The trust fund yoyos “occupying” Wall Street remind me of the common but inexcusable notion that person A’s poverty is caused by person B’s wealth. The assumption that someone who’s rich got that way by oppressing others and if someone who’s poor got that way by being shafted by rich bastards is just plain wrong. Worse yet, it’s a dismal self defeating world view that ignores the most logical economic interaction of all; the one where both parties are pleased with the outcome. I do not live in a world where every trade creates a loser. There is no reason to suspect that all interactions screw someone. Anyone who does is either projecting or needs to start making better decisions. Life is not a zero sum game.
But you all know that. So I’m going to talk about a mutually beneficial trade that just happened on our homestead. Old chickens.
Hens, like people, start out life cute and useless. (Little baby chicks are the cutest damn thing ever and even a Neanderthal like me will say “awwww” watching them.) Like people they progress through a period of adolescent non-productivity where they consume tons of food and shit on everything. Only after several months are they mature enough to lay eggs. Mother nature gives homesteaders this lesson in delayed gratification every time a fuzzy little chick peeps into the world.
Once you’ve raised hens to that magic age they’re incredibly productive. But nothing lasts forever and they slow down with time. They’ll live several more years and they’re still excellent mobile bug zappers and yard ornaments. It might make sense to keep them around as pets, but they won’t lay enough eggs to sell.
I sell eggs. I’ve got to get new hens on-line and take the old hens off line. Off line in this context means butchered and in the freezer. The old hens are eating too much feed and occupying my limited barn space. I can’t feed the old and the young through the winter.
On the one hand this is pretty cool. Our low productivity chickens can be a source of food. If we were on the set of The Road we’d be pretty darned pleased. More than one family has overwintered on chicken soup. The economy cranks a few points one way or the other and I might find myself delighted with a month of chicken dishes.
On the other hand, butchering is hard work and old egg laying hens are scrawny. They’re not like young meat birds which are plump and easier to process. They’re like wild game. A lot of work to make a meal. Ma and Pa Ingalls had time to mess around with such things. I’ve got a day job so I don’t. Plus I can buy food. In the battle between meat from old egg layers and my limited time…I’d rather not deal with it.
So they’re an asset but I’m too lazy to harvest it (or rather I’m blessed with superior options). What to do? Meanwhile they’re laying eggs every day. Someone who just wanted some eggs for themselves would be happy with them. Delighted, in fact.
Fortunately we met some folks who need what we’ve got. They’d had some predator issues with their chickens and needed replacements. They want just a few eggs for their household. Win-win.
We gave them all they wanted. It didn’t cost them a dime. I don’t have to butcher them. Which frees my time to drink coffee and write pointless blogs.
If you were to ask the Occupy Wall Street folks they’d have to construe it that someone got screwed. But we both came out happy. How cool is that?
Update: I suspect some of my readers with a more economics/scientific bent will point out this isn’t really a trade since I didn’t get anything but relief from the butchering job. They might point out that the only reason I felt an obligation to butcher the chickens is ethics. (I could just kill them all and toss them in a compost pile.) Strictly speaking they’re correct but just killing several score critters is something I’d like to avoid. My reticence wouldn’t show up in a formula and misunderstanding that is why economists don’t get invited to really good parties.
Well said… now if we could only as a society find effective ways to capitalize on the strengths of our own species that had progressed past their most productive days!
Kewl! Wish we were neighbors, ’cause I’d cheerfully trade you a trailerload of whatever or an afternoon’s work for four or six worn-out but functioning egg-layers.
Me too. I’d be happy to deliver a half dozen of ’em and I’ve got about a thousand “afternoon’s work” projects which would go better with two people. Oh well.
Re: update – you got more than just relief from the butchering job, you also saved the cost of feed until you had time to butcher, the time of processing, the electricity and freezer space on scrawny hens, and the time and effort of making food from them. While you got no immediate compensation, you also built goodwill with the neighbors, which may create more mutually-beneficial opportunities, in good times and bad.
Which is why I like getting into arguments with economists at the really good parties.
I saw the chicks this spring at The Farm Store That Doesn’t Carry Parts For Its Namesake (Seriously, Tractor Supply has almost no parts for combines or tractors…), and despite my dislike for adult chickens, I had to stop and spend a while going “Awwwww….” too.
Well, by not slaughtering them and just tossing the carcasses, you may have avoided luring in predators that would do a job on the rest of the flock. We have the local coyote pack howling out in our fields, for example. Hawks will take them right out of the yard during the summer. So much for “free range”!
I’ve got the reverse egg problem. Too many eggs, and there is no point selling them because every little surrounding farm tries to sell their “organic” eggs for $2/dozen. We give them away (but it’s almost like giving away zucchini), gave them to the neighbors this summer when they were raising pigs, bring deviled eggs to every potluck or party, and sometimes when they accumulate too fast and get old just haul them out in the woods and throw them at trees. I figure the more birds I have over the winter, even non-layers, the warmer the whole flock stays, because they can huddle up together.
With a bag of layer pellets or scratch going for about $12-13 each, I’d guess my flock is not saving me any money on eggs. And layers aren’t nearly as tasty as meat birds if you are willing to go through the trouble of butchering/processing, so if I wanted tender meat, I wouldn’t be using my laying flock. But in an emergency…yeah, but they’d need to be stewed or crockpotted.
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