Avoiding Farm Failure

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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A few days ago, my husband started his car, preparing to drive out. Our front yard has full sun in the mornings, and the chickens often find a shady retreat under the car, but always scatter in panic at the first sound of the engine. This time, however, one of the chickens – whether suicidal or simply too zen to move – remained where she was. 

You can guess what happened. Eeeeek. 

My husband ran for the shovel, hoping to get the deed done before I notice anything, but alas, this was not to be. I poked my head out of the door to remind him of something before he goes.  

I felt really sorry for my poor neighbors, who only just moved in a week or so earlier. I’m sure they didn’t expect to hear such a blood-curdling screech so early in the morning. I whipped up a cake and went for a nice neighborly visit later, and they were very friendly, but I could tell they looked at me weird.

Homestead living is full of casualties. Chickens die. Chicks don’t make it out of the egg. A frost or a draught wipes out a vegetable garden. Unseasonable hail knocks down unripe fruit. The longer you are at this thing, the surer you can be that something won’t go as planned. And the only way to gear up for it and last in the game is to plan for losses (practically, emotionally, financially), and decide you will stick to it. 

Some losses can be devastating, and really make you feel like it isn’t even worth it to try again. We know people who have bought some very expensive purebred chickens for breeding stock, and have become extremely discouraged by a few unsuccessful turns of running the incubator. They are now planning to sell their stock, though when eggs don’t hatch successfully there’s often plenty of room for improvement (from using fresher eggs to monitoring temperature and humidity more closely). They are too stung by their experience to go on. 

Homestead burnout, homestead regret, farm failure… there are many names for this feeling, and a few simple strategies to cope with it:

1. Assess your methods. Is there something you could legitimately do to improve your experience? A reinforced coop against predators, a friendlier chicken breed for easier handling, crops more suited to your land?

2. Plan to fail. Hope to succeed, certainly, but leave yourself a margin of time and money to fall back on. Don’t count on having a productive vegetable garden or a self-sustaining chicken flock within a year. Set aside a sum for casualties. Assume things will always cost more than they are supposed to. 

3. Be flexible. Some things that have worked for others won’t work for you. Accept it and be ready to try something else. For example, if rearing a batch of incubator-raised chicks seems like an overwhelming commitment, try to let broody hens do some of the work for you. That’s what I suggested to our acquaintance with the purebred chickens. 

I sometimes hear that I am way too pessimistic, often talking about ways to cope with loss and failure on the homestead. Well, the truth is, nobody needs advice on how to deal with a successful crop or a constant, plentiful supply of fresh eggs. But a lot of people can be encouraged by hearing that the perfect green thumb gardener they know has also experienced blight, and the people with the quaint little family dairy once had all their goats escape and trample their neighbors’ flowers. 

Emergencies will happen, and the only way to combat them is by resilience and flexibility. Adopting some simple precautions can help as well. 

In other words, always look under your car before you back out of the driveway. 

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna’s books are on her Amazon.com Author PageConnect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blogRead all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here.


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