Eggs in one basket

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I’m no math whiz.  Totting up feed receipts is one of the many things I procrastinate about at the end of every season.  But I go through the hassle every year anyway.  Partly because of the tax man, partly because I want to make sure my income exceeds my outgo.  This seems pretty basic math even to me.

Only once in 5 years has this not worked, and that was last year with the broilers we sold.  I set the price in the spring, there was a family miscommunication which meant that some customers got chicken at the previous year’s price (lucky them), and while the broilers were on the field in the summer, the cost of feed went up almost $2/bag (20kg), which I had not allowed enough room for in the price.  So we did not get paid for our labour on the broilers last year.

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The thing is though, that overall, the farm didn’t lose money.  The one enterprise did, but not the farm overall.  Eggs did particularly well, thanks partly due to the fact that the new pullets (the ones I’m cursing now, but was excited about last fall) had come into lay, and I’d put my egg price up when that happened.  So we were getting better than average egg production at the new price (which did include the new feed prices).  Hay sales also did fine, about the same as the previous year.  We sold some apple cider, not much – maybe a few litres, but it was money not anticipated, and that’s always a good thing.

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This year, we doubled the number of broilers, were very careful about the price, about communicating it, and we sold out – paying ourselves a bit for labour as well as covering the costs of our expenses, and the cost of the chicken we kept for our own freezer (22 birds).  A good year for broilers.  On the other hand, egg production has been down a bit the last few months – there was a bit of trouble with hens egg eating in the heat of the summer, and now I’ve got some fence issues which means that a few birds are laying in hiding places.  I haven’t seen the invoices yet, but I think hay was good this year again.  In addition, we have pre-sold three sides of the two pigs, an enterprise that has not entered the equation until this year.  As usual, in calculating the price to our customers, we have striven to have the meat we sell pay for the meat we keep for ourselves, plus cover the expenses of raising all of it. We had poor pollination with the apple trees this year; I’m not sure why – maybe we pruned too late (like end of February late), maybe the wet spring held the bees back, I just don’t know.  So no surplus apple juice to sell.  The shortage of wonderful apple juice is sad for us, perhaps, and the layers are being far too independent to be good egg producers, but the point is that overall our farm income will come out ahead once again – something we obviously plan for.  Not that I won’t be doing something about those hens, and you can bet that I’ll be on the phone in January to get in line for pruning early next year, but I’ve learned to accept that some things will always do better than I expect, and some not so much, And the key to that acceptance is not having all your eggs in one basket.

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We do not earn enough with our farm enterprises to pay one of us a living wage.   We do have a freezer full of meat, however, which we basically get for free, since the cost of raising that meat is covered by the meat we sell.  We have a couple of barter arrangements: meat for veggies and meat for tree service (pruning mostly) which I count as sales for tax purposes, though they do not put cash in anyone’s pocket.  In addition, our farming income is more than sufficient to qualify us for farm tax status with regard to property taxes – which saves us literally thousands of dollars, as agricultural land locally is hugely overvalued (in terms of dollars/acre), making non-farm property taxes very high for a property this size.

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Are we happy with our level of farming?  Not entirely.  We wrangle amicably about increasing this or that enterprise, starting or dropping another one, hiring someone, buying a truck, a trailer, a tractor, and on bad days – just selling the whole thing and travelling around the world on the proceeds.    Mostly, we are realistic about where we are with farming.  The original goal was to maintain farm tax status.  That proved so easy that we changed the goal – we wanted to raise our own meat, and sell enough surplus to pay for it.  We do that.  We’re thinking about bees and honey.  We have begun researching fencing suppliers for sheep.  We could raise 50 more broilers and still sell out. We love raising pigs, and it will become a regular enterprise for us – two people have already put their names down for sides next year. More baskets of eggs.  The balance we have to find now is not just with diversity, but also scale.  If we add too many baskets to our work load and available time, we’ll end up dropping some.  Not only that, if a basket gets too heavy..,you know.  Ever dropped a basket of eggs?  It’s not good.

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10 thoughts on “Eggs in one basket

  1. I don’t know that you can expect a living wage from part-time work but it looks to me like you’re doing fine. Do you have all your chicken in one freezer? lol

    I liked the quote from the Agricultural Insights podcast the other day where he said we were taught as children to work harder so we can make more money. But the truth is, sometimes we just need to stop doing unprofitable things to have more money. Moving to 8 pigs wouldn’t be 4x the workload and getting rid of something counter-productive may be a real boost to the bottom line. I’m glad your egg business is profitable. It’s nice to have the regular income stream…like the old-timers talking about the milk check.

    • Three freezers actually :).
      I guess this post was a long winded way of saying that we’re not expecting a living wage from the level of work we put in, but that that our part time efforts feed us very well, both directly and indirectly. I think I am acknowledging that I’m a bit wistful about that, but accepting my reality.
      Yes, the concept that doubling the critters doesn’t necessarily double the workload is valid, but it does increase it somewhat. And at some point, infrastructure creates a limit. I can only brood 150 chicks at one time, for example. I could do multiple batches, I could build a different brooder (no I couldn’t, not with my carpentry skills). So I do multiple batches. That’s fine, my two field pens are adequate for the numbers. But now I’m moving pens every day for 8 weeks instead of 4. This might be fine if I’m tied to morning and evening chores for other critters as well for the 8 weeks, but then we’re hitting the issue of finding balance with the rest of the family’s activities. I think this may change in a few years when my teenagers are not teenagers and are off doing whatever they’re going to be doing, which will mean that the lack of opportunity for a family getaway in the summer will be due to their jobs, not mine.

      • Yup. There are physical limits not only in terms of space but also in terms of work you can do in a day without waking up sore the next day. I’m sure you do eat well! Julie makes this dish with pork chops, stuffing and apple pie filling…yeah. We eat well too.

  2. DM says:

    wish we lived closer. (we live in Iowa) Our apples trees produced a bumper crop..I still have over 30 bushel of ginger gold and gala that are ready to be turned into cider or apple sauce..and don’t have the time to do either. what kind of set up do you have for making apple cider? I have a traditional press w/ a hand crank grinder and 3 bushes took up most of my morning last Saturday. DM

    • Sorry to disillusion you, but we actually don’t do the pressing ourselves – we take the apples down the road to a farmer who has a UV pasteurizing juice processing outfit. Thirty bushels – wow, that should keep you busy. We have thought of getting a kit to make a press such as you describe, but it’s far too easy to take them down the road :).

  3. df says:

    From where we sit, it’s a nice-sized operation you’ve got going there. I don’t think I’d have the confidence to ever try to get into making money with what we do, though I’ve had moments when I thought about getting a little more serious. Just being able to provide some of what we need to eat feels good, but it’s so little really. Being able to retain farm status must be pretty great in itself, and it sounds as though you are (mostly!) enjoying what you do as well.

    • It’s true I should be grateful for how much we do produce, given time and other interests. I think I’m going through a spate of “I wish” just now, wistful as I watch other “beginner” farmers take the next steps to ramp up their production. This post was me reminding myself “out loud” that I need to be realistic about things.

      • df says:

        I do get that, and it helps to see what you just posted today as a way of elaborating on those feelings. We suffer similar frustrations here, both individually and as a family. I think what you do is marvellous, but of course you have a whole set of expectations that undoubtedly fluctuate along with your day to day circumstances.

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