Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lamb Prices

I wrote a really detailed post last summer regarding egg prices and how much (or very very little) profit we make on eggs. People sometimes question our prices, so I like to be able to justify it. We did  a lot of research on our lamb prices when we first got  started. We haven't raised them. Ever. Hay has gotten more expensive, but we've gotten better at sourcing it. And again, our pricing models don't even take into account our time and labor, any electricity used (to heat their water), the water they drink, and any expenses related to the truck and trailers we use to take them to processing, and to bring home their winter hay.  So, yeah, not really profitable at all when you put all that together. However, our farm is breaking even at this point, so it is paying for itself.

But I reposted my Craigslist ads last night, as they expired over the holidays and I almost immediately got this anonymous email last night. So I am calling this person on the carpet....

They took the time to create a fake email just to tell me this. Wow! $2.50, you got a heckuva deal. Didn't tell me what you bought, if it was on sale, or if it had any of the same qualities as my pastured, humanely raised lambs.

So let's break it down and see how outrageous my prices are, compared to lambs that were probably raised on a CAFO and bought at the auction to be sold at Atlas. (not picking on Atlas, we don't use them, but have friends that do, and so far, they seem to do a great job, just not sure where their retail lamb is coming from)

Alright, so the costs that are obvious for me to identify, and keep in mind, raising lambs also means keeping their moms and bringing in breeding rams.

So here are the costs we have:

$3000/year for hay for the winter. Pasture grasses don't grow year round in Colorado, so we source local hay to feed the lambs and their mamas.
$300/year for a breeding ram
$300/year for needed vaccines for the flock
$75/lamb for processing

OK, again, this does not consider the maintenance and gas on our truck that we use for getting hay and taking them to the processor. It doesn't consider water, or electricity (running commercial freezers isn't free, either!), or our time for taking care of them and their barn (that means I don't get paid to shovel poo!)

So here's about what we get per year for lambs...

We have about 35 born each year, in a strong year, they weigh on average 70 pounds at time of processing. We get back about 35 pounds of meat from each lamb.

Taking the prices above, our costs are about $85.71 per lamb for hay, $8.57 per lamb for vaccines, $8.57/lamb for the cost of the breeding ram, and then the $75 for processing.

That equates to about $102 profit per lamb.

OK, there are some other  things to note here, we sell a lot of lamb to our CSA members, at $7.50/lb. I was using the $8/pound price for the analysis above. ALSO, my price per pound is the price of the WEIGHT OF THE MEAT YOU TAKE HOME. A lot of folks charge by the pound for hanging weight or live weight. That is not the same as what you take home.

But if I were to drop my prices down to $2.50/lb for butchered weight... I'd lose $90 on every lamb. That doesn't sound sustainable.  And if $102 profit upsets you, multiply that by the 35 lambs I raise per year, that's a net profit of $3575. Again, not being paid for my time, electricity, water, diesel, etc. That pretty much could pay the property taxes of the pasture they eat 6-8 months out of the year. Thanks, sheepies!!

And then there are the cut prices. Yeah, not only do we sell most of our lamb bulk, we really really encourage folks to buy enough to stay in the $8/lb range. But if someone really only wants one cut, we have prices for those, and yeah, they are higher. This is driven purely by supply and demand. The higher demand cuts get the higher prices... this is to help drive consumer behavior to try and purchase all the cuts of lamb, and not purchase all the prime cuts, leaving the lesser meats behind. That helps ensure we always have a good selection of meat for all our customers and especially our CSA customers who get ALL cuts at $7.50/lb.

For us, it's imperative that we make a little profit on each endeavor so that the farm can keep going. Again, I don't know the source of Atlas' lamb products, but I do know mine... pasture raised, grass fed, babies that live their whole lives with their mama, never exposed to chemical sprays or antibiotics, and live a happy, healthy life, outside in the sunshine, and even so spoiled they get a full barn to sleep in when the weather is cold.

I guess, as is with anything, you can't please everyone. And I don't intend to. When I research prices for other pastured lamb, such as at Whole Foods, and other pastured lamb enterprises around the US like ours, our prices have always been lower. This individual doesn't need to ever buy my lamb, I sell it all just fine to folks who appreciate what we do and why we do it. This individual also didn't really need to take all the energy to send a negative note to us, either. We know where our prices stand, and we know the quality of our product. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

OK, so after that, here's a picture of a cute lamb to put a smile on your face....

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Lambs Lambs Lambs!

We have 18 lambs on the farm right now, and still have 9 ewes left to give birth. Three of which are visibly pregnant and very far along in their pregnancies. So much so that every morning we expect to see their lambs, but not just yet.

This past week, we had 3 ewes give birth for the very first time.

This is Skadi, her mama was Marcia, who is one of our better moms. Skadi's dad was Jason, who was a full hair sheep, but Marcia is one of our last remaining wool sheep. So Skadi is a big scraggily. She gave birth to a ram and a ewe, the Ram is hiding in the back, Braeburn. He's got a solid hair coat, and the most adorable markings on his ears, I'll have to get more pictures.  The ewe in front is Cheerilee, and she appears to be the first lamb of the season with a wool coat, like mom.  They are doing great.

This is our beloved Hattie! She road in the Berthoud Days parade a few years ago. This is her first lamb, and boy is she vigilant with her! She's almost all black, with a white spot on her head. Her name is Rarity, she's got a great warm hair coat, and these two are going to do AWESOME!  Now Hattie was bottle fed. She got abandoned by her mom in the bitter bitter cold, and she ended up being a house lamb for a while. Because of that, she's super friendly to people. However, I often notice once a bottle lamb has babies, that their attitude about wanting to be petted changes. She's all about her baby right now, possible when Rarity gets older, she'll go back to being her friendly self!

These were the first ones born and not a great start for Persephone. Well, first of all, twins at the first round are a good start for us, knowing she's capable of twins, and possibly will always drop twins. However, for a new mom, twins can be confusing. Sometimes, they either build the bond with their first born, and when the second is born, are confused and show no interest OR they get so involved with the second born, that they ignore the first and don't know it belongs to them. I think the white one (Fluttershy) was the first born. She was clean and dry when we found them. The colored one (Applejack) was still wet and not cleaned. We haltered up Persephone 4 or 5 times that first day to let the baby drink. She really wanted to. Without the halter, mama kept pushing her away. She spent her first night in the house, getting bottles, but when we put her back out, she kept sleeping on the lamb heating pad with her sister. She is very resourceful and is trying to drink from anyone who will let her. Hattie is too vigilant to let it happen, but Persephone sometimes doesn't notice and lets her drink, and sometimes she manages to sneak from Skadi, too. Every time I try to give her a bottle, I find that her belly is already full. She might not have a strong bond with her mom, but she certainly is a fighter and wants to get to food wherever she can. We like this trait, and we think we might keep her, just like Hattie. Just because her mom got confused, and we give a lot of leeway for first time mamas, doesn't mean she'll do the same.

Now the only downside for Miss Persephone is that we will watch this trend. Most of our ewes are on a "Three Strikes and Your Out!" Policy. 3 nonconformances, especially in a row, and we usually put you on the cull list. Culls typically include a combination of the following infractions: lamb abandonment, skipping lambing seasons (not getting pregnant), stillbirths, and birth defects.  Birth defects we have only had once, that ewe is gone, as is that ram, so hopefully that was a fluke.  Aggressiveness is also added in, not as an infraction itself, but if it presents with other issues, it doesn't help. We've only had one, but she sent Shanny-bug flying across the paddock when she had lambs. Not OK for our critters to go after MY offspring!

That being said, we have a mama going to the processor next week. She's almost 5 years old, and has only given us 3 lambs in that time. Her lambs are always small (of course, she gave us a HUGE ram lamb this time.) Another lamb that was born the same time as her, has given us 8 lambs already, and they are much bigger than hers. So we will be saying goodbye to Clarice, before she gets pregnant again. I'll be sad to see her go, as I always am, but letting go of a non-productive ewe helps us keep our average flock age low and allows us to pick a lamb from this season to keep! We already have eyes on little resourceful Applejack.

The irony of keeping Applejack is that we had really high hopes for Clarice. She's the granddaughter of Shirley, and daughter of Peppermint Patty, two of my BEST ewes. Applejack is also the granddaughter of Shirley, as Persephone is one of Shirley's daughters. I have high hopes for all of Shirley's genetics, but Clarice didn't play out as we hoped. So let's see how Applejack does in her stead.

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Shout Out to my Rhode Island Reds

So we, for many reasons, used to have a mish mash of a chicken flock. We started with Production Reds, a hybrid breed, no doubt with lots of Rhode Island in them, that was a sex link breed. This meant you could easily identify the males at hatching due to the absence or presence of a dot on their heads. They were also supposed to be superior layers.

Great.  Year two, in order to know the age of our birds, we switched to Black Sex Links. So far so good. Year 3 we went to Barred Rocks. Somewhere along the line, I also brought in Americanas for the green eggs, maybe some other random breeds like Silver Lakenvelders, that I thought were gorgeous. They turned out to be terrible layers and very unfriendly birds.

Somewhere in there, WiMo farms gave birth to their first little dude, and decided to get out of the egg business for a while. They brought us 40 gorgeous chickens, and a few roosters. We had Brahmas, Astralorps, Wyandottes, Hamburgs, even Fang, the fabulous Polish rooster. In the midst of this I also started hatching some birds. Oh lord, the things we hatched. They were gorgeous, but of complete unknown heritage, so many roosters, and our flock became colorful and unidentifiable. Aside from the Americanas, we didn't know who was laying what, or where.

When it came time to eliminate the flock and start over, I decided to settle into one breed. ONE. This way I could hatch them true, know what I was going to get, and replace my own flock by incubating right here on the farm.

I settled on these guys.

Aside from hybrids and White Leghorns, you know, this guy...
Image result for Foghorn LEghorn

Rhode Island Reds are the best egg layers of brown eggs. The White Leghorns lay white eggs.   So I decided to give these guys a try - supposedly good layers, even in winter, calm, nice birds. And how I could hatch my own replacements because I would know what I would get every time.

Like these little ones... who grew into these not so little ones...

And got to go outside when they were these not at all little ones.

So what's the big deal, and why am I so excited?  This is their first winter as FULLY mature birds. My flock is maybe 40 birds right now. We used to manage 300 because we sold to restaurants. I don't have data all they way back to the beginning to compare to that original Production Red flock. All I know is that with about 40 hens, I collected 20 eggs last night. Usually, this time of year, with temperatures like we have right now, I am lucky to get 2 or 3 eggs. 20. TWENTY.

According to me records, in 2012, I was getting NO EGGS AT ALL in January - 300 chicken flock of mixed nuts. In 2013, I was getting 3 per day, still, probably 200 chickens that winter. This is amazing and awesome, and I love my Rhode Islands!

And a tiny shout out to my mini backyard flock. It's 1 Speckled Sussex Rooster, 4 Sussex hens and 2 Rhode Island Hens (they jumped coop, I need to move them back before I start incubating again), so 6 hens in my little backyard coop, and I still get 1 egg a day from them. I suspect it's the two Rhode Islands! You go Girls!