This is in response to comments I got on my recent post titled “How Much Could you Make?” Based on comments, my readers saw me as moping because my marketing skills aren’t where I would like them to be. I suspect they are right, though I hope I wasn’t moping. I was trying to say it’s tempting to expand and dive into any number of activities before I’m skillful at any of them. Marketing is pretty far up on the list of things I need to improve but it’s more than just that.
My dad recently asked, “Why don’t you get some more layers? That’s money you make every day.” First, I appreciate my dad asking me questions. He’s not questioning my judgement, he sees an opportunity and wants to help me succeed. He’s encouraging me to grow.
I think the layers are a good example of why I’m reluctant to grow. A few layers are easy to keep. A small home flock eats your kitchen scraps, weeds, bugs, etc. and gives you enough eggs to keep your kitchen hopping. They are entertaining in the extreme. Your only role is to ensure they have water, shelter and protection from everything that walks. With a small flock the needs of the chickens are few. Now. Let’s shift gears. Let’s go from three birds up to 300 birds. Now you need in the neighborhood of 10 pounds of feed every day. Now you need a much larger shelter. Now you could lose a bird a night for a week and not notice it…that’s bad.
Each night we gather or 30 or so eggs in a basket.
We bring that basket in the house and set it on the buffet. When two baskets are full we set out 5 or 6 egg cartons, sort and clean each egg by hand and label them for sale. We get somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 dozen eggs each week in the summer, 8-10 in the winter. We try to put an americauna egg in the front right of every box. Blue eggs really freak people out sometimes.
While I agree we don’t get enough eggs, that’s where we are now. My house holds 50 birds. That’s it. It’s a portable house. I can’t build an addition onto it. In the winter we house our flock in the greenhouse. I can only fit so many birds in that greenhouse. My infrastructure (or lack thereof) dictates my scale.
But my scale is also dictated by other factors. There are only so many eggs I can lug up the hill in baskets. Only so many eggs I can handle, clean and pack. There are only so many hours in a day. I’m nearing the ceiling for my skill level, my children’s ability to help at their age and my availability outside of employment.
It’s that last one that hurts the most. I’m not even making enough money to pay the very modest farm payment, let alone live on. I have to find a way to bridge the gap somehow. At this time, we’re adding to our list of products using seasonality on our side. But, as several commenters pointed out, I need to gain more exposure through everything from farmers markets to Facebook. I just have to get out there. But to get out there I have to have something to sell. Now we’re back to the beginning.
It is a lot to think about. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time invested in a helpless, tasty little bird with a narrow profit margin when my time is factored in (and I’d rather do nothing for nothing). But it’s exposure. Customers want eggs.
You see where I’m at here? I need to grow knowing that not all growth is good. I don’t want to overextend myself but have to do something to move forward. I could quickly become too big to succeed complete with sick animals, neglected children and a failing marriage. I’m using my time, putting my assets at risk and trying to anticipate customer needs. I have to tread carefully.
There are so many of us in this dilemma. Working off farm, trying to get the farm to pay for itself, pay us, and still have some sanity and a marriage at the end of it all. Oh and do all this in a way that nurtures and heals the land. In short, you need an enterprise with low start up, low infrastructure, fast turnaround, minimum labour, quick returns, that is a sure sell. You need the goose that lays the golden eggs! Seriously, I had a quick look at “You Can Farm” again last night after I read this post. Go flip through Chapter 10 and 11. Your blueberry idea might be a good fit, except for the start up. And remember Salatin’s thoughts about “bankruptcy tubes” – I am currently stuck in the trap of my own infrastructure, and have just woken up to that…you might be too, at least in regard to expanding existing enterprises.