We’re low tech egg producers – and there’s something to be said about doing things by hand. We’re in the coops every day holding birds, moving fences and gathering eggs still warm to the touch.
However, the flip side is we do so many things by hand – and that’s hard work and often inefficient.
Before Locally Laid, Jason read all the available lit about sustainable agriculture. The magazines were upbeat, and the descriptions of these farms –with chickens spreading their wings to the wind – were thoroughly bucolic and steeped in nostalgia.
I think about that as we bounce around in our 4-wheel drive Kubota. That’s our bright orange, farm golf cart we use to haul feed and water to our little hoop coops on the prairie. We’re lucky to have BoBo (yes, we named the Kubota), but one still has to lift the 35lbs feed buckets across the flexible fencing and into the pasture. Jason takes two at time. I do not.
But the feed is nothing compared to the waterers. At 8 gallons each and nearly 70lbs when full, they’re more than cumbersome; they’re ballast. Each day the Amundsen boys are lifting approximately 2,600 lbs. Jason, or his brother Brian, is often alone on the farm – and often at the chiropractor.
These are just the bare minimum chores, and it’s rare when there’s not one construction project or the other in the works. And in the winter, it’s Ice Capades on the Prairie.
Recently, Jason was invited to visit a mid-sized farm looking to change from cage-free (meaning chickens who live exclusively inside) to pasture based. This particular location had tech we’ve only seen at huge farms, like gravity feeding that eliminates the need to haul individual buckets.
They also use rollaway nesting boxes, which means the surface where chickens lay is slanted so the egg rolls directly into a basket. These eggs remain relatively clean and won’t be being stepped on or pecked by other birds.
But here’s the kicker.
It was an Amish facility. Yes, a farmer who rejects the modernity of zippers and buttons grossly out techs us. Yeah, that stings.
None of their operation was rocket science, yet for our small farm it might as well have been. To be able to pay for these technologies, a farm has to be scaled large enough to afford it.
Last year, we went to two conferences. One was the commercial ag event in Atlanta primarily for large, caged bird factories. They possess every labor saving contraption on the market to the extreme where birds (and egg quality & nutrition) suffer.
On the other hand, we also attended a fantastic and inspirational organics conference where a speaker spoke out against sustainable farms growing too large and too commercial.
So, we’re left hunting for middle ground. In our core, we believe chickens need to be on pasture, exercise and enjoy grasses in their diet. And we hope, one day, to do it in a way that keeps us walking upright – and in a fashion the Amish wouldn’t find backward.