Sunday, June 19, 2011

Using Google to keep chickens

You're might be surprised to learn that Google is essential to our chicken collective.  When you have ten busy urban families all living in different parts of the city collectively raising 24 chickens, it's essential for everyone to be absolutely certain whose turn it is to be on chicken duty on any given day.  If somebody were to forget to go on their appointed day, it could be disastrous for the hens.  And when something unforeseen arises, which happens from time to time, it's essential to be able to find somebody else to step in at short notice.

Google to the rescue!   While keeping chickens is a grass-roots, back to nature activity, the organization of the collective is anything but simplistic. 

We use Google Docs to manage the operation, down to some very fine details.  If you're not familiar with this free application, we use an online spreadsheet to document, measure and organize our activities.  It's not quite as sophisticated as Excel, though it does have most of the functions that most people use with the more widely used Windows product.  The big advantage is that every one of the members is able to access and edit the spreadsheet remotely, whenever they wish, and version control is never an issue.

We have a page where we enter our names in a calendar so we know whose turn it is.  The names are automatically colour coded with conditional formatting, to make it harder to forget or overlook a turn. Next to our names, we record the number of eggs collected for each "shift".

Another page is the log, where we document any problems, questions or observations for the rest of the group.  For example, if feed is running low, or the ground is muddy, or somebody isn't sure about something, this is the place to record it.  Usually a response comes back very quickly.

We have a page of resources, with help on everything from duties that need to be performed, to lists of acceptable and unacceptable treats to bring the hens from home.

We also have a series of metrics.  We have charts that show daily egg production as well as how many eggs each of the members has taken.   There are metrics that show cost inputs, from building the coop to the cost of feed, and based on these, we know the cost per egg produced, as well as the number of eggs each member is theoretically entitled to, based on the number of shifts they have worked.  This last measurement is highly theoretical, because we simply take home all the eggs we find each time we work our shift.  However, some days there are more eggs than others, and some members have worked slightly more shifts than others.  Over time, these differences will even out, but still, it's useful to keep track of these things.

Please stick around, because I'll explain what our metrics are telling us about the cost-effectiveness of producing our own eggs in the next post.

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