Andrew is a big man. He stands in a tie-dyed shirt, rubber boots up to his knees, fists on his hips looking out over his five acres of land and the 500 free-range chickens that call this home. “Free-range means the chickens are raised on the ground”, he tells me, “they taste better, you can just tell.”
He’s married to Suzanne and they both work hard to live closer to the land here in Florida. I’ve heard about him a little, and I’m interested to meet this man. I know that he was raised in the Bahamas, and he is very serious about poultry. He’s nothing like what I thought he’d be.
As we talk he says something that catches my attention. He tells me that he “works with the predators” in the surrounding forest to protect the chickens. This statement brings to mind weekly meetings with the raccoons, complete with refreshments, just Andrew and the predators working it out…
That cant’ be right.
I ask him to explain more what it means to “work with the predator”. His answer is astounding to me. He tells me he is an avid student of “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, and tells me that you have to use your enemies strengths against the enemy himself.
He motions to me and we walk over to a pen with two dozen chickens and a rooster in it. The pen is covered to protect the poultry from air attack from hawks and other birds of prey. They are movable so Andrew can move the pen each day to preserve the grass and other plants on the land. Andrew points to where the pen meets the ground and says “there are five predators that visit in the night that like to dig. They will sniff around and find where the fence meets the ground and they will dig right there, every time. They are relentless. You can bury this chicken wire three feet down and they will still dig under it and get into the pen. Finding that seam and digging in is their strength. Now (and here he looks me directly in the eye with great intensity) how do you use that against your enemy”.
Inside my head: “Ok, really, I didn’t know there was a test today sir. Um, I would have studied if I would have known. Uh..” I hear my mouth say “I can’t wait to hear what you figured out”. Whew! Good one.
He shows me a piece of chicken wire bent at 90 degrees. It goes up the side of the pen about 18 inches, and out onto the ground about two feet, and is wired all the way around the chicken pen. Andrew figured out that if you run chicken wire out from the cages about two feet like that, it will prevent the diggers from getting in. They sniff along the ground, find the vertical fence and try to dig. But the chicken wire underfoot prevents them from getting very far. They will give up and move on.
Andrew smiles as he tells me, “All they’d have to do is back up to here, put their nose under the wire, and they are in my pens, no trouble. But that is outside of their strength, they will never do it. I can move my pens wherever I want because I understand my enemy”.
He opens the top of the shelter beside him and plucks two eggs out, turns to me and says “Ulssys S. Grant said ‘manuever according to circumstances’. Remember that. No matter where you are, you can save a lot of energy if you study your circumstances and maneuver accordingly”.
“Think of the energy I could have spent digging three foot holes around all of these pens” he says as he motions to the dozen or so pens before us, “all wasted energy, they would still get in. I looked very carefully at the circumstances, and tried to solve the problem with as little energy as possible”.
My mind reels at the life wisdom that has just been laid before me. Memory flashes past as I think of all the times, in the passion and anger of youth, I simply fought the battle at hand with no regard for the circumstances that were before me. Throwing energy away on inefficient and ill-conceived plans to get rich, to take short-cuts, to save myself time.
And here is a man, standing in rubber boots, holding two fresh eggs in his hand in the middle of Florida, revealing a life lesson in a way I have never considered.
Andrew is a very interesting man, applying the lessons of war in a most unexpected way.