The key to successful partnering. And, how did the chickens go?

The hard work of life will never be split perfectly down the middle 50/50 between two willing partners. Ever. The sooner you come to realize that, you’ll be happier, and your partnerships across all areas of life will be healthier.

In any partnership—business, marriage, friendship—the workload shouldered by each individual is always fluctuating, never static. The key element is trust, an understanding that each of you is equally committed to the success of the whole. Within such an arrangement, the amount of work performed by each party generally swings back and forth, like a pendulum, in the range of a 45/55% split in terms of effort exerted by each person. A perfect 50% split down the middle only happens for brief moments in time, whilst the pendulum switches direction, as determined by individual giftedness and capacity at that moment in time.

And this brings me to chickens….

chickens under rainbow
5 am. Mere moments before being overwhelmed by a scary storm

I never could have pursued the idea of raising pastured meat chickens without a partner. Living in the city, and therefore off-site, would render the logistics overwhelming otherwise. Raising animals on grass is a passion of mine, but one that is restricted by my context as a city dweller. Still, I wanted to see if my friend Matt and I could potentially make this work as a business.

Matt and I are pretty stinking different from one another, but our strengths complement each other’s weaknesses remarkably well. Matt works in the fashion industry, if you can believe it. He tends to look like a hillbilly in dirty overalls when I see him, so I chuckle to think of him all gussied up like a perty boy for his main gig which involves design, store layout, yada yada. That said, his skill set and bent toward design and planning run circles around me in these areas.

So, how did it go?

Not bad, but it could have been better. We started out with 100 birds, and brought 95 to the butcher, which is outstanding. Here they are all loaded up for the one-hour drive to the processor:

chicken dinner
Yes, it stunk in there.

While we had some big birds in the batch, overall they came in about a pound smaller than planned, a bit under 4 pounds on average. Our customers paid $4.75/pound, so this resulted in nearly $500 less in profits than could have been realized.

Total sales were $1792 against nearly $1000 in expenses (some of which were one-time costs), resulting in a profit of $8.42 per chicken.  Not too shabby, but it could be better.

I’m completely confident that we could eke out $10 profit per head in the future, by increasing efficiencies and improving on management practices to get average weights to 4.5 – 5 pounds. It takes practice to raise this amount of birds.

But, as it turns out, I don’t particularly enjoy driving 8 miles each way to perform 30 minutes or so of work, and then worry later whether or not I latched the gate. Furthermore, I can earn similar money in a week of tending crops on my own property, as opposed to 8 weeks of daily obsession about how the chickens are doing. I’m super glad that Matt was keen on trying again after last year’s debacle: Death and Mayhem.

Long story short, it’s all about pruning things down to what pays, and for the sake of a more well-rounded family life.

Back to the partnership, I guarantee that one of us put in 55% of the work. I handled all the sales, for example, which involved a ton of logistics and headaches. Matt, on the other hand, built the brooder in his garage, where the chickens were confined for their first three weeks of life. Does it matter who worked harder? Would it be at all helpful for either of us to sit down and quantify it?

Matt had to step away a couple times for various trips. Twice I told Matt I was overwhelmed by the demands of a new farm and twice weekly farmer’s markets, putting out the SOS for him to shoulder more of the morning moves and feedings. Neither of us complained about the increased workload at these times. Reality required each of us to step up beyond a mythical 50% for the overall success of the enterprise.

Matt is like-minded when it comes to this mindset, and for this I’m thankful.

Speaking of which, so is my wife, and this is crucial for the sake of our marriage. Our family has been through the crucible these past few years. The stress and back-breaking workload has been tremendous. If either of us had a notion of bean-counting who is working harder at any given time, well, I don’t know. Marriages have crumbled for lesser reasons. Rather than being a source of stress, our partnership in life is a refuge. A place of calm. We’re both equally committed, and that doesn’t mean that we are both pulling the load equally at all times. We both have absolute trust and confidence in one another, wishing the best for each other and our family.

Life is difficult enough as it is. Why would anyone wish to add the stress of bean-counting to an already challenging situation?

And getting back to brass tacks, speaking objectively, bean-counting is just plain stupid. If one of us worked 10% harder, perhaps one of us should have made $80 more of the $800 profit. Now, is that worth the stress, controversy, or mental gymnastics required to make such a determination? I’m utterly convinced the amounts in play are similar in other areas of life, even friendships. Get over it. Nothing is ever equal. Don’t be like a child screaming about fairness all the time. As the father of twins, I can say with some authority that this definitely decreases happiness and fulfillment for everyone involved.

As it turned out, Matt let me keep all the money. He gets the equipment. I think I got the better deal. I also feel like I married up, that my neighbors give me more value than I give them, and on and on. I think a healthy relationship should cause one to feel this way.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And now, here’s a little forced accountability for myself. I’m going to write four blog posts over the next 14 days, oh maybe 15, as a writing exercise. I really didn’t feel like writing this post, and I haven’t had much mojo to get going on my next book. So, this serves as a very modest kick in the pants. I don’t guarantee they’ll be great posts, or even be sufficiently edited. I just need to set the gears into motion.

Writing is a muscle. The demands of starting a business have really sidetracked me in this area. I hope to better incorporate this part of me into daily life going forward. It’s crazy difficult right now. Thoughts just don’t flow naturally onto the page, which means it’s just not fun. I write better when it’s fun, but to get there you have to be willing to put in the time. Thanks for following along the journey, and for all your encouragement.


Behind the corn shoots (another experiment), a portion of “All The Way Home,” an old painting by my lovely wife, Shawna Gilmore

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