Chicks Keep Coming | Bacon Soon

Farming and running your own business is like walking a tightrope: you try to balance what you have time to do, and what you know is the best way to do it. Rarely do I walk that line, often falling off into the abyss of perfectionism or into the scramble of the quick and dirty. One of my weaknesses are projects. I love a project. I find comfort in the single purpose of a project. Building projects are a common culprit and often mean bills don’t get paid, emails are left to wallow in the inbox and marketing goes out with the bath water:) So I’ve tried to reign in my project lust and plan for them. Estimate how long they will take, double that estimation, and plan it into the schedule along with all the other things that need tending. Unfortunately, this approach to projects means the project gets segmented, disjointed and prolonged. Nevertheless, it helps me find that line.

This week our second batch of chicks arrived. Normally not a very noteworthy event, but as we grow our chicken business, systems and infrastructure become obsolete. A baby chick needs warmth. Thus when they arrive they don’t go straight into the pasture shelters (cold for anyone in March) they go into the brooder. In the brooder we can regulate temperature, keep the cold wind out and generally play mother hen. We even add apple cider vinegar and organic sugar to their water for the first few days to boost their immune system and help them recover from the stress of riding 300 miles in a box! Generally the chicks are in the brooder for 3 weeks, at which point they have grown enough feathers to brave the weather of our pastures.

With one brooder setup you can safely have a new batch of chicks arrive every 3 weeks. As one batch goes to the field, the next comes into the brooder to take its place. So what happens if you get chicks every 3 weeks all season long and you still are sold out by March? You can increase the number of chicks in your batch or increase the frequency of batches. Either way you need more brooder space.

This year we’ll have chicks arrive every 2 weeks, so we need enough space to support two batches of chicks at the same time. Last year I built what we call the “brooder house” a small shed that supported our increased batch size of 240 chicks. Only one year later we’ve out grown it and I figured if I built a second brooder house we might just need more the following year. Once you have a few batches of chicks going at the same time, I have some ideas about efficient setups (more projects:) but we couldn’t justify a big expansion this year.

In fact, time was pretty tight. I reigned in my project, perfectionist tendencies, pulled two retired small pasture shelters into the solar barn and began to brainstorm how to keep chicks warm enough inside. It is very difficult for me to settle for the “imperfect” option but this was good practice, it was simple, effective and cheap. Sure, if you’re 3 years old, excited and you lean on the cardboard sides the whole things collapses…if you don’t tape the hand hole cutouts on the cardboard the chicks might jump out and tear around the barn testing your defense skills and resolve…but that’s what that line is about.

Now I just have to be patient. I will likely build a few “Ohio Brooders” to replace the cardboard and foil-faced insulation solution, and we will continue to brainstorm longer term brooder expansion plans. Next week, however, we have another exciting project: relocating one of our walk-in freezers! I’ll keep you posted on that one.

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