One of our goals as parents is to teach our children responsibility and accountability. As organic dairy farmers in southeastern Minnesota, we have a strong work ethic and feel that staying in bed until 7am is sleeping in!
Summer vacation was looming. We didn't want our daughters (ages 12 & 9) to just hang around without having something productive to do each morning that would get them out of bed. Since our milking setup wasn't conducive to having them help, we needed another option. My husband came up with the idea of having them raise chickens. The girls would do the work, market the birds, and keep the money to put toward fun activities with their friends and school clothes for the fall. Besides giving them a reason to get up in the morning, we felt that our plan would also help them learn some basic money skills.
We started with 300 day-old chicks. My husband, Chuck, and the girls picked them up from the feed store. They carefully dipped the beak of each bird in water and set them on the floor lined with newspaper. The heat from the brooder stove kept their furry little yellow bodies warm.
Each morning and late afternoon, the girls would go down and take care of their chickens. They cleaned the waterers and filled them with fresh, cool water. They poured food into the feeders scattered around the room. They watched the little birds to make sure they were doing okay.
Every few days for the first couple of weeks they had to remove the soiled newspaper and replace it with fresh, clean newspaper. As the weeks went by, the birds grew. Finally they were ready for butchering. We loaded the live birds into crates and took them to a USDA processing facility that was several miles from our home. The next day we went back and picked up the dressed (cleaned), frozen birds.
The girls went to several networking (BNI) meetings with me to market their birds. They brought a bird to show, talked about their project, described how tasty the birds were, and handed out flyers for ordering. They learned how to give a specific 60-second commercial that made the audience drool (especially when they talked about chicken cooked on the grill with BBQ sauce). They sold over 230 birds through word-of-mouth marketing.
The next year we ordered 600 birds. The process was the same but the girls weren't as excited. It took more coaxing (and occasional threats) to get them to do the chores. To be honest, it would have been easier for me to have done the chores myself, but that wasn't teaching them what I wanted them to learn.
The next year, my husband ordered 900 birds without consulting our daughters or me. Our daughters rebelled and refused to take care of them. They found it more fun to trap gophers because they made good money and they got to DRIVE out in the fields. Driving to make money was so much cooler than walking down to the chicken barn! I ended up doing the chicken chores. That was the last year we had chickens.
Our family learned some great lessons from this experience. These lessons apply both in life and in business. We learned:
- There is an adrenaline rush and higher energy level when we are introduced to something new. It's usually temporary.
- Getting support from the people who are supposed to be helping us is critical. If they don't want to do it, it either won't get done or won't get done well. There is massive effort and energy involved in trying to convince someone to do something on a regular or consistent basis if they don't want to do it. This applies whether it's our kids, spouse, or employees!
- Be aware of the trends (or the temperament of kids in this case) and how the changes will affect us and what we want to accomplish. If the chicken barn had been in a different location where they would have had to DRIVE to it, they probably would have had chickens one more year.
- Know when to move on!
I love sharing this story and then drawing comparisons on how it applies as business professionals and speakers. The audience resonates strongly and remembers the story for years to come. Think about your own life - what stories can you bring to life from the stage that can be associated with you and remembered for years to come?