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Maybe some day we will be able to afford all the fancy equipment required to process the macadamia nut harvest ourselves but until then all we can do is sell the nuts to one of the local mills. The mills aren't known for taking care of the farmers. They pay low prices and operate on their own schedules. There is only one mill that will send a truck to pick up my macadamia nuts. They're the ones I normally sell to.
I have to call the mill a couple weeks ahead of time to schedule a pick-up, then call my pickers and try to schedule them for a day or two before the pick-up. If the pickers show up too soon then the mac nuts go bad sitting in the bags. If the pickers show up too late then I have to reschedule the pick-up and the mac nuts go bad sitting in the bags. So timing is critical.
This is the peak of the harvest season and the mill is quite busy. They're so busy that they stopped accepting mac nuts. Luckily I had already scheduled a pick-up right before they stopped accepting new orders. Not so luckily, the pickers never showed up when they said they would. So we took the family out to the macadamia nut orchard and spent the day picking the nuts ourselves. We managed to pick 10 bags. Not much compared to the 100 bags the pickers filled the last time they were here.
The pickers did finally show up, two weeks late. By that time the mill had stopped accepting new orders. I called around until I found a mill that was still taking macadamia nuts. They're way up on the other side of the island, about an hour and a half away. If I really cram them in, I can fit 18 bags in my pickup. It would take me three trips, nine hours of driving and way too much gas to deliver all my mac nuts. Totally not worth it.
A little interrogation revealed that the mill has a deal with a nearby farm that acts as a transfer station. I could deliver the nuts there. It still took me three trips but it was only 10 minutes away instead of an hour and a half. Much more reasonable.
The transfer station is at Kona Poultry Farm, one of the only commercial poultry farms on the island. I had recently read an article in the local newspaper about how Kona Poultry Farm had decided to go out of business. Apparently they just can't compete with the giant chicken farms on the mainland. It's cheaper to ship eggs from the mainland than it is to raise and feed the chickens here. So Kona Poultry Farm decided to close their poultry business. I was there on their last week of business.
While delivering my macadamia nuts, I asked about their chickens. "How many do you want? We have a couple thousand." was the answer. I hadn't planned on getting any chickens but now I considered it. I was told I had to hurry because they had already run out of feed. Those chickens had a day or two left at most.
Chickens can live 20 years or more. Few manage to make it that long. Commercial poultry farms only keep their chickens for about a year. After the first year the chickens don't lay quite as much and their egg shells are thicker. So as soon as the chickens get their first molt, the entire flock is butchered and replaced with younger chickens. This flock has just started their first molt. Their days were numbered. They're known as "stew hens".
After discussing it with Valerie, we decided that we'd go ahead and get a few chickens. Even if they all died they still would have lived a little longer than they would have otherwise. Indeed, when I went back the next day to get some chickens the pot was boiling, the knives were sharpened and the butchering had already begun. With a couple thousand chickens it takes them a few days to butcher all of them so there were still plenty of chickens for me.
I asked for 10. I was given 11, just in case one died. It cost me $1 per chicken. I paid $20 with the agreement that I could come back and ask questions if I had to. Apparently the easiest way to handle a bunch of chickens at once is to tie their legs together. So I received two handfuls of chickens.
We did not get a rooster. It's a common misconception that chickens need a rooster in order to lay eggs. In fact, healthy chickens lay about two eggs every three days with or without a rooster. You only need a rooster if you want baby chicks. Maybe some day we'll get a rooster. For now, we're happy with just the eggs.
Our new chickens received temporary lodging in an old aluminum shed we have. It was funny watching them their first few days. Commercial chickens are raised in tiny little cages, two or three chickens per cage. So these chickens weren't used to walking around. They routinely fell over any time they tried to walk or flap their wings. Even though most chickens prefer to roost on a branch or other object off the ground, these chickens spent their first night huddling in a corner of the shed.
It took several days before they decided that the open sky wasn't really so scary. They've learned to walk around better and they've started roosting on a pallet I had leaned against the shed wall. They've even started to come outside and sunbath in the afternoon. It's somewhat disconcerting because they'll just flop over on their sides as if they died from sudden fright. They look dead until you get too close when they'll jump up and run back into the shed.
The chickens will eventually be moved into a portable chicken coop. Portable if you have a tractor or ATV to tow it with. The advantage of a portable coop is that you don't have to clean it as often. When the ground under the coop starts to get too nasty, I'll simply move the coop to a new location. This will help spread the fertilizer around. It'll also help give the chickens a fresh batch of bugs and weeds to eat.
I'm sure there will be more posts about the chickens as time goes on. These chickens are too small for Thanksgiving dinner but we'll probably have plenty of fresh eggs by then. Even without eggs, the chickens are proving to be great entertainment.
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