Hens - Helping with College Admission

My son received his official college entrance letter this week and as we congratulated him, we noted the role of our twenty-seven chickens in helping him reach this milestone. In November, the English assignment for all seniors was to write and deliver a ten-minute speech. He was one of six senior boys chosen to deliver his speech to the student body, faculty, and interested parents—nearly 500 people.  He chose to write about raising chickens, the role these feathered friends play in his life, and the road he traveled with his sister to becoming a social entrepreneur by selling eggs from our backyard flock and donating the profits to micro-financing projects through Opportunity International. Even I was surprised when he noted that with proceeds from our eggs over the last seven years, our seventeen-year old boy had donated $10,000 to charity. When the headmaster shared the college letter of recommendation he wrote on behalf of our son, he began by talking about Christian and his chickens. 


"I hope the idea behind raising chickens, serving others in a small but meaningful way, stays with you. Since starting our business seven years ago, we have become successful social entrepreneurs: we have netted nearly ten thousand dollars to fund micro financing projects in Africa, Central, and South America."

Full transcript:

Raising Chickens by Christian O'Connor

Hi, I’m Christian O’Connor. I have two brothers, two sisters, a miniature labradoodle puppy, and… twenty-seven chickens. My motivation for raising chickens came from reading the children’s story One Hen to my little sister. The story is a fictionalized account of a real person. After the death of his father, a young Ghanaian boy moved with his mother to a modest poultry farm. While there, he learned the trade and decided to study poultry science at an agricultural college in Israel. After returning to Africa, he started a commercial poultry farm. In just two years, his operation catapulted from 5,000 to 100,000 birds. On a hungry continent, he realized the potential of a simple commodity: eggs. This boy was Kwabena Darko. From his humble beginnings, he became one of the largest chicken farmers in West Africa. To this day, Dr. Kwabena Darko remembers his modest beginnings and uses his good fortune to give new farmers the same chance he had to expand their businesses through microfinance loans. While he lives nearly eight thousand miles away, Kwabena Darko prompted my sister and I to ask our parents for a chance to hatch and raise chickens for their eggs.  With the proceeds from the eggs, we followed in Dr. Darko’s footsteps and began funding microfinance ventures through opportunity.org. 

Raising chickens is one way to steadily earn money and put those funds to work in a meaningful way. A dozen organic eggs layed by cage-free chickens go for $4 a dozen. Twenty-seven chickens lay about 20 eggs per day, which ends up grossing nearly $47 per week. Subtracting out the eggs we eat and the cost of the chicken feed, my sister and I had about $40 per week to put to work. Together, we decided to use the money we earned to help impoverished people unlock their entrepreneurial potential. By pooling our egg money with money donated by other individuals on the website Opportunity.org, we contribute to a grass roots organization that connects us with people in third world countries looking for micro financing assistance to build their small businesses.  What is microfinance? Microfinance is a source of funding for low-income entrepreneurs and small businesses in poverty-stricken areas that lack access to traditional banking and other financial services. Ultimately, the goal of microfinance is to give impoverished people an opportunity to become self-sufficient. For example, the first project we helped fund was a Guatemalan woman seeking a three hundred and fifty dollar loan to buy a tricycle so that she could more easily transport her vegetables to the market. By pooling our contributions with other investors, the woman purchased the tricycle and optimized her market opportunities to earn more money. Within six months, she repaid the loan to Opportunity International. Her loan repayment fueled further microfinance ventures, initiating a cycle of giving. This woman’s story actually represents the potential of microfinance and illustrates why these loans are so effective. Such loans yield a ninety-eight percent repayment rate through Opportunity International and are grass roots solutions to helping poor people increase their standard of living.

While poultry farming has ignited a personal interest in microfinance, it has also taught me valuable lessons along the way. When my sister and I started this project, my mom decided we needed to familiarize ourselves with the lifecycle of chicken and how a chicken ultimately arrives on our dinner plates. We enrolled in a chicken processing class at Land’s Sake, a local farm that raises organic chickens. Doug, the education director at the farm, selected a chicken for us to kill and prepare. I gave my brother, Brady, who has a taste for the theatrics, the knife. He promptly severed the chicken’s head. We proceeded to boil and pluck the body, and made the bird meal-ready by taking out its intestines. While a little gruesome and not for the faint of heart, this experience gave me a newfound appreciation for organic chickens. Processing a chicken from start to finish, or buying an organic one from a trusted source, ensures that when you eat a chicken, you are actually eating only chicken. In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollen shares, “…the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the world.” From my chicken processing adventure, I learned to make thoughtful decisions about the food I eat and to share with anyone willing to listen that a McDonald’s McNugget has thirty-eight ingredients, is roughly fifty-six percent corn and contains a flammable anti-foaming agent and known carcinogen.  A week in summer of hands-on food education pushed me to consider becoming a vegetarian, but ultimately ended up encouraging me to hurry up and start my own chicken business.

What are the entry costs for chicken farming? Minimal. You can buy chicks for about $3.50 each from a local farmer, or a supply store such as Agway. Food costs are also marginal, as chickens can eat kitchen scraps and leftovers with a few caveats: no onions, no garlic unless you want your eggs to taste like them. Also, unlike most humans, chickens are vegetarians. Trial and error (yes that does mean dead chickens) helped us figure out how to keep the flock safe from predators such as fisher cats, raccoons and foxes. A wire fence that extends two feet underground around the coop prevents predators from digging into the pen. As for time, it only takes about five minutes a day to collect the eggs, feed the chickens, and compost the dirty bedding. The eggs practically sell themselves. Consumers look at buying our eggs as a win-win: they get healthy eggs from chickens that roam around our yard and that haven’t been treated with any chemicals, while supporting microfinance ventures around the globe.  One of my first customers was my elementary school bus driver, Mr. Saltonstall. He bought so many eggs over the years that we named one of our hens after him.

Chicken farming is a feasible undertaking that promotes healthy eating and sustainability in your local community. Backyard chickens are organic pest exterminators and organic soil builders. Chickens eat ticks and mosquitos, protein-packed insects, before they munch on our dog or us.  Raking the soil bedding of the coop creates a rich, fertile compost to apply to your garden, reducing the need for chemicals to control weeds and crabgrass. This soil helps fruits and vegetables to grow nutrient dense. Chicken farming also reduces food waste. Rather than throwing kitchen scraps in the trash and landfills, you can feed these leftovers to the chickens. One chicken can bio recycle nearly seven pounds of food compost each month. In other words, if 1,000 households each raised three chickens, 152 tons of waste would be eliminated from landfills annually.

Rather than a chore, raising chickens is a lifestyle choice. Today I have talked about raising chickens and selling eggs, which might seem like an obscure topic. However, I hope the idea behind raising chickens, serving others in a small but meaningful way, stays with you. Since starting our business seven years ago, we have become successful social entrepreneurs:  we have netted nearly ten thousand dollars to fund micro financing projects in Africa, Central and South America. We have helped some of the world’s poorest people get the resources they need to become productive and successful business owners.  My sister and I have positively impacted the lives of a shoemaker, three street vendors, a pig farmer, a seamstress, and a seminarian turned schoolteacher in countries thousands of miles from our home. In turn, as each of these individuals improves and strengthens his or her financial situation, the surrounding community improves too: children eat better and stay in school longer, and the poorest of the poor find a way to feed their families and break the cycle of poverty in which they live.  Rather than flashes of brilliance, our chicken efforts have succeeded through simple and ordinary diligence. Persistent work and effort have made a meaningful difference in the lives of other people. Through such simplicity, we ought to try to serve our communities in small but surprisingly meaningful ways. Thank you.