“In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right.” – Kristen Kimball, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love
We haven’t felt like much of a success lately.
It’s been a tough couple of months on the ground. The heat this summer was especially oppressive, and the mighty rains of August and September made the farm a swampy mess. The birds and Nick alike were worn ragged by the heat exhaustion, the constant standing water, the bugs. Our pickup truck tried to give up the ghost. My off-farm job needed a little more of me than normal. Egg counts dropped as the laying hens started their first molt. A herd of rowdy pigs from the farm next door rooted up a fresh patch of pasture every night, so the demanding job of moving chicken coops became harder. The new laying hens we ordered to reinforce the flock came in the mail, 100% dead. Egg numbers continued to drop, and we began finding the pasture a puffball of feathers nearly every morning, birds decapitated and left dead in their coops. Our first batch of the broilers for the new season arrived, this time two-thirds dead. It seems that all of our hatchery’s shipments into northeast Florida that day were doomed, somehow affected by heat or cold in shipment, maybe mishandled. With “hatching our own birds” on the “maybe in ten years” list of plans, we added the scary proposition of not being able to get the season’s worth of live chicks through the Jacksonville airport to our list of worries. Hard thing after hard thing after hard thing. Having just passed the two year point, it was defeating to assess our situation, to look at these setbacks, to consider that this was our off-season. Ha! “Off-season.”
As we turned the corner into fall, we focused our attention to planning for the new season ahead. The turkeys continued to grow nicely. The hatchery replaced the lost flock of layers, and they made it through brooder stage and survived their first few weeks out on pasture. The lost broilers were refunded, and we’ve been able to talk with some of other north Florida farmers about other options for getting our birds here safely. We’ve been setting traps and working with our fellow farmers at KYV Farm to pin down the predator issue and find a solution before too many more birds are lost. Whether it’s birds of prey, wild critters, or the neighborhood pigs, we’re figuring out how to protect the chickens and adjusting our budgets for the loss. Reservations for turkeys and broiler chickens are rolling in, welcome cash flow after the lean summer months. We finally bought a truck that can haul all of our feed. We finished a draft lease for the piece of property we’d like to move to, and got it sent off to the land owners for their review. My parents came for a visit, and we got to take them there and share our vision. The plans are starting to flesh out on paper too, making it all seem a little more realistic. We’re bolstered by a community of farmers who, rather than judging our failures, lift us up and offer solutions. New people take interest in our work and our story, who don’t see us as the mad chicken farmers we sometimes feel, but instead tell us that we seem to have our priorities straight. Friends make us dinner and bring us local, small batch gin. All reminders that we are, indeed, moving in the right direction.
We talk a lot about what will mean success or failure for this farm, for us. We wonder whether we’re making the best decisions for the animals, for the business, for our own bodies and minds. Should we have ordered more birds? Why haven’t we started other enterprises yet? Can we manage this harvest schedule? Are we nuts? The answers to questions like these are elusive and always changing. What doesn’t change is how much it matters to us, and that we find real satisfaction in the hard work. Now, to keep it up.