January 4th: The Trolley Question

“I’m a fun father, but not a good father. The hard decisions always went to my wife.” ~John Lithgow

Many of you are probably familiar with the Trolley Question, an ethical quandary first posited in the 1960s regarding right and wrong, and taking action (or not) for the greater good.

The scenario goes like this: you see a speeding trolley. It is about to crash, killing the five people on board. You are near a track switch and can save them if you pull it but there is a man on the alternate track that will die if you do. Would you act to save the five or do nothing and save the one?

Change it up a bit. The same trolley is barreling toward certain destruction with five people on board. You are near a man that is large enough that if you push him onto the tracks his bulk will stop the trolley, but he will die. Do you let the five die or do you sacrifice the one?

If you read into it too much you miss the point.

There is a similar quandary about hard choices that involves a group of people who must stay very silent to remain undetected by an enemy trying to kill them. In their midst is a fussy baby who will certainly cry, giving them away and getting them all killed. Do you kill the baby?

So what does this sober reflection have to do with farming, you ask?

Our chicken flock had been producing around 40 to 50 eggs a day. Suddenly, the production dropped by 1/3. The culprits behind the egg loss turned out to be a pair of roosters, the subordinate gentlemen at the bottom of the power totem pole who had trouble getting enough food from the feeders without being attacked by the alpha rooster. Their solution was to start eating the eggs.

These were two beautiful young roosters that I had raised from chicks. One trusted me enough to eat out of my hand. Conversely, every egg at Big Branch Apiary is sold and profit margins are tight. The cost of feed has doubled in the last two years. This year we took a loss because we didn’t raise prices enough. So what do you do, kill the roosters and save the eggs, or let them live and absorb the loss? sadly, we decided to butcher the roosters, and immediately egg production went resumed.

A harder decision for me was the discovery of a single chick with fowl-pox.

Fowl-pox is passed from wild birds to domestic flocks and is often deadly. Our flock has been vaccinated so we haven’t seen a case in several years. The untimely and unexpected hatching of several broods caught us without any vaccine on hand. But the chicks had been immediately brought into the barn, away from exposure to wild birds. Or so we thought.

Out-of-season chicks are cute as can be but produce some challenges

I saw one chick had developed signs of fowl-pox and decided to clean it up instead of euthanizing it. Within a week it could barely breathe and had to be euthanized anyway. Despite sanitation measures and a complete bedding change-out, six more chicks were infected with more likely to follow. I had chosen the good of the one over the safety of the many.

On some level I guess I haven’t decided if I’m keeping pets or running a financially viable business with poultry as one of the products. With the fowl-pox outbreak I wish, in hindsight, that I had done the tough thing and immediately euthanized the sick chick. Farming is not all fun–sometimes hard decisions have to be made.

Today’s weather was lovely and the list, completed with the help of our guest, Blake, was simple:

1. Feed bees & hens.
2. Collect, wash, and deliver eggs.
3. Start flats of asparagus and eggplant.

Published by c ben-iesau

From L.A. to LA... I'm a New Orleans based artist and writer.

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