By Peter L DeHaan
my office is an evocative black and white aerial photo of my
grandfather’s chicken farm, circa 1960. Grandpa
and Dad ran the farm, along with a revolving assortment of hired help.
The farm consisted of five barns, in two interconnected groups.
Together they accommodated 15,000 hens. Four
buildings housed “layers,” with eggs being the farm’s principle
product. Each building was staged, with the hens’
age being staggered by four months. When egg
production for a building would taper off, those hens would be sold,
ending up in cans of condensed chicken-noodle soup. (The
ratio of cans per chicken intrigues me to this day.) The
fifth building was the “pullet” house; think of it as the nursery.
farm had a predictable seasonal cycle to it. The
hens from the oldest building would be sent to market, the vacated
coop cleaned, disinfected, and refurbished, and the maturing hens from
the pullet house would move in. Then the pullet
house would be similarly prepped. (A window of
opportunity existed, between the disinfect and repopulate stage, when
I was permitted to roller skate in that building.) It
was exciting for me when the hatchlings were delivered. They
would arrive unassumingly, transported in cardboard cartoons, with 100
per, and delivered via station wagon. The shrill
cacophony of their combined chirping was surely deafening to the
driver; even in the open space of their new abode, their peeping was
audibly overwhelming. I took great joy in my small
role of liberator, watching their cute, yellow, fluffy bodies scurry
in all directions, from the gently upturned box.
farm also had a daily rhythm. Aside from the
feeding, cleaning, and ongoing maintenance, there was the gathering
and processing of the eggs. Each hen house was an
open space (there were no caged chickens), with condo-like rows of
open nests. How most hens knew to lay their eggs in
the nests and not on the floor remains a mystery to me.
a pre-schooler, I would sometimes get to go with Dad to gather eggs;
it was great fun – for the first 10 minutes. I
quickly learned to avoid nests with hens in them; they would peck the
back of your hand. Even the jersey gloves with
cut-off fingers that Dad wore seemed to be inadequate protection.
I resorted to gathering eggs from empty nests, in the lower
rows that I could reach. Once I needed to rest and
sat on a little stool. Only it wasn’t a stool; it
was a basket of eggs. I broke half of them before I
could extricate myself. I was mortified.
Dad patiently cleaned me off, and I think Grandpa laughed.
baskets of eggs were put on carts, which hung from an elevated rail.
The rail system snaked through the barns, terminating at the
farmhouse, where the eggs were brought to the basement for processing.
Once cleaned, the eggs were put in the “candling” machine,
where each was individually checked by shining a light through it.
The machine sorted the eggs by size. The
extra-large, large, medium, and small sizes were sold; the
“pee-wee” and “jumbo” eggs made it to the family table.
(One morning, I ate three pee-wee eggs; another morning, a
jumbo fed three of us.)
due to health issues for Dad and a sudden desire by Grandpa to retire,
the farm was shut down and the hens sold. The next
day, as I took my usual shortcut to school though the back of the
farm, I spotted a wayward hen who had escaped the deportation.
My cousin Steve and I tried in vain to catch it. I
knew we needed expert help and ran to get Grandpa. Although
skeptical of my tale, he immediately went to help; alas, neither
chicken nor Steve could be found. Grandpa suggested
I get to school and I later learned that Steve had caught the skittish
hen and at a loss of what to do, put her in the cab of the Grandpa’s
I keep it?” I plied Mom and Dad. Dad couldn’t
say no, garnering me a private supply of eggs. My
hen produced an egg every 27 hours. (The exact
laying cycle varies with breed, age, diet, environment, and season.) This
was a bit short of my hope for an egg a day, so I considered a second
hen. That would be more eggs than I needed, so I
would share with my family. Why stop at two, my
young mind reasoned. Six hens would produce enough
for everyone, with some left over. A dozen hens
would mean eggs to sell. How far could it grow?
Soon my elementary-school entrepreneurialism envisioned me
helping feed and support my family.
not sure if I shared any of this vision with Dad, but when I asked for
a second hen, it was soon granted. Dad, picked a
strong, robust hen; she was a fine specimen and I was ecstatic.
Unfortunately, my two hens didn’t get along, with the new one
dominating and attacking the original. Even with a
larger pen, the abuse continued, production dropped, and soon my
cherished pet was dead, killed by her associate and ostensibly by my
desire for more. That day, my dream died, too.
this isn’t a story about chickens; it’s really about people.
It’s not a commentary on greed or rant against capitalism,
but rather a call for balance and pragmatism:
is Not Always Better:
Sometimes less is more; enough said.
Scope Produces Increase Challenges:
I was a successful farmer of one chicken. I wrongly
assumed that if I could raise one, two would not be a problem, after
all, it’s a scalable concept. I never dreamed
that I would have “labor” issues to deal with – it never came up
in a one chicken operation!
too often, business people expand their operation without considering
the ramifications. They forget that with a bigger
operation will require more support and add new and unforeseen
challenges. This often occurs when a successful,
one location business, opens up a second site. Suddenly
neither is doing well. It might be they have the
wrong management style, maybe the owners became distracted, or perhaps
the requisite infrastructure was lacking.
What You Have: I took my hen
for granted. When a better one came along, I jumped
at the opportunity.
done the same with employees; maybe you have too. You
have people whose work may not be stellar, but who have been steady,
faithful, and dependable for years. Then a
bright-eyed, eager-to-please applicant arrives and the next thing you
know, the new employee has chased the proven one away. It’s
only then when you realize that the newer model wasn’t the solution
you thought; you long for the “good ole” days, with your trusty
assistant, before things got messed up with a new hire and your
longing for something better.
Content: We live in a
society that is seldom satiated and always lusts for more.
It’s not bad to have dreams and set goals; in fact, it is
good to do so and detrimental to lack aspirations. However,
when the push for more becomes the focus, the best parts of life begin
to obscure, going unnoticed and unrealized.
first step is to truly distinguish between needs and wants.
So many things that we think we need are in reality not
necessary and merely a nice extra. In the big
picture, how important is a bigger house, a newer car, a grander
vacation, or more “toys?” Will they bring joy
and satisfaction or just make you more tired, with added pressures?
Ask yourself, “When was the last time that I actually wore
out an article of clothing, as opposed to merely getting bored with it
or it becoming too tight? This is starting to get
at the crux of the issue. Being content with what
we have is a good place to strive for; learning to be content with
less is even better – and still leaves us ahead of the majority of
people on the planet.
get so busy counting your chickens that you miss out on what you have.
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