This week’s Wednesday’s Whim is written by Garden & Farm Director Ryan Wanamaker:
Beth asked me to write this piece about a week ago. We’d been raising around 150 chickens for the past two months; they were nearing butcher weight and a few of us where getting ready to undergo the tedious and long day of slaughtering, butchering, packing, and making stock out of these birds we’ve spent raising for the last 8 weeks. This was to be the third time we’ve done this in the past year, each time bringing in about 500 pounds of really high quality, homegrown, pastured, and organic chicken for our kitchen; providing great program for guests and campers here as well as meat that we can feel proud and ethical about serving.
I thought I’d write a nice little piece about holistic and integrated agriculture, life, death, cycles.
Things were going really well with this round of birds; they seemed healthier than ever, putting on weight quickly in the warm fall we’ve had. Our new chicken tractor design seemed to be keeping them clean and fed on fresh pasture as well as helping us integrate their manure into our soil fertility program, and I was really looking forward to what I thought was going to be the best and most successful batch of chickens we’d raised yet…
We woke up Thursday to what can only be described as the worst batch of chickens we’ve raised yet. During the night something had torn a basketball-sized hole into the coop and killed about 90% of the birds, leaving only a couple handfuls either missing or still alive.
Devastating carnage, loss, waste, time, energy, food, money…
So here I am now; what is there to say? It’s been a remorseful and reflective week. I’ve questioned things and I have doubts and insecurities going forward. Disappointments and discouragements like this will always be present in agriculture (chemical or organic), but in the long game I have faith that organic agriculture (unlike chemical) can prove ultimately to be a healthy, productive — and yes — sustainable project. I still feel committed to facing the challenges of raising animals on pasture and in an integrated agricultural system and in harmony with the rest of the farm and creation.
There are lessons in this: We can learn how to raise chickens safely again; we can reflect on and assess the value animals provide our production systems as well as our programs. Talking with some of the staff, a consensus of sorts is emerging: The true cost/risk/loss going forward would be if we let this setback discourage us from trying and thereby realizing the profound and real benefits that our guests and campers realize by seeing, tasting, and experiencing a large component of our food system (meat production) done in a way that places a high value on sustainability.
I truly believe we are a small part of a large and growing movement towards realizing the dreams of a sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture is both a new and old movement. As the new practitioners of it, we draw on the tried and true systems of the past, but if we are going to truly succeed we also must be innovative and take some risks. Given the stakes, these risks seem clearly to be worth it as we face the myriad challenges in the process of becoming better stewards of each other, and God’s creation. Please join us in this process!
Whim: “sudden idea.” This weekly post promises a number of things: personal thoughts and reflections, showing off Camp Stevens’ programs and staff, announcements for upcoming opportunities, and answering questions or responding to comments “from the audience.” If you have a topic or question you’d like addressed, just e-mail Beth!