Tuesday, January 22, 2013

La Costa della Vita del Pollo

I spent the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in a basement listening to inauguration news on the radio while building a treadle feeder for some chickens. (I also had a date with a pretty girl, but that was a little earlier.) If you're not familiar with a treadle feeder, then you can see an example here. Chickens can be fairly stupid, but if they know where the food is, they can learn to operate a simple machine.

Anyways, I assembled the feeder largely out of scrap pieces; I only had to buy a handful of bolts and nuts for the feeder pedal schematic, and one length of new pine for the pedal itself. So it's tempting to say that (excluding the nuts and bolts and the pine board) I built this machine "for free."

But of course it wasn't free. Pedantically-speaking, it cost money to run the circular saw (the only type of power saw I had on hand, if you can believe it; no jigsaw, no table saw, etc). It also cost money to charge the drill battery. So while the project was largely free of the cost of materials, it accrued at least some cost (unless you count electricity as a material in and of itself, in which case you can add it to the material column).

As well, the project took up a good deal of time. I won't say how long, because it would be terribly embarrassing to admit how long it took for me to design a box with a lid on it that any horse's ass could figure out how to build. But even if it took me just thirty minutes, that's still thirty minutes in which I could have been doing something else. That's not to say I necessarily had anything more productive or desirable to do---I didn't at the time---just that, in considering any project or work, time is a real thing with an attendant real cost.

So the entire price sheet of the project might look like this: time spent + electricity + eight nuts and eight bolts + pine board. That's a pretty easygoing price sheet. I wasn't building a city-pretty Cadillac gussied-up bottled-water Cashmere Mink Silk chicken feeder; it was a product of the hard grit of country reality. This means it was cheap!

And then I got to thinking: it's not even enough to discount the wood scraps that I used to assemble this jackleg chicken feeder. After all, those wood scraps cost something as well. I was tempted to leave out the scraps from the calculations because I did not pay for them at a store or even plug them into a wall to utilize invisible power. But of course the coffee table that I chopped up was purchased at some point, and the scraps of wood from the backyard, left over from some other project, were also purchased (as whole pieces of wood which were, at that time, cut up for the project and then stashed as scrap wood). So it seems as if the wood scraps must also be factored into the cost.

But how should we factor them in, relative to this project? I think we do so by taking the original respective costs of the coffee table and wood scraps and dividing the combined costs by two---one half (here ignored) going towards the original purpose the pieces satisfied (a coffee table and part of an outbuilding, respectively), and the other half applying to their re-purposed purposes as part of a chicken treadle feeder. That's a good bargain, because it means we technically halved the price of those materials in order to serve two purposes. So the cost list must now read: time spent + electricity + eight nuts and eight bolts + pine board + 1/2(wood scraps + coffee table).

How much total did the coffee table and the electricity and the (once-whole-now-scrapped) wood cost? I have no idea, and thus no real way to calculate the actual cost of the project---this is just a principles essay. The nuts and bolts were a few bucks, which still strikes me, and always will strike me, as a remarkably cheap price for such integral material. At any rate, these were just some reflections I had upon building a funny and useful machine for some dumb chooks. And, as bears repeating, were we able to divine the exact cost of each aspect of the project, I feel certain we would find it to be remarkably cheap.

1 comment:

  1. You forget to add in the entertainment value, to me, of hearing NPR playing on a dusty boombox in the basement,accompanied by the sound of the buzz saw and the scent of sawdust, and the whirr/chuck of the drill and the occasional swear words of the son. Priceless. Thanks,Daniel. For the useful chicken feeder and for the pleasure of watching your mind at work and a project coming to completion.