Absolute Failure. Well Sort Of…

Total.  Complete.  Unequivocal.  Failure.  Well…failure-ish.  You’ll see what I mean.

Ugh.

So, Chris, how much money did you make this year?  You ready to buy some additional land and quit your job and farm full time?

No.  Not really.  Maybe more land since grandma passed and we need to exercise our option on the East 40.  But I’ll be sitting at a desk for a long time to come.  I don’t want to publish my whining for all the internet to see.  Many our readers share our dreams and I want to present a realistic picture of what goes on here.  We have a ball on the farm.  Not every day but overall it’s a hoot.  Part of the fun is laughing at ourselves and learning from our mistakes.  Learn with us.  Also, I want to make clear that if we do make it as farmers it will be because of my own incompetence.  Give me the chance to hand the reins to one of my children and I’ll run out of the way.  They are the future of the farm.  Thank God.

ChicksInBrooder

We sold around 950 broilers this year (600 were cut-ups).  Add to that 14 pigs, 3 goats, around 200 pullets, a dozen or so stewing hens, and, based on some back of the envelope math, 1,000 dozen eggs to date.  Pulling out our little envelope again I calculate that we sold roughly 7,500 pounds of meat from our little 20 acres.  This doesn’t count the 600 or so bales of alfalfa hay we put up, bushels of produce from the garden, duck eggs, a gallon or so of maple syrup or the fish we caught from the pond.  I am also not including the pigs we butchered for ourselves (3), chickens we ate (about 1/week), the three turkeys we raised for ourselves, the four goats we still have, the three cows we still have or the mountains of walnuts I have ignored in the pasture.

All from 20 acres.  Any money we made was poured back into fencing, livestock housing, repairs on equipment or new equipment.  Julie and I didn’t take a dime in pay.  There is just enough left to carry our pigs through the year and start up again in the spring.  We (quite literally!) worked our tails off.  It shows.  The barn is full.  the pasture looks 100% better.  Our freezers still have a little inventory.  Our larder is stocked.  But there’s no cash.  Business failure.

Canned Peaches

Each year we add to our infrastructure with whatever little money we make…and it just keeps sucking whatever money we can pour into it.  All so I, with my limited ability, can flirt with disaster hoping and praying someone somewhere will buy another dozen eggs.  Begging friends and family to take a free chicken, taste the difference and tell a friend, scrambling like a madman to hustle another half of pork.  Nearly every customer returns.  I couldn’t tell you what percentage but I can tell you their names.  They return telling me they can’t stand store-bought eggs anymore.  The pork is the best they have ever eaten.  They are grateful they can trust that our chickens are clean and safe to eat.  But there is only so much pork and chicken a customer will buy.  I need more customers.

More customers mean I have to produce more food and anticipate demand.  I have to attempt to anticipate the needs of the market when increasing my production.  Take my chickens for example.  Right now we are looking at sales figures from the past few years and looking for consumption patterns.  This is information we didn’t read in any books or blogs.  It looks like customers really want spring to arrive early because we have many requests for whole birds in February and March, the time when our freezers are empty.  Fried chicken is popular for Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day and the 4th of July.  Then there is a period in mid-summer when the heat sets in and nobody wants to cook anything.  I have to sell out before the drought starts (whenever that happens) and have empty freezers until I butcher again in the early fall.  I can’t order chicks when it’s 100° outside or they will die in the mail so I can’t order chicks until mid-August unless I drive to the hatchery.  Then I have to have them off of pasture before the second week of October so the pasture has time to recuperate before we get a hard freeze.  Besides, in October the sun goes down early and the chickens stop eating early and grow slowly.  I have to hit a small window with just the right amount of production to meet fall and holiday demand as well as carry enough inventory to last until I butcher again because, as I said, there is a late winter demand for chicken.

Helper

And don’t get me started on anticipating commodity prices.  Should I buy corn out of the field?  Is it better for me to buy bagged feed from the elevator or grind it myself?  What will prices do in 6 months?  Ugh.  Chick prices are already up.

I have to find a way to grow animals, grow my business, remodel and reshape the farm landscape in a positive way, continue learning sales, farming, accounting, tax laws and researching Illinois chicken regulations.  All this as a part-time job I can only squeeze in evenings and weekends.

Absolute failure financially but we are getting pretty good at the work.  Maybe next year as the kids grow they can find better ways to do this.  Or the year after…

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8 thoughts on “Absolute Failure. Well Sort Of…

  1. Excellent post as always. I’ve been working on trying to make the numbers work for the future and chicken feed is the part that I can’t get past. Trying to go with organic, non-GMO feed and it ends up being $0.57/#. Ugh. There has to be a better way but that’s my roadblock for now. I have a year and a half to figure it out…

    • Wow. What if you grow it yourself? Chickens can do a lot on garden waste, cover crops grown for feed (buckwheat) and maggots (lol).

      We are beginning to sprout grains as in the link on TSP. It is going well with our selection of oats and wheat. I would like to sprout beets as well. The increased feed efficiency and nutrient content should really add up. We’ll see.

  2. Do you think that broilers can thrive on garden waste and buckwheat? I’m game for trying the BSF larvae (sounds better than maggots). I’ve been keeping tabs on GSF’s progress with feeding sprouts too. I’m sure that Julie enjoys having one more thing to do LOL! 🙂

    • You know, the sprout thing hasn’t been a big deal but we really aren’t going at it full speed.

      You said “chickens” and I assumed layers. You’re right, you will need quality feed get broilers to grow. Hiland feed quoted us a pretty good price for organic, non-GMO last spring. We chose not to go there yet because our primary customers are, at this time, pretty sensitive to price.

  3. Those are impressive numbers, given your time constraints, way to go!

    Yeah, same dilemma here, too – though on a much smaller scaler. Value adding is an obvious way to increase the price, and therefore revenue, but it needs to be something that costs little in terms of time and energy – we’re looking at having “fixings” available for the fall chicken sales – when customers come to pick up, they’ll find we have garlic, onions, dried herbs, rosemary jelly, etc available – all things that will go with the chicken nicely without much input from us. Also, we’re thinking about a referral incentive, since, like you, we need to increase our customer base beyond people we already know. We also need to work on convincing customers that they need to buy a winter’s worth of meat at one time, not just 2 birds. I don’t want to be in the position of storing people’s chicken for them till they decide to buy it.

    Organic feed? Through the roof here – like $25/20 kg (about 45 lbs) for organic layer mash. At that price, I’d have to be charging over $6/dozen for eggs, and the going price at the farm gate here is $4 or $4.50. Not one of my customers ever asks about the feed, or comments on it at all, so for now, I’m still getting regular layer pellets, and giving my birds lots of access to pasture. I never even priced it for broilers….

    • I think the “fixings” idea is genius. We give away a lot of chicken to people who bring us new customers. So far nobody has taken advantage of us. We are considering contracting this coming year’s chickens with some of our regular customers. Pay us $X up front, pick your butcher date and we’ll raise the birds. I know it’s adding value but I want to be out of the cut-up business. Those prices have to go up next year.

  4. Per your wi.ter chicken demands…may I suggest a garden hoop house long enough amd wise enough to raise a couple hundred broilers and maybe a few pigs inside while the opposite end of it grows mangel beets and sprouted grass fodder to feed them…you may also be able to raise fodder for the outside animals in this fashion…it means an infrastructure add…but the feed savings in itself is probably worth it…the co2 and heat from the animals will help…

    • We already do some of that, just without the broilers. We grow mangels all summer long then use them through the fall and winter. The greenhouse could be used to protect them from the cold but they require a lot of space. Sprouting grains could work. In my opinion, the short day length hurts the broiler performance more than the cold weather. I have seen chickens raised in hoop houses year round. I wonder if sprouted grains and alfalfa hay could help replace fresh grass in a winter ration. Seems unlikely. They would also miss out on bugs. We would have to run some small batches in our greenhouses to evaluate the quality of the meat produced.

      There are any number of things we can try and most of them will work fairly well. Thanks for the suggestion.

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