A Boring Post About Farm Economics

Making a profit off your farm is challenging–especially if you’re a novice farmer like I am. But over the last 3 years, I’ve reached a few conclusions about ways to profit and shared them with my husband, who agrees.

So here goes:

1) Chicken eggs are loss leaders. Maybe not for every farm, but I think for most of them they are. It may not seem like it if you’ve never owned chickens, but having chickens has very low barriers to entry, which means that most people who move out to the country or small town start off getting chickens. You only need a coop, some chicks (or pullets), some feeders, waterers and feed and you get almost immediate payoff: delicious eggs every day. Even if they cost more than the grocery store, people who get backyard chickens decide it’s worth it because the chickens become pets. Then they end up having too many eggs and decide to sell the extra, resulting in a sign in the yard advertizing “Eggs $3/$2 a dozen!” Since any one can do it, chicken eggs (while easy) is not an area for which we should look to make a profit.  In order to break even on eggs at the moment, we would have to sell them for $7 a dozen. Reducing feed waste would go a long ways to decreasing this.

2) Duck eggs are a waste of time. The Guide to Raising Ducks book sold my husband on duck eggs, saying that people pay a lot of money for duck eggs, so you can definitely profit off of them! More accurate would be “Some people love duck eggs so much, they’re willing to pay a premium for them. But most aren’t willing to pay for them at all.” This means we exclusively eat duck eggs at home because we have very few wiling, paying customers for them.  Anyone who hears we have ducks gets excited and says “Oooh, meat ducks?” and then loses interest when they hear they’re laying ducks. Which brings me to my next point.

3) Raise meat. This is a better way to be profitable and has many advantages. Barriers to entry are much higher because most people who get a few chickens and think of them as pets aren’t thinking “I’m totally going to kill this chicken and eat it as soon as it stops laying!” They can’t handle that. Even if they would like to do it, they usually don’t want to do it themselves and would rather have someone else do it for them because they don’t know how and it takes some practice to learn how to slaughter a chicken quickly. Trust me, I taught myself using youtube and blog tutorials and have definitely spent more nights with my hands shoved up a chickens ass than I’d like. But I’m willing to keep doing it because every time we sell a stewing hen, we make up the cost of the chick, plus some extra, which helps offset the losses we make on our chicken eggs.

Therefore, we need to stop doing laying ducks entirely. We should concentrate on meat ducks, meat geese, consider meat chickens (but I’m weary about that–cornish crosses are very sensitive to stress and the environment and die easily. Ducks and geese, on the other hand, are very hardy.

Getting pigs is also a good idea. Every person I’ve told I want to get pigs wants us to get a pig to raise for them as well. Pigs are definitely considered Real Farm Animals and, consequently, have a high barrier to entry. The downside of pigs is that piglets are very expensive at the moment due to the porcine diarrhea that’s been going around, killing piglets.

Basically, we need to get into raising animals you slaughter after one season so you don’t have to overwinter them. It makes things easier.

4) Become the middleman. Surprisingly, the one area in our farm in which we are consistently profitable is the one we weren’t even aiming to be profitable. When we first bought chicks, I would order our soy-free, organic feed online, but shipping was really expensive and I didn’t have enough chickens really to make ordering a pallet worth it, so we started getting it from a feed store in a few hours away, but on the way home from Finnish school. It was still expensive. Then I met some other people interested in getting soy-free feed, thus making ordering a pallet worth it. We started ordering pallets of feed. At first, I didn’t fill the pallet up, but as the number of interested people has increased, I’ve started filling it up and we still go through it within 3 months. Keeping the price roughly the same as before and rounding to the nearest quarter, we still make over $1 on each bag of feed we sell to other people, which makes hauling the bags from the truck and storing them in our garage worth it.

Other areas in which we could become the middleman would be: supplying people with pullets. Sometimes people who get chickens don’t want to deal with chicks. They want things to be super easy, so they’re willing to pay to have someone else raise chicks for you. We’re raising some ducks for a friend and, since my husband ordered too many, have some extra ones we want to sell (though I wouldn’t mind selling all of them at this point). We could conceivably do this with other animals as well.

5) Premium berries, melons and asparagus. If I’m going to raise stuff in my garden to sell, I only want to do the stuff that is actually going make money. Carrots are out. Asparagus is in. Melons are in (I planted a good number this year, so hopefully that amounts to something). I need to eventually get to a point where I can order more raspberries–yellow and black in addition to red. It’s all about thinking strategically.