Disabled man finds success raising chickens
It was 6 am. Yang Xiaomao's phone vibrated. The manager of a chain restaurant had sent him a message: "Twenty chickens. We have a lot of customers on weekends. Please come early."
The 50-year-old villager from Shaoyang county, Hunan province, jumped out of bed, expertly rounded up 120 chickens and loaded them onto a truck to fill orders for 10 restaurants around the county. "We have orders almost every day, from 50 to more than 300 chickens," he said.
For the disabled, making a living is difficult, but after a series of ups and downs, Yang has finally found that for him, the way to success lies in chickens.
Yang has been disabled since he was a baby. When he was 6 months old, he was struck by a high fever, and due to the lack of penicillin, he wasn't treated in time. It turned out that he had contracted polio, which left him with problems in his right leg. "When I was young, every time I quarreled with someone in the village, they'd make fun of my condition," he said.
Yang's wife Lu Hexiu and their 27-year-old son help with the business. Their 26-year-old daughter works in Changsha, the provincial capital. Yang is doing well and has been able to buy a new house, two trucks and a car, but nothing ever comes easily.
Because of his disability, he dropped out of middle school. He then learned to repair electrical appliances and automobiles and do house maintenance to "acquire more living skills".
For a long time, he worked as a car mechanic, a job that ultimately proved too challenging. "Most of the time, I was no taller than the tire I was repairing," he said.
Yang left for Changsha to work in the instant food business, but this led to nothing but debt, so in 2013, he decided to return to his hometown.
By chance, he discovered a mountain plot separated from the surrounding villages by a river. "It was large and unworked, and it looked suitable for raising chickens. Besides, it was isolated, so neighbors would not be confused by whom the chickens belonged to," he said.
Yang borrowed an additional 20,000 yuan ($3,124) to rent the land and began to raise 2,000 chickens. Chicks are weak and need to be checked on every two hours, and he said that in the winter, the humidity, temperature, ventilation and smell of the chicken coop have to be carefully controlled to ensure they can survive.
When they mature, the chickens are able to wander around on their own, although they might still catch colds when the temperature drops, get eaten by wildcats or weasels or killed in rainstorms.
"It's not as controllable as captivity, but they adapt eventually," he said, adding that although he sometimes loses some of his flock, free-range chickens have better quality.
Initially, Yang sold his chickens from the back of a motorbike. In his first year, he earned 100,000 yuan, which greatly increased his confidence.
In July 2014, he built the family farm. The coop was enlarged, and his flock was increased to 20,000 chickens.
In early 2015, there was an outbreak of bird flu, and the poultry market was closed for six months. "So I asked myself if that was the end, though I didn't want to give up," he said.
The Shaoyang Disabled Persons' Federation stepped in to help him promote his products, and two months after the market reopened, they managed to sell everything.
But the good news didn't last. Later that year, his coop was hit by an outbreak of infectious laryngitis. About 2,000 chickens died every day, leading to losses of about 1 million yuan.
"He was really desperate. I told him there were no regrets because we had tried, and that we should move on," his wife Lu said.
Business remained sluggish until 2019. Yang received an entrepreneurial fund worth 50,000 yuan from the local government to help revitalize his business.
These days, he doesn't need to promote his products. Instead, he gets orders at home, most of which come from surrounding counties and cities. The motorbike has also been replaced by two trucks.
"I want to find a good ending to what I started and to get up again from where I fell, so that I won't have any regrets when I'm an old man," he said.
Named one of the "top 100 forerunners on the way to wealth among the disabled in Hunan province", Yang has shared his experience with poor and disabled people in five neighboring villages, giving away chicks and offering guidance and help with sales.
He has also hired four disabled workers. Among them are Liu Huiming, 57, who is deaf and mute. He feeds chickens on the farm, which earns him 2,000 yuan a month and free accommodations.
Xiao Diaoguo, who also has polio, learned to raise chickens from Yang in 2019 and raised 1,000 of them the same year.
Zhu Youfang in Changsha contributed to this story.