Farming for profit, like any business is always changing. It requires constant evaluation and reviewing of everything that’s going on. Because if something isn’t working or is pulling other systems down than it affects the whole farm.
It’s hard. It’s hard because farmers, maybe more than other business people are in it for the lifestyle and pleasure of working with plants and animals and getting their hands dirty. Their hearts are deep in the workings of the farm, and having to say no and cutting out certain enterprises or areas of farming can feel like cutting off your arm.
It’s for this reason that a lot of farming is not profitable. I totally understand it, I get it, fellow farmers. How can you say no to raising those adorable pigs, or those cute layer hens that provide the tastiest eggs? But if this is a business not a hobby than there are sacrifices to be made and one of those is a hard look at everything happening.
For me, it was cutting out the Vegetable CSA this year and not doing pigs either. Both of those things freed up a lot of time and stress in my life. But I got into regenerative agriculture as a market gardener not a livestock producer. It’s been hard to not be in the dirt every day and producing vegetables this year, but it’s allowed me to focus on things that are easier to manage and in the long run require less time for the amount of end profit.
It feels weird but we’re more than halfway through the growing season. I literally have less than 8 weeks until the only thing really producing on the farm is our layer hens. At the moment we have 460 broilers at varying ages that will all be processed and frozen before October 1st.
What does the next year look like? It’s always hard to say because over the winter, running numbers and thinking about the following year it’s easy to dream big and have high hopes, but remembering to check reality and the bank account have to come into play with planning and strategizing for the coming year.
Expanding on things that make money are the main thing we’re going to be doing. Pastured broilers are one of the highest profit agricultural enterprises a small farm can do and we’re definitely doing more of those. It will include a model of raising 200+ broilers per batch and processing 100-200 at a time. We’d like to do about 1000 broilers next year, which is not quite double what we’ve done this year.
We have plans to expand our Egg Enterprise. Eggs are not very good profit margins, anyway you look at it. It’s just hard to keep a chicken alive laying eggs for 1-2 years and make money from it. However, with enough scale and done efficiently it is profitable. Though not nearly as good as broilers chickens it also allows for year-round cash flow for the farm, and consistent contact with our customers year round.
You can’t just look at them for their economic profitability though. They do wonders for the land and I’d attribute the amazing pasture and lush green growth in our fields due to our layer hens. They do an amazing job of putting down manure, scratching, and regenerating the soil and it’s incredible to see what they’ve done in just a year and a half!
Coupled with our broilers next year we have plans to do pastured turkeys! It’s something I’m excited to try and have wanted to do for years, but have been too busy to try and add another enterprise into the farm yet. Turkeys are actually even more profitable than broiler chickens on almost every level. They forage better than chickens and get more of their diet from green grass and pasture. They can be more efficient for converting feed to pounds, and than the fact that they are so much bigger means butchering and processing is a lot more efficient. We will plan to pre-sell most of our birds with a small deposit to fund the purchase of turkey poults. Our plan is to have them processed, or butcher them ourselves the week of Thanksgiving so that people can pickup fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving! Thinking about it just makes me excited!
Our high tunnel heirloom tomatoes have done pretty well this year. A lot of new things to learn, and mistakes I won't make for next year, but they are pretty profitable when done right. I haven’t decided if I will do them next year. I might try and hand it off to someone so that we are utilizing the high tunnel for the best potential in the summer months but it's not taking my time away from other things. I think done right they can be very profitable.
Our Farm to Table dinners have gone well this year and I plan to continue them on some level next year. We may scale down the number of times we do them; or just hire more help so that it’s not as much stress and work for me. It is definitely something that is very unique to our farm, and the price and number of times we do them a year sets apart from almost any farm in the area. And that is a big reason I like to incorporate them into the farm.
I’m excited about next year. A big thing I’m working on right now is trying to make things as efficient and streamlined as possible on the farm so that while I’m not paying myself for the farm work I can be working off the farm as much as possible to make money. Adding more waterers to our chicken tractors and getting more water troughs has allowed me to be gone from the farm for 8-10 hrs at a time without any of the birds running out of water or feed. It’s things like that that are super important for being efficient and smart with time and resources.
So here’s to finishing out this year strong, and looking to next. Honestly winter is going to be a welcome break for me. I’m not as crazy busy as last year but it’s still a lot of responsibility over the summer, constant broiler chickens arriving in our brooder and moving to the field, and than processing. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, I really do. It’s what I’ve chosen for my path and I’m committed to farming. But to be able to get more sleep, play more, and be around those I love is what I'm looking forward to a lot right now.