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The Consequences of buying (and selling) cheap

I recently posted a comment on Facebook that I never considered would be controversial.

I was mistaken.

That comment was basically, "your neighbors need the few dollars from chick sales more than a multi-billion dollar company, so please support them."

While there was a lot of support for the comment, there were also a surprising number of people who got extremely defensive on behalf of a certain big-box store known for cheap chick sales and supplies. Some of them were quite verbally aggressive. So let's set the record straight and discuss the big picture with selling livestock and supplies to the farming community at ultra-low prices.

First, I am not bashing said company. They have their place and I buy my fencing from them almost exclusively. Mainly because it's the only place to have it regularly. However, it doesn't take much work to find people who are unhappy with their chicks. In a lot of cases, people don't get the breed they were promised, or get a number of roosters when they paid extra to get females.

Understand, the big box company basically makes no money from chick sales. They do it exclusively to make sure customers come back for food, the coops that fall apart in a year and other supplies new chicken owners will need.

This is the same pricing scheme used by fast food chains with their dollar menus and - probably a closer comparison - the pet chains that used to sell puppies in order to make sure people would need dog food for the next ten years. They put their faith in that same "cute = spontaneous buy" methodology. And, also similarly, no one expects the quality of the animals to be very high.

So what happens if someone chooses to buy chicks at 50 cents a piece from the Big Box Companies (BBCo), rather than spend $5 with their neighbor?

First, the BBCo doesn't care either way. They make no money either way and you will probably buy your food from them either way. The neighbor, however, who budgeted for feed and supplies before recent price increases is now in trouble. They are going to have to start making hard choices about feeding their animals, how to care for them or whether they will have to give them up altogether.

Next year the BBCo customers have eggs and new chicks for sale, so that they can pay for grain (and maybe a few more chicks). Only there is no community sales chain set up - because everyone has been buying from BBCos, people have gotten out of the habit of paying reasonable prices for things and have an expectation of cheap materials and products.

That includes quality - people become more accepting of sickly birds as "the norm." They become less interested in breeds and the pipelines continue to be flooded with unwanted roosters.

In addition, people who can't really afford to care for animals properly are buying them. Let's be honest, if the difference between 50 cents for a bird or $2-3 means someone can't afford to has been buying from BBCos. People have gotten out of the habit of paying reasonable prices for things and have an expectation of cheap materials and products. rage alone. The price of fencing and good coops is increasing and yes birds need a safe place! They cannot be free-ranged 24/7/365 and have any expectation of surviv.

Equally importantly, it devalues the animals. This doesn't just apply to chickens. Especially for those of us raising heritage breeds, there is a constant struggle to explain to people that marking animals below what it costs to raise them only hurts the animals. It means we, the breeders of these rarer breeds, don't even consider them worth anything. In fact, we consider them so worthless, that our time and efforts raising them aren't worth anything. The good animals tend to sell for as little as the poor stock, so there is little motivation to breed for good stock.

Why is a serious farmer going to consider buying our animals?

This results in a lot of turnover in breeders. Whether it's chicken owners who decide it isn't worth the time and effort, or buyers who buy livestock from auctions without the knowledge, equipment or financial ability to care for them, cheap animals tend to have little security in their lives. If their health is poor, they will require more money, time and attention than a heartier, more expensive animal would have, meaning the long-term cost is greater. If half of them are lost because they turn out to be roosters, the long term return is less.

So what does this mean for people who are lower on the socioeconomic scale? Am I saying they shouldn't be allowed to have animals?

Absolutely not!

Raising your own food is probably one of the best ways out of poverty and should be supported. Since neighborhoods tend to rise and fall together, it's all the more reason to support your neighbors in their attempts to get a leg up by buying their chicks.

If it's too expensive, maybe they will consider bartering for those extra tomatoes you canned last year, or some help cleaning out a coop when they aren't feeling well. Maybe you can offer to grown them something in your garden, or start seedlings for them if they don't have a greenhouse.

Remember, your neighbor also wants you to keep coming back and buying chicks, and they have to see you everyday so they have a lot more invested in selling you quality stock!

Consider heritage breed animals. Yes, they will cost you a little more, but they do better on pasture and forage and will require less in the long run when it comes to health and feed. You can also look for non-standard housing ideas. You don't need a financially costly, cheaply made coop to have chickens. An old shed or playhouse someone wants hauled off their property often works better!

Finally, don't sell cheap. It can be tempting when you are overrun with eggs or chicks to undercut your neighbor on sales and get rid of yours. I don't know how many stories I have heard this year of people unable to pay for feed because a "hobby farmer" neighbor has begun giving away or selling their eggs for pennies on the dollar. This only drives the prices down for both of you until both end up financially worse off than you started.

And that helps no one.

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