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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Rheas and Writing

I picked up a very old copy of Progressive Farmer at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago. I read it, not for the (then) latest farming techniques for small farmers, but for the cover story on ratites.

Years ago, Greg and I raised emu and rheas. Like many US growers, we had high hopes for a health-conscious meat market because the meat from these birds is very low in fat, and it looks and tastes like beef.

It never happened, or if it did, we never found out. When I made the move to Dallas we had to give up all our farm animals because we traveled too much. It was impossible for one person to keep the ranch running and still keep a full time job.

Still, we remember those days fondly. It was a great experience, but hard work.

Anyway, the thing I found interesting about that article was that they started running down the growers, saying that (we) were not to be believed if we stated phenomenal hatch rates. They claimed the average was little better than 50%.

Maybe it was the average. But OUR average was closer to 97% live hatches. We took our job very seriously and kept meticulous records. The hatchery was specially built by Greg and it was so clean you could eat off the floor. As a matter of fact, it was nicknamed the clean room because it was so germ-free.

I remember checking on the incubators several times a day, as one or more chicks pecked out of their shells and into the world. Mine was usually the first face they saw. I let them dry off and placed them in a temperature controlled pen for a few days until I was sure they were eating well.

We were pretty well known locally for our success, having appeared on television and newspaper, but after a single article in Countryside Magazine (that I wrote), we received hundreds of letters asking for more information.

For two people who literally fell into this business, we ended up as local experts in the field. Maybe our story isn't average, but it's true.

Like any business (including the writing business) you have to do the grunt work, and that includes getting as much education as you need to do your job, as well as good notes and a reliable roster of mentors.

Even our success with the birds didn't come from dumb luck. We worked very hard and didn't give up when things got tough. It was a steady progression of trial and error, practice, perseverance, and study.

Just like writing.