Sunday, April 19, 2015

Donating Eggs

Eggs have been an interesting journey this year. In 2013, we realized we had contracted a respiratory infection on our farm, and the only way to clear it was to eliminate all our birds and start over. I spent the winter between 2013-2014 bird-free. Spring of 2014, I started bringing in a new flock. We went the entire calendar year with no eggs.
In that time, we recognized the demand from the community for organic eggs. We had a large restaurant customer that we thought was interested, too, based on the demands of their customer base. It really started to feel like the shift was taking place at the consumer level and we were ready, and had a clean break to switch to organic feed for our birds.
So we did it. we switched all our egg layers to organic feed. We got ready for our individual customers and our restaurant customer, as well as another farm that is selling CSA shares with our eggs included. YAY!
We were so excited. Then, 6 months later, the girls started to lay. We did the math, and put our pricing on them. I posted on that not too long ago.  Everyone was so excited for eggs. Until we posted the price.
Now, there are folks that are really interested, and understand that farming isn't cheap or easy. It's what they want, and they are willing to pay for it. Lots of folks are not willing or able. That's everyone's choice. Our restaurant turned out to be one of them. We are getting about 85 eggs a day out of our girls, and probably selling about 40-50 eggs per WEEK.
You do the math. So, our fridges were full of eggs, and these eggs need a home.
Thankfully, at work, we volunteer with Community Food Shares in Boulder. They love eggs. They NEED eggs. It's a great protein source, and the food banks often struggle to provide protein for families in need.  I took 6 crates of eggs (how many I can safely fit in the backend of our Volkswagen) and delivered them to the food bank. The FDA won't let grocery stores donate cartons with cracked eggs in them anymore, which means they get NO eggs. Mine weren't cracked, mine just didn't have a home.
6 cartons, 15 dozen per carton, that's 1080 eggs. We donated them. Every other Friday I am going to do the same thing until or unless we start selling eggs (when the farmer's market kicks in during June, or when the CSA starts selling them in May, we'll see) The food bank is appreciative. I hope the families are too.
It's actually making me consider that maybe, just maybe, our farm should be a non-profit that grows food for the food bank. What we sell, like turkeys, would go to fund the operation, so that we can continue to provide eggs for the food bank. Just a thought. Giving back is rewarding, and knowing a family has good food to eat is a great way to end my week.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Planning for Purchasing Lamb

There are two ways to purchase lamb on our farm. The first, and quickest is to purchase from our freezer stock. This is already butchered, packaged into cuts (see below for our standard cuts) and available anytime we are home on the farm for you to come and purchase. This still requires a little bit of planning - if you wait until the very last minute, we might not be home to sell you some lamb. But for the most part, we are around on weekends, and in the evenings, if you call, and we are home, you can come by for some lamb - individual cuts or packages of a whole or half a lamb.

The second way is if you want something special. We don't stock whole lamb carcasses in our freezer - we just don't have space for that. So if you are looking to roast a lamb on a spit, you have to plan ahead. And by planning ahead, we mean 2-3 weeks in advance.  The same goes if you are looking for a special cut that isn't part of our standard butcher practice. These also require advance deposits, as we have had folks call for these special items, we get it all arranged, and then they NEVER show up to buy.  That leaves us in a pickle.

So why does it take 2-3 weeks to manage a special cut for a customer? First, we have to arrange to take the lambs to process. Our processor only butchers on Monday through Thursday, so we have to schedule a time with them. If they are booked, you are out of luck. So don't assume we can just pick a lamb and take them to butcher the next morning. Some seasons, the processor gets booked quickly, and I've had to wait over 2 months to get one or two lambs in.

The lamb is not available the day it is slaughtered, either. For a whole carcass, they still require 2 days to hang the meat to age it and dry it properly. That's the same with a butchered carcass. They still hang the carcass for 2 days at least before they start the cutting process. It can be up to a week after we deliver a lamb before we are able to bring it back home. So if you want a special frenched rack tomorrow, it won't happen.

We've had 3 customers back out on us at the last minute the last few weeks. I know that folks were trying to make last minute arrangements for special Easter celebrations. And that's great. We had one customer who contacted us early, came out to the farm to meet his lamb with this family, felt good about everything, we arranged the slaughter date to align with the date he needed to pick up, he paid a deposit up front, and all went well after that. It was a great experience all around.

The others, called in a hurry, begged for a lamb in the next 2 days, and then never paid their deposit and we were a no-show at the processor. That embarrasses me, messes with THEIR schedule (they could have filled those spots with someone else!) and I promised them it would never happen again. So we are asking 3 weeks notice on special cuts, and a 50% deposit before the lamb even gets loaded in our truck. It wastes our time, the processors time, and cuts into the bottom line for us both. And that's not OK.

We are happy to arrange special cuts for folks. We've done Hallal butchering on the farm, we've had lambs processed with a full French rack, we've kept special organs, even entire heads for a customer. But we have to plan ahead for these things, so ask that you try to plan ahead, too.

Long Shadow Farm standard cuts
These are the cuts we stock on the farm, pretty much year round.

Whole Leg or Short Leg


Foreshank and Breast

Square Cut Shoulder (labeled "Shoulder Roast")
Shoulder Steaks


Friday, April 3, 2015

Why are Your Organic Eggs SO Expensive?

I've posted on Facebook before, and in here, some links where other folks have done the math for the price of pastured chicken. But now that we have switched to organic eggs, I see and hear folks who don't like the pricing. Let me remind you that we switched because so many people kept asking for them, we thought it was time and that the market was ready.

So I thought I would share with you the math behind our pricing, that will show you the costs of feeding an organic hen, as well as what ends up being the profit for us. You'll be surprised at the result. And basically, no, we are not gouging you and no I don't have the answer for how to bring prices down. The organic feed cost, end of story, has to come down. It's still a niche product, at least for us small farmers. I could get a better price if I was buying hundreds of tons per year.

Let's put that a bit into perspective too, possibly there are other areas of the country where organic feed prices are lower, but in Colorado, I have two options for bulk organic feed. Ranchway and Fehringers. Fehringers delivers in one ton totes. Their price is lower per ton, something close to $800/ton vs $1000 per ton at Ranchway (I've also heard their feed isn't as high quality, but I don't know). It's trucked in from Nebraska and I don't know the delivery fee, so the cost difference may be negligible  The totes don't work on our farm. They are still at risk for mice getting into my grain, and since we don't have any equipment to move that tote, it may also be at risk for sheep exposure. Chicken feed is poisonous to sheep, so having grain on the ground is a big no-no my farm. That leaves me with Ranchway, who will deliver feed to me, and put it in my grain bins. That keeps the feed off the ground, no sheep, no mice, and makes it easier to fill my wheel barrow for weekly deliveries out to the chicken feeders.  Any mill in California, Iowa, or any place else is too far away to deliver one or two tons of feed to my little farm. The delivery price would be more than the feed.

Tonnage price:  $1009
One ton consumed: 6 weeks
Annual feed cost: $8745
Chicken life span (on our farm) 3 years
Cost to feed my flock for their life: $26,234 
That's like a new VW for me every 3 years!

Estimated average eggs laid per day over the live span of the flock: 57.5
Number of weeks they lay over their life time: 130
(they don't lay for the first 6 months, but I still have to feed them, next estimation also includes winter down time, as we don't force them to lay)
Average eggs laid by my flock over their life span: 53013
Someone better start making omelets!

Cost of feed per egg laid: $0.50
Selling price per dozen: $6.50
Sale price per egg: $0.54
Profit per egg: $0.04  - PENNIES per egg comes back to me in profit.
Daily Profit: $2.32
Annual Profit: $848.50
Profit over the life of the flock: $2108.71

That's a pretty tight margin. We're not making much money, Not even enough per day to buy a meal for a human on this farm.  The other thing it does not take into account is water for the birds, as well as the labor included in feeding them, filling their water, cleaning their coops, collecting their eggs, cleaning their eggs, and the cost of cartons (which, at the lowest cost by buying 20,000 at a time, they are $0.21/carton - so no, I am not buying new cartons, but reusing old ones). It doesn't include much money to cover equipment - waterers, feeders, brooders, and keep in mind, we don't see any income until we have eggs to sell, so we are spending 6 months buying them expensive feed, before we even have a single egg to sell. It also doesn't include the cost of obtaining the chicks, and the electric bill to run their brooder to keep them warm as babies. That tells me we aren't making a profit at all, but hoping we are just breaking even.

We almost got out of the egg business, and are considering it again. It is the highest labor item we have on the farm. We HAVE to collect eggs every day. We have to wash them, package them and store them. And it takes 6 months before we see a profit. We'll keep our girls for 3 years, but I'll be honest, we aren't selling many eggs, and I believe it's due to the price, which as you can see, we can't reduce. If organic feed prices don't go down, we may have to ditch the egg layers OR put them back on traditional feed.

As a comparison, that same ton of feed in traditional feed (which may contain herbicides, pesticides and GMO grains) it costs me less than $400. Yes, it's the only difference between my organic and traditional eggs. It's just the feed. They get the same water, live outside in the sunshine.  I won't do all the math again, but the ANNUAL profit on my traditional eggs, is higher than the 3 YEAR profit for the organic eggs. The organic feed is 3 times as expensive as traditional feed. This is purely supply/demand pricing. We need more folks to want organic feed, which will hopefully encourage more folks to grow it, and start seeing some cost reductions based on efficiencies in growing, transporting, milling and marketing these grains.

Until then, organic eggs are expensive. How are the grocery stores getting them less expensively than we are? They likely have contracts directly with a feed mill who delivers 100s of tons of feed per year instead of a dozen tons of feed. They likely raise THOUSANDS of birds in an airplane hangar, and possibly in an area of the country where grain prices, in general, are lower.  I have a hundred birds right now, not thousands. I have only 2 grain options, and neither are budging on price.

This math just isn't adding up. And I can't lower my prices, or I'll lose money, which eventually means I lose the farm. Tight profit margins like this also mean we both have to maintain our off farm jobs to pay our mortgage and feed our family. And yes, I pay for every egg we eat, full price. Sometimes, in the course of the week, it's the only eggs we sell. So the price is certainly a problem.

I don't see us producing organic eggs for very much longer...