Case Study 6: Eggs, Poultry, and Pork


About the farm

Jeff farms on his parents’ property that is located down the road from his house. He has access to several outbuildings and to about an acre of fenced pasture. He has been raising chickens for meat and eggs, as well as turkeys and pigs for the past five years. He grows potatoes, greens and onions for limited commercial sales. He has also experimented growing rabbits for meat. He didn’t grow up farming but recently he has become more passionate about rural living and self-sufficiency.

To this end, Jeff has been experimenting with other rural services that he can offer. He has been breeding dual-purpose hens (meat and eggs), designing moveable chicken pens, and dreaming up ways that he can earn a living facilitating the transfer of food production knowledge to urban and rural residents.

Farm marketing

Jeff was a regular supplier of meat and eggs to a local distributor for several years. Most of his eggs and meat, especially the pork, is sold to friends and neighbours, and through community networks. He has also donated significant portions of his vegetable crops to soup kitchens in exchange for tax receipts. Jeff is very active in pushing for more local markets, but has found many barriers to this end.

Jeff sets his price on the low end of certified organic grocery store prices. He is not certified organic, but he prides himself on good stewardship practices and he communicates this to his customers. Pricing is a challenge for Jeff because meat has a very low profit margin, and the cost of grain and feed has increased exponentially in recent years.

Seasonal workload

Jeff’s workload is variable, depending on the number of animals in his care at any one time. An average would be two hours a day for feeding the animals, and collecting and cleaning eggs. Moving the animals to new areas and fencing requires additional time, so weekends are generally consumed by farm chores.

Limitations

Jeff is affected by the meat regulations and by the limited space at slaughterhouses. These uncertainties prevent him from increasing his livestock significantly. He laments that there aren’t more very local markets where he can easily sell his eggs and meat. The health authority has just recently allowed him to sell eggs at the market.

Farm Finances

Jeff’s business is marginally profitable. The cost of feed is so high that he is unable to achieve much profit on the eggs or the meat. He estimated that his grain costs are as follows: six pound broiler hens eat about $12 each, turkeys eat about $28 each, and pigs eat $50 each in grains. Jeff supplements his animals’ diets by letting them free range and by picking up leftovers at the grocery store and the local bakery, but this ‘free’ food costs him in time and gas. A main benefit is that he can provide meat and eggs to his extended family at no cost, and that is very important to him.

The vegetables are also marginally profitable. If he were to spend more time marketing, he feels he could extract higher prices. He is in a classic ‘catch-22’, where he hasn’t been able to leave his full-time job because the farm doesn’t pay enough, yet he can’t make the farm pay unless he has more time to invest. Jeff feels strongly that the contribution of farmers to society is undervalued, and that the system has to change before more people can devote themselves to serious food production.

Assets

Jeff has a chicken hatching facility that he built himself for just under $200. He has eight chicken tractors that are ‘rented’ out to friends and neighbours in exchange for food from their farms or help on his farm. A major asset is the 100 or more metal fencing panels that his father has leftover from his construction company. These moveable panels allow Jeff the ability to easily rotate his animals, even the pigs, over many parts of the property to make the best use of space and to best care for the land.

Why this business works

Jeff’s passion and agricultural activism fuel his commitment to this endeavour. Providing meat for the community is an important service that is recognized by his customers. There is a tremendous demand for all of Jeff’s products, so he is in an ideal position to expand when he feels ready.

 

written by Robin Tunnicliffe, edited by Barbara Joughin