So in case you are new to the site, or didn't hear.... things are turned on end for us. The house fire will leave our lives in an ongoing state of inconvenience for us for likely an entire year. The good news is, we've already survived 1/3rd of that year. YAY! Only 8 months to go!
I've been considering changes on the farm for some time now, and just have a hard time trying to make big changes.
I won't lie, for weeks after the house burned down, I honestly considered buying a house in town. I found a few nice ones we could afford. We could put a few chickens in the backyard and know that all our new neighbors would hate our 4 large dogs who would need to adjust to life in the 'burbs. The thought that always stopped me? I LOVE MY SHEEP.
OK, I like chickens and am ridiculously enamored with the stupidity of turkeys and the goofyness of ducks. The poultry drives me nuts.
But I ABSOLUTELY love my sheep! I realized this year, when I purchased a few new ewes (to replace the gals I lost to the grain accident) just how much I loved my sheep. Just how well I have curated my flock for the characteristics that I want in my flock. Opal and Onyx are fitting in nicely, and have filled out better having been on pasture all summer. I can't wait to see their new lambs!
But yeah, I digress. The suburban life is not for me. Nor is if for my dogs, that I didn't mention, I love more than I love my sheep. (And as soon as I have a real roof over my head, I am getting another dog!)
So sheep are off the table. But with the continued high level of inconvenience we will be living with, other things are going to go by the wayside for 2019. So what are we cutting back on?
Since I won't have the proper facilities to set up my incubator (and don't even have one...) and I won't have extra brooder space in the house, we will NOT be incubating eggs this coming year. We will be relying on broody moms doing their own thing, but no incubating. The means we won't be selling any chicks or ducklings this coming year. Here's to hoping some mamas are good at hatching their own, Shannon's Australorps have proven to be very sneaky at hatching chicks and very good at raising them, so I can only hope! Ducklings were 0.76% of sales in 2018, and chicks were 0.49%. OK, so the sales piece is not a big loss, but the cost of replacing my birds year to year is a savings from this venture, that is likely worthwhile. The entire point was actually to hatch our own turkeys, at $9/each for a heritage breed, it's worthwhile to hatch those instead of purchase!
This leads me to eggs themselves. Duck eggs are 0.49% of sales, chicken eggs are 7.13% of sales. However, the other piece of this is incubating them into birds that then become meat. Duck meat is 1.79% of our sales, and stew birds (the extra roosters) are 1.34% of our sales. Again, not huge. But the combination of eggs, hatching eggs to replace our flocks and selling chicks and ducklings are relatively sustainable practices. Eggs are a very very low profit sales item, with a lot of work. It's one of the few things that HAS TO HAPPEN every day. We can fill waters and feeders and they can last for days or weeks. Eggs have to be collected every day, and washed and stacked and stored and sold. We are going to pull back on eggs for the next year. So, not hatching replacement birds will let that naturally decline, as my older birds stop laying, new ones won't be coming on line to replace them.
I recently sent out a survey to our CSA customers. The CSA is currently closed to new members, as I do not have much product to sell. I will be focusing my production on the needs of my current members. One interesting tidbit that came back - our canned goods are not super enticing to our CSA members, who are most of our most loyal customers. Canned goods are 2.22% of our sales for the year. I love to can, but it takes up SO much of my time. I think it's time to pare back and can just for my family. Besides,many of my best items are things I can't sell, so unless you've been over for dinner, you have not enjoyed my pasta sauces and other yummy items that by law, I can not sell. For those that really really really love my canned goods, I'll still make them, and I can give them away as gifts instead of selling them! HOORAH! If I get the chance, someday, to retire from my day job, maybe I can take this back up as a sales item, but next year, it's off the market. Besides, I will not have a kick ass kitchen to can in until the end of summer.
That's not a surprise, those are all the fringe items, really. The main products from the farm are turkeys, meat chickens and lamb. Those are staying put. I am working on my bird orders for next year - which will really just be enough to support my family and my CSA customers. We can NOT keep lamb in the freezer, and I am trying to rebuild my ewe flock after the loses of this year. So we are trying to naturally grow our flock to produce more lamb in the coming years. Beef was already off the table, and I won't bring it back - check out WIMO FARMS and Field to Front Door for your Beef and Pork needs!
The other piece of our business that is actually quite big... is our chicken processing service.
Since I am playing in numbers, turkey is over 27% of our sales, and that mostly happens in one weekend. Lamb is almost 19% of our sales, meat chickens are just over 9%. Processing is almost 15% of our sales! That one surprised me. I am not sure how well we will keep up with processing next year, but we'll do our best.
So that being said, we've run this farm for almost 12 years. We grew and grew in the beginning, and we added on ancillary products to try and increase our revenue stream. The goal was for me to retire from my day job and run the farm. Health care costs, college education for our daughter, a mortgage that the farm can't afford to pay for.. nope, I need to keep working. So, we need to stop burying ourselves with farm work and simplify. And honestly, we deserve to enjoy our lives, too. We have the right to travel, and go camping and hiking and enjoy our family, without being buried in work. Years ago, we realized we were bad at growing veggies, but we have lots of friends who do! We support them and buy from them! It's also time to realize that plenty of people raise egg layers, and folks can find eggs all over the place. We can back down and focus on meat. It's what we are good at. The ancillary products I tried to make a market from - stew hens, chicken organs, etc. Man - I'd be better off just feeding that all to my dogs, who LOVE IT, and reducing the expense of feeding them, than keeping freezer space tied up with chicken feet and old roosters!
I know it starts to sound kind of selfish. But this is for me. And I am the only one out there taking care of me. And that's OK. It's time to wind things down and focus on what works, what sells and what we are good at!