“Ok” she said as she gestured to the small empty hen house that was sitting in the corner of the yard. “Tell me what I should do with my chickens."
It was a question that I was half expecting, half not expecting. I was visiting some friends who are in the middle of a renovation on a new house that they just purchased, and I had come over to check the place out. Having just returned to California after an extensive time working and learning at Polyface Farm, I have been ready to share the information that I have gathered. With the experience I attained there, I stopped off in Indiana where I helped get a small farm laid out; I worked with the owners on certain aspect of the infrastructure, planning, and how many animals they would start with.
It was awesome! I’m ready to share and help more fellow farmers.
Sharing this information and my experience with others has been proving to be beyond enjoyable. I love talking with people and hearing their ideas, as well as laying out mine. As I have been having an increased number of individuals ask me to come and check out their places, or wondering if they can bounce ideas off of me, I have been seeing some trends and patterns with people’s questions. What I have begun to do is have a response/first question that I approach them with.
When they ask me “what should I do with my chickens?” I respond with “well…what are your goals?”
When someone says to me “where should I put up this interior fence?” I respond with “what are your goals with installing this fence?”
And when an individual inquires as to “what methods you would use if I had you started managing my cattle for me?” I answer with “well, let’s talk about what your goals are for these cattle.”
You see, your goals determine your approach to a situation and what your actions regarding it are going to be.
If my friends with the backyard chicken coop have their goal being that they want a dozen eggs a week, but that they don’t want the chickens wandering around their yard and pooping on the deck around their pool, then their approach to how they manage their birds is going to be different than it would be if they wanted the eggs, plus a level of tick and insect control that could be accomplished by letting the birds roam free in the yard during the day.
One goal (keeping the birds in their fenced in coop) results in eggs on the table and ticks on their children, while the other (granting the birds range of the yard) might mean fewer to no ticks, eggs on the table, but extra time spent in the evening shutting the coop and sweeping the chicken poop off the deck. There’s a tradeoff. They need to decide what they really want. What they are willing to do for it. What their goals are.
This goal determining needs to be decided before an individual embarks on the journey of starting a farm, and then this question needs to be asked about the subsequent steps that result from the initial goal.
If a person is working full time and wants a little something extra just for themselves, the five hens in the backyard might just fit the bill. They set up their coop. They buy the pullets and feed, and there you go…happy homesteading. At this stage, Jane and John Doe aren’t going to worry about how to position interior fencing on their property or how to set up a brooder that can hold a thousand hens. That’s not part of their goal.
But let’s say that the Does decide that their 20 acres would also be great for raising five hogs and a hundred layers because they want to provide maybe a little additional income and they want to raise some extra food for their neighbors. Now this new scenario again begs the question on what their goals are, not just for themselves, but also for the property.
How much does the land play into it? Maybe they don’t give a rip about the health of the land, and they decide to make a stall in the corner for the pigs and a larger coop for the chickens. The pigs make a mini moon-scape in their pen and the birds continue to do their thing. Overall health of the animals is obviously not as good as it could be if the animals were out on pasture, but the Does still have jobs they have to show up to since those punch cards won’t stamp themselves.
On the other hand, let’s say that they have this awakening and it’s not only the animals that they want, but they see the potential of bettering the soil and increasing fertility and yield by rotationally grazing the pigs as well as granting the birds freedom to some pastureland. Well, now their “free time” is spent moving a group of pigs now and then and gathering the eggs from the Eggmobile that they created to better manage their free-range layers. Gone are the late evenings on the town, because they birds need to be closed in the Eggmobile and they don’t want to be heading out to the field to do it at 1am.
You can see where I’m going with all of this.
Goals determine everything, and I’m not convinced that everyone takes the time to sit down and ask themselves what they are trying to accomplish.
If you can set yourself up with a battle plan that leads to your objective, then you are ten steps ahead of where you would be if you just started throwing things together and seeing where you end up. I’m not saying both won’t work, because both methods probably would. But knowing your goals can save you frustration and trials down the road as you have something you are working towards.
So do it. Get a battle plan. If you need to, get advice. Read a book. Draw from the farming community and experience around you and formulate a plan of action that will help you fill those boxes in on your personal check lists.
I love check lists.
Let’s set some goals, people.
“It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goals to reach.”- Benjamin E. Mays
Interested in seeing more of what Tim does at Polyface Farm? Follow along through the lens of his camera on Instagram, username MyPolyfacePerspective.
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.