How Are We Going to Pay For This?

Oh, the joy! The fulfillment of a lifelong dream!

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I liked my grandma’s house so much I bought it.

But now that I have it, how do I pay for it? Land isn’t exactly cheap right now…nor was it when I bought the farm a few years ago.

Let’s leave the dollars out of this. Let’s talk in terms of production. What do I have to produce each year just to service the debt I hold on my 60 acres? Ready? I have to produce all of the following:

  • 2,000 dozen eggs
  • 5-7 calves
  • 20 pigs
  • 1,200 broilers

All that just to make the farm payment. Now, maybe that’s not such a high hurdle…especially since the math involved has already accounted for income tax. But it is a hurdle. 1,200 broilers at our scale chews up the whole spring and fall. 3 batches of 6-8 pigs are no big deal but forces us to keep pigs all year. Eggs are a year-round deal too but 100 layers really aren’t hard to manage. That said, the income from that small flock only accounts for about 12% of the farm revenue as presented above. Layers are more about fertility and bug control than revenue but maybe we should increase the flock to account for a full 25% of revenue. Yikes! Mr. Henderson would say yes but…Yikes!

How are we going to pay for this?

So that’s what it takes. Sure I could pay the payment with 20 calves but I don’t have 20 calves. And I’m not sure I want to ONLY have cattle anyway. I have exposure to a number of markets this way. Many customers buy eggs. Fewer buy chicken. Fewer still buy pork. The marketing pyramid works very well. So we produce a variety of classes of livestock. The good news is we already have everything we need to produce these numbers. The bad news is all of that production ONLY SERVICES THE DEBT.

What about the fencing we need to build? What about the trees we want to plant? What about the buildings that need to be repaired? How can I afford to buy a tractor?

I don’t know. I guess I need a couple more pigs. And another 300 broilers. And another calf or three. And another 100 layers.

But Julie is already tired (as I frequently write). How can I double my livestock numbers without negatively impacting my job or our family life? I don’t know. Maybe I should quit my job.

But if I quit my job we’ll still need some form of income. Remember, to date we are only servicing the debt and producing enough to make small infrastructure investments. Now we’re talking income. You know, money. The kind you need to slap braces on the kids and pay for books and plan for college and…you know…what happens when I’m 70? Will I be able to relax on the farm I have served my entire life, harvesting the abundance of my decades of labor or will I have to sell my beloved land and move to town?

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Happens all the time.

Well, that’s no hill for a climber. Maybe if we got to 300 layers. That would give us 15 dozen eggs/day to sell. And maybe we could raise 15 pigs at a time. And sell 25 calves every fall. And heck, the kids are growing. Maybe we can handle 2,400 broilers. Maybe even 3,000! Would that be enough?

Enough?

What does enough mean? How much is enough?

How much is too much?

I don’t know. Dirty Harry warned that “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Do I know my limitations?

Do I believe I am immortal?

Did I pay too much for my farm?

What is this dream costing me?

Don’t read regret into this post. Please don’t think I’m being pessimistic. Quite the opposite. After spending a few years learning how I’m finally making this thing pay.

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So. Be sure to sit yourself down with a couple of sharp pencils and do the math before you buy land. Try to sell something. Just try. Your boss may enjoy eating pork chops but does he have freezer space for half of a hog? Will your co-workers continue buying from you if you change jobs? Can you sell a dozen eggs at a profit? Start small. Learn as you go. Grow when you have to. Move slowly. Always do the math.

Always do the math.

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4 thoughts on “How Are We Going to Pay For This?

  1. Exactly where my head is these days. Ethan Book too, by the sound of it.

    We/I work within this policy which says that anything farming related has to be paid for out the farming income. It’s a very good way of making sure that idealistic, impulsive me doesn’t take on cute goat kids or a sow and piglets at a whim. But it’s a “little” constricting when it comes to replacing the barn roof. In my current production model, and with the existing infrastructure, there is NO way I could pay for that roof and the probable reconstruction of roof timbers as well, from farm income alone. So do we call the barn a household expense? We do seem to have a lot of non-farm stuff stashed in there…I dunno. With the barn roof fixed, I could winter more animals. That’s more income, which is good, right? And more work, less good. One of the questions I’m grappling with in relation to this question of income is – why? Why do I want to do this?

    • OK. I’ll bite.

      More animals doesn’t always equate to more work. Would 4 pigs require twice the effort of two pigs? Nope. You might find that the only change is the amount of feed you have to buy. In a lot of ways, 150 layers are easier than 50 layers. The housing and feeding needs are greater but it really doesn’t require more time…other than packing 3x the eggs.

      I want to do this because I find satisfaction in the work-ness of it. I enjoy my day job. I do well at it. But the farm fills some other need. Some other calling. Maybe just a need for therapy. Sometimes it is stressful too but that’s not all bad. We started out trying to raise quality food for our own table. Then we found, as discussed above, it wasn’t that much more work to raise a few more. We anxiously await the next increase in efficiency…the wall of education and experience we have to break through to get better at this…but here we are. Right where we are supposed to be…for now. Right when we are supposed to be…for now. Working as we are supposed to work…for now. Holding our blessings with an open hand.

      • I have found that scaling up is interesting. In many cases it is stair stepped. four pigs aren’t much more work than two, but when you get to 10 to 12 pigs at a time it increases a lot because you now have to be really careful on water (a couple water troughs dumped in the summer and suddenly you have lots of dead pigs because they drank the other one dry) plus paddock rotations are much faster and don’t forget that instead of taking a bucket of feed you need to take a couple bags a day or invest in a bulk feeder. Then you are good till you hit 20 or so pigs and need to bump the infrastructure up more. Same with broilers or layers,

        Hiring someone part time is great if you can find someone dependable. I have yet to find that even with bumping pay to $12/hr. The traditional sustainable way was to have more kids so you had free labor for the farm, but I just have the one daughter that doesn’t really like most farm stuff.

        One thing I am doing is scaling back trying to meet customer demands and slowly putting in new infrastructure like silvopasture and stuff that will reduce costs and work in the future. I have the advantage of leasing one farm from my parents till I inherit it and having the other paid off from my day job.

        • We have found that scaling back is part of moving forward for reasons you outlined well. You are right. There is a tipping point where the techniques that worked with X animals no longer work for X+1 animals. That’s when we reel it in and try something different.

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