, the trap was tripped, its food gone and 2 more birds were missing as if to make up for the day before. Ok, so now the score was even. I had 3 left out of the final 6. I was determined not to lose this battle. I did everything I could think of. When the day arrived for my last trip to the slaughter house, I only had one chicken left.
“I thought you were bringing me 6?” the lady at the slaughter house asked. “No, just one this time, that’s all” I replied. I wasn’t going to admit my failure to match wits with a raccoon. When I returned to pick up my final chicken, she asked me if I had any problems with animals trying to get my chickens. “Why do you ask?” I said. “Well, I wondered when I saw all of the teeth marks on this one,” she replied.
I thought that I had learned all there is to learn about being a poultry farmer. This could be easy money, taking advantage of your resources, a chicken coop on a farm with lots of room to free range. All I had to do is protect them. Right now the score was 5 to 1, not including the turkeys or the weed and feed mishap. But I was determined to improve the score. So, I made the trek back to Fergus to visit the lady at the hatchery. I very confidently ordered 4 dozen chicks this time with no flak from the old tired chick behind the counter. “How are your turkeys doing?” she asked. Before I had time to think about my response, I answered her with the truth. But confidently told her that I had that problem solved and really did well with the last dozen chickens I bought from her. I meant to say 2 dozen. Anyway, I managed to get 12 full grown chickens in the freezer and it only cost me about 12 bucks! Not bad for a rookie! 12 bucks, plus maybe a few other items like chicken feeders, water feeders, a trap, some chicken wire and a little bit of wasted weed and feed. This time I had all of the tools that I needed to make a profit as a chicken farmer.
Things were going very well, again. Up until the birds were a few weeks old. It was a bright sunny day, I had checked on the birds before my wife and I went to play tennis and all was well. When we returned, not 90 minutes later, all 48 chicks were dead! My costs were going up. So far, my dozen chickens in the freezer, were fast approaching the cost of one trip to the grocery store.
My wife stepped in, “I bet it was JB,” she said. JB was my dog. He was a black lab German Shepherd cross and very intelligent. We had had our “little” talk quite some time ago, about not killing any chickens. We had this talk years previous to this about cats. I knew he understood what I meant about cats, because every time he killed one, he would start shaking. He knew he wasn’t supposed to do it, but just couldn’t help himself. I was quite convinced that he understood that chickens were off limits and just as a reminder since he was smart but could not read, I drew a picture of a chicken with an x through it and kept it over the entrance of his dog house. I was convinced that JB would not harm any of the chickens.
“How do you know it wasn’t Cleo?” I asked. Cleo was my wife’s cocker spaniel. “Cleo? Are you kidding? Cleo would never harm anything! It had to be JB.” “No it couldn’t be JB, he even has the sign as a reminder.” “He probably thinks that means x out all chickens!” my wife said.
My dog took a lot of abuse the next week or so. Word was quickly spreading about our killer dog. My mother in law even commented one day. I thought if anyone would come to JB’s rescue it would be her, because she is a big dog lover. She did not disappoint. On one of her visits she said she would never blame the dog for such an event. She felt that the responsibility lay with the trainer!
That is when I decided to buy some more chickens. My children begged me not to do it. But I was determined to make this work and also prove to everyone that my dog could be trusted. Now, there was no way that I was going back to the same hatchery. I looked up the yellow pages and found one in Brampton. This time I ordered 10 dozen! I needed to increase the numbers if I was ever going to hope to break even in my farming business. Just to be sure, I kept them all in our barn this time.
Again I checked on them before my wife and I went to play tennis. When we returned we both walked up to the barn with JB and Cleo right behind. There scattered all over the barn floor were 111 dead chicks! Only one survived! It was one very valuable bird, probably worth at least 200 dollars. JB stood by my side and just looked around the room. In came Cleo. She saw the one bird remaining, ran up to it, grabbed it, gave it a quick shake and just left it dead on the floor with the others. JB just looked up at me as if to say, “I tried to tell you!”
None of these birds had been eaten, just killed for no reason, as if it were fun. Then I happened to look up. There above me, resting on his 2 front paws, was a racoon. A racoon with a grin on his face as if to say, “I can’t believe you could be that stupid! Oh, and thank you. I just love chicken and turkey. By the way the score is now 164-1, not including the last one!”
I was so mad. From that day forward, I hated racoons. Every time I see one dead at the side of the road, I am reminded of my failure as a chicken farmer, but take great delight in knowing there is one less masked villain living in our midst.
No, I was not going to give up. I was looking up the number of another hatchery. That is when my wife put her foot down. The kids begged me once more. It was when the threat came that if I came home with any more chicks, they would turn me in to the humane society. My own kids were going to turn me in. I thought long and hard about that one.
At least I could come away from the experience knowing that my dog was not a chicken killer. When I see chicken on sale at the grocery store, I wonder if the public has any idea what a bargain it is.