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