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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Reading Dunroven's post inspired me to start this thread... Out of a desire for the contributions to be helpful (not out of an effort to censor) I'd like to ask that anyone that posts here make it a positive post - contribute things that you have done with your farm operation that have worked for you and why you think they worked rather than why something didn't or "can't" work.

I know some of these posts are going to be long, but I hope everyone is able to gain some helpful information and/or some inspiration from this thread.

My second calendar year as an operational small farm we had an operating profit - revenue minus direct input. I've never spent a nickel on advertising or marketing (time, yes, but no $$) I think this may have been a mistake, but I didn't so.... I'm excluding my sign and business cards as my sign was from 'leftovers' and the cards... well, ok I did buy a box of "print your own" cards. I'm not trying to brag and understand that I'm not getting rich from this operation by a long shot and there's a long way to go. Here's some of the things that I believe and do that I think have helped me so far.

Location - It's probably been the single most important factor in my success here. It's the reason We decided on this property. It's not that dream 50 acres 30 miles from the nearest gas station with the closest neighbor a half mile away. Quite the contrary, It's on a well-traveled road in an area that is growing and has a fairly affluent population. But given a more remote location, it could certainly still work - it would simply require some aggressive and creative marketing and probably some operational adjustment such as a delivery service.

Philosophy - I decided a number of things when I was still using pencil and paper while planning the business.
• I would only sell to the end consumer - I don't pay a middleman to deliver my product to the customer.
• I would sell value added products - products that have value that are not readily available elsewhere. Examples to follow.
• I would establish my price without regard to anyone else's pricing - I'm not a supermarket and I don't compete with them on regarding product, pricing or value. I don't give a flip what the folks at the farmers' markets are selling their tomatoes or eggs for One reason I don't participate at the markets is that many of the folks that sell there don't share my philosophy about the VALUE of the products offered.
I consider these three principles to be secondary only to location for me and I have steadfastly adhered to them.

OK, here we go...

EGGS - I started with a 'flock' of six Golden Comet layers. I did the due diligence regarding regulation at the fed, state and local level. I comply with pretty much all of the regs storage, processing (CLEANING), packaging and labeling. I sell ONLY from the farm as taking them off-premise to sell puts me in a different category in terms of regulation/licensing and I just don't want or need to go there at this point. I created a label for the new (not recycled/reused) cartons that I felt reflected not only what the product is, but who we are. Knowing that I'd probably not sell all the eggs that were produced, I calculated what the birds cost both growing chicks out and buying POL layers, feed cost and REASONABLE production expectations and came up with $3 per dozen as a selling price. Now before someone jumps up and says "you can't sell eggs here for over fifty cents per dozen!!!" let me say it. I don't sell eggs to everyone that stops by to buy them. Some folks are quite frank about not being willing to pay that much. I just tell them I understand and ask them if it would offend them for me to give them a sample - I give 'em a dozen eggs and thank them for stopping by SINCERELY. About one in four or five have been repeat (paying LOL) customers. That is pretty much the only circumstances that I give eggs away - very few exceptions (I'll occasionally give a few dozen to the local food bank). I used to donate a dozen or two to the church which they auctioned off after the service (my idea for the auction) and they had them sell this way for as high as $12. After the gloss was off the apple for the auction, I simply began taking 3-4 dozen and selling them for the regular price and donating 20% to the church. From a regulatory standpoint, I'm probably on thin ice with this, but I just consider it fulfilling an order placed at the farm. When the chickens' production drops to 60-65%, I order replacements - Comets are good up to about 2½-3 years of age (2-2½ years of productivity). Once the replacements are producing a salable product, I run an ad to sell the previous flock. I found out last year that timing is important with this. My new flock took over production duties in November and I had no response to the ads, and was stuck with the old flock over the winter. In May I ran the ad again and could have sold a couple hundred if I'd had them - lesson learned: flock replacement in early spring to early summer. I feed my birds a high-quality commercial feed (free of any crap) that is milled locally from [mostly] locally-produced grains, add milled flax seed and sell the eggs as "Omega 3 Enhanced" (value added)- the term Omega 3 Eggs has been trademarked by Eggland's Best.

PORK - I buy feeder pigs and grow them out on pasture (value enhanced). In addition to all the grass, weeds, worms grubs that they eat I feed them, as much commercial feed as they'll eat. I'll worm them twice during the 5-6 months I have them and the processor picks them up at my driveway for slaughter/processing. I presell and take a significant deposit from my customers prior to buying the piglets, so I'm not speculating (I buy 2-3 extra in case one dies or has to be slaughtered early and the 'extra' goes in my freezer). I bill the customers 10% of the balance of their ESTIMATED final price monthly while I'm growing the pigs out. That leaves them with a pretty small balance when they go to camp no return and they settle up with the processor for his service. Plus it helps with the cash flow. Customers commit to either a half or a whole pig and I price it at $3 per lb hanging weight. I'm not doing pigs this year (didn't think it would lend itself well to me selling the property), but I probably would have had orders for a total of 10 pigs and I probably would have 'specked' 2-3 in addition to the pre-orders and my 2. Last yearI had a number of folks that wanted to place orders after I'd already bought the feeder pigs. There is good money in pork and anyone that has the capacity to raise them should. This is one enterprise that you wouldn't have to have a great location (although it would certainly help) to operate - the customer picks their order up from the processor.

MEAT CHICKENS - Last year I ordered 100 Freedom Ranger chicks which I totally free ranged (value added) (during the day - in a nice safe [small] outbuilding at night). I had sold about a third of the flock as pre-ordered with a small deposit ($5 @ bird) for [email protected] Took about half the flock (mostly the cockerels I think as the other half were noticeably smaller) to the processor at 88 days. The others I kept for another 3 months just to see how big they'd get... Overall they averaged a little over 5 lbs dressed. I limit fed them a commercial broiler ration which of course is antibiotic/chem free (value added) to which I added soy meal to get the caloric value up to what I wanted. I ended up costing me about $4.50 per bird to get them to a freezer - you do the math... I didn't sell them as aggressively as I could have as I'd never raised meat birds before and had no idea how they would turn out - I'm eating quite a bit of excellent chicken LOL. I did sell enough to make the operation profitable and would have made pretty good money if I'd sold the 75 I had planned. One could do 3 flocks per year if you timed it right and had the market. There's very good money in these birds. And a side benefit of free ranging them is that they forage so aggressively that you don't have to mow the area that they range on LOL.

FIREWOOD - I cut about 90 large pine trees down in the fall/early winter of 2005. Bucked 'em up and split a few during the summer/fall of 2006. I stacked a half cord in front by my farm sign without any signage whatsoever. With no advertising I sold 3 cords for $140 each. Now I've bundled some in 2½ cu ft bundles and am selling it as "camp fire wood" for $10 per bundle. Since the first part of May I've sold about 20 bundles. Doing the math I get 51 bundles from a cord of wood. I'll let you do the rest of the math....

That's all for now - I'm outta time. I hope others will weigh in with their success stories...
 

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I hope this thread takes off. It's so nice to read positive, creative things people are doing. Not to say people here don't need a place to vent, but I wish more threads were like this.
Gives me hope if I ever decide to sell things other than a few dozen eggs to my coworkers.
 

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We started in rabbits last fall as an experiment. We've had five litters so far, and are transitioning to purebred stock (value-added, to coin bill's phrase). We've sold about 2/3 of them at a local flea market as pets or breeding stock, and the other 1/3 has been sold slaugtered for meat. While we haven't made lots of money, the rabbits do pay for their own upkeep with a few dollars profit besides. We're hoping that the purebred transition will help with profit margin.

We bought 35 purebred, day-old chicks last fall, raised them to laying age, and sold rooster/hen pairs at the flea market for $15 per pair. The profit margin on this was significant. We were careful to buy breeds that we could readily distinguish from one another, including Black Australorps, Silver-Laced Wyandottes, Ameracaunas, & Buff Orpingtons.

We also sell eggs, and have a few repeat customers. We have also used eggs to barter for produce, pasture, & fodder. We take eggs to the flea market and sell for $1.50 per dozen. Like bill said, often people don't want to pay the price, but it is what it is. If they don't sell, I bring them home, scramble them, and put them in the freezer for us to eat. I refuse to come down on price because I know what kind of quality they are. We could probably get $3 per dozen in Knoxville, but with the hour drive, any additional profit would be eaten up in gas costs.

We also raise cattle, but are just beginning the venture. For us, we want to retain our herd through the winter months, as prices are typically low in the fall due to sell-off by those that do not have sufficient hay stores. We have sold a steer to my DS & BIL for slaughter, but not terribly large profit there. We have also talked about selling to others for slaughter, but at this point it is talk only as we are still getting our feet under us.
 

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Joy, as a former cow-calf man, I'd recommend you set up your cows to fall calve. It works great in our state, especially if you stockpile winter pasture, and you sell your calves in spring, going against the regular cycle. I did it for years.

I took care of the problem of keeping a bull by finding a larger farmer who supplied me with a different young bull each fall that I would overwinter. I would get the service, he would get the weight gain, and he'd pick up the bull in early spring, so for 6-7 months there was no bull on the place. He then sold the bull as an experienced young herd sire, so it worked for us both. Cows work like human females when they are all together and there are no men. The cows will all synchronize their cycles. So at calving, I would typically have all my calves drop in a 10-day window. Very nice, indeed.

I still to this day have my hay cut and rolled by someone else on halves. Until this drought year, I always managed to sell enough of my half to get my feed free. This year, I have about $25 a roll in my kept feed hay, which is not bad considering hay here is $80-100 a roll now. If we get some more light showers, I may have a fall crop I can sell, and get my spring hay free. I'm kind of doubting that, but it could happen.
 

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TURKEYS - The "cash cow" of our little farm. I buy heritage breed (value-added) turkey poults in the early spring from one of the hatcheries. This year I chose Narrangansetts, last year we had a mixed flock. Narrangansetts are supposed to get a little bigger a little faster than some of the breeds. Slow Food USA sets the price of heritage breed turkeys at $4/pound. I skip all the weighing nonsense and sell toms for $75 and hens for $65, customers come and pick them up Thanksgiving week, and I sell out by April. They eat a non-medicated feed from the local mill and scraps from the garden.
 

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This is a great post! I've got sixty heritage tomatoes in the ground and we'll see how I do.
 

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Down here, in the home of the cochon de lait , a roast pig brings good money. Pigs range in size from about 35 pound carcass weight to about 65 pounds.

People want them cleaned, so you'll have to butcher, but it's $1/lb on the hoof, sometimes more. My wife's uncle has made good side money the last several years, by either buying pigs privately, or at the sale, keeping them for a few weeks, and then butchering.

Between the opening of squirrel season (kind of a holiday down here), Thanksgiving and Christmas, he sold about a hundred head.
 

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Bill, we sold most of our first batch of Freedom Rangers. They averaged 4.5# dressed at 13 weeks and cost me about $9 per bird, including butcher,feed, chicks, and added in some for fencing and housing. Like you, I know I have a quality product and am not willing to settle for low prices just to get rid of birds. I know people around are willing to pay for the best of the best, and on slaughter day I sold 24 birds to a local organic,high priced restaurant(we are talking $100 dinner for two) for $18 per bird. I butchered 80, sold 60, so we kept 20 birds and had a few hundred bucks profit. The restaurant had been getting organic free range birds, but had never seen a chicken like these Freedom Rangers. The organs were great and they wanted all the feet I could get them, willing to pay extra for the feet. This restaurant wants to order a couple dozen a week from May through October. We just need a slaughter operation closer than the 2 hours away that we use currently. She did try to dicker on price, but I told her that I could sell them elsewhere if she didn't want them. SHE BOUGHT THEM ANYWAY. That just goes to show that when you have a quality product, people will come. It may take time, but I raise the Rolls Royce of chicken.

Testimonials from everyone who bought my birds were that they were the best chicken they had ever tasted. This is coming from organic, free range only folks, by the way. We feed all organic, no soy, and let them roam the whole yard. They entertain us and pay the bills, too. I do love these birds and look forward to next year. We have a flock of 80 that is going to be ready in Sept, but they are all sold already and I don't have time to do another run this year.

Thanks for the thread idea, bill, and the help with the FRs. You are a blessing.

mark
 

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Oh, and we sell our eggs for $2.50 dozen. We are in the middle of nowhere, so our friends sell at their farm. They give us $2.50 and take all we have. We don't have to worry about waste, and they even give us the boxes and pay up front when we deliver. I think pigs are in our future. Even if they don't sell well, I could use a freezer full of bacon,chops, hams.........

Sorry, had to wipe the drool off.

mark
 

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On our farm I'd say as an individual animal sale, we make the most off our Reg. Working Border Collie pups, then our wool from our Border Leicester sheep, then lamb meat sales. My wife processes our raw wool into roving, yarn, and of course selling an entire raw fleece. We mostly just give our eggs away to selected family members and friends, (the ones we don't eat ourselves)
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Slev said:
On our farm I'd say as an individual animal sale, we make the most off our Reg. [value added] Working Border Collie pups, then our wool from our Border Leicester sheep, then lamb meat sales. My wife processes our raw wool into roving[value added], yarn[value added], and of course selling an entire raw fleece. We mostly just give our eggs away to selected family members and friends, (the ones we don't eat ourselves)
LOL - I had to reply to this so I could [edit] Slev's post - hope you don't mind, Slev. Do you sell whole lambs or individual cuts [value added]?
 

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We raise beef for a nice profit. I am not saying I am quiting my day job, but it pays for our vacations, and fun money.

We started with 2 regestered black angus. I choose black angus due to the fact their assoc has outmarketed all others.

We breed AI, keep the heifers and sell the bulls (steers).

We sell at $3.50lb hanging weight, with customers paying all processing costs. So far to date, we have had more customers that steers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Now I'll finish my post..

GARDEN PRODUCTS:: I start the process of what I'll plant by selecting a new high value item to try - this year it's bird nest gourds. We did fairly well two years ago with smaller gourds so I thought this year I'd try bigger gourds. Tomatoes sell well because the flavor is so superior to what's available in the stores so they are pretty much a must-plant. I've sold them at a fairly low price in the past using them almost as a loss leader to bring more customers into my egg business. It worked fairly well, but since I won't be on premise as much this year, I'll probably raise the price. This is where I check prices in the supermarket: If I consider planting something that can be bought for cheap (cabbage, corn, lettuce, potatoes, cukes etc) I don't plant it unless I want a few for our own use. I try to stick with harder to find (kohlrabi, okra, patty pan squash) or the more expensive (snow peas, pumpkins, acorn squash). I set up a small self service honor system stand at the end of my driveway, stock it every morning, check it a couple of times during the day (restock as necessary) and folks just stop and buy stuff. I spend all of my spare time in the front yard during this time so that when someone stops I can go meet them and yak/answer questions/offer eggs/talk about chickens and pigs. etc - I've developed a number of customers for other products this way. I also ask if there's any produce products that they'd like to see on the stand next year or if it's early enough in the season for this year (fall crops). I also plant decorative (Indian) corn - it sells pretty well at $4/ear or 3 for $10.


I wanted to add a copy of my egg carton label just to give you an idea of what can be done. Some of the information is necessary for compliance, but it's also an opportunity for reinforcing the [added value] of the eggs. The text is a bit difficult to read - the nature of turning text into a Jpeg image....

 

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Great topic idea!
- Our foundation is honeybees. Currently manage 25 hives. In addition to selling honey, we are moving into selling bees to beginners. Plan to make splits next month and carry them over to spring to sell, unless we have winter losses. In that case, these will help rebuild our stock. Also do bee removals from homes.
- Shiitakes. Have about 30 logs now, and another 75 or so that will be producing next spring. Plan to inoculate about 100 more this winter. Commands a decent price - here, $6 for a half pound. Plus, you can dry the mushrooms and sell them as demand warrants. I'd add that this is our least labor-intensive operation for the return. You cut and inoculate the logs in the winter, when the bees and gardens are at rest, and simply dunk them in water to promote growth. We do a batch each Saturday. Problem is, my whole family eats mushrooms like mad, and we don't have a lot left over at this point to market.
- Vegetables. We sell direct in a high-end market, and have one country club that buys any vegetables remaining (took 25 pounds of beets, for instance). Not making a lot of money on vegetables, but the garden and greenhouse are paying for themselves. We sell the excess after putting by what we need. We go to the grocery store only for a few items - probably spend less than $20 a month there.
- Eggs. We have a small flock. Sell $3 a dozen. I'm still not sure the chickens actually pay for themselves, but we enjoy the fresh eggs. Feed is a killer. We plan to grow out field corn next year to try to cut the cost.
- As needed, I freelance write for cash. My partner picks up occasional construction work, also as cash-flow needs dictate. We are, at this point, able to work at home otherwise, which makes me happier than I can say. I left the corporate world in February (at 40). No complaints yet.
Hope someone can pick up some ideas. I'm eager to read other posts to try to do the same.
 

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This is all really interesting. I'm having a problem changing from back-garden hobbyist sales to thinking like a farmer (or a businesswoman) now we're starting to work our land and I need to do that if we're going to make any kind of income.
There are some great ideas here. I love the egg labels, Bill and I'm sure that's the way to go round here - selling the special and making it part of an 'experience' rather than just buying something.
More ideas please!
 

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I look at my garden like a retail store--how much money does each product make per square foot of space it occupies.

Since a lot of garden items have similar labor requirements (at least in the early stages) and one person can do only so much, it makes sense to plant what makes money and leave the rest to someone with a more mechanized operation.
 

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All that talk about pre-selling reminded me about a time in college when I pre-sold cups for a keg party. I wasn't the most popular kid in college, and I didn't want a bunch of random people at my apartment, but wanted a good party, the problem was sometimes when one splurged for a keg, all the folks that promised to show up flake out, leaving the keg buyer with many gallons of beer. Now this may seem like a blessing, however after being drunk for three days, and having to continually buy bags of ice to keep the thing cool, one was usually stuck with several gallons of flat warm beer. With their money already in the deal, everyone showed up! A little off topic but it just goes to show the power of preselling.

On the 'stead my favorite thing so far has been the blackberries. I got a strain of who knows what from a friend of mine, and they are wonderful! Everybody remarks at how sweet they are. I planted them 3 years ago and aside from water and fertilizer the first year they have required no other attention, although I will probably need to prune next year.

My other favorite project was the feeder lamb. We bought him in the spring and let him graze our little lot all summer, then put him in the freezer. Other than the initial cost, there was no additional expense and the meat was fantastic!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Kaitlin - changing your mindset from hobby to business may be a bit difficult - more so for some folks than others. The first and easiest step is to do what you do now - just differently (is there an oxymoron in there somewhere?). For instance, if produce is what you do now, stop looking at your growing area as a garden - look at it as and call it a market garden or produce field. Seemingly little things like that will help you make that transition. Make a list of all the things you do to produce your products and cull it down to the benefits that folks might see in your products - Chemical free, natural fertilizer, locally produced, vine ripened, humanely raised, pasture raised, free range - you get the idea. Don't let that list be limited to your personal ideals, let it reflect your potential customers ideals also. All you have to do is talk to a LOT of people and ask a couple of easy leading questions: What do you look for in products that you buy outside of retail stores? What's important to you when you visit farm markets or farmers' markets? They'll tell you... This also will help you make that transition because now you're doing market research for your business! Let this list be a 'living list' - keep adding to it as you talk to more people and add products to you operation.

By the way, if you 'interview' folks at farmers' markets be aware and prepared to get a lot of answers referencing lower prices. Do not let them convince you that 'direct from the farm' products should be cheaper. Quite the opposite is true. They're better products: better flavor, more nutrition, locally produced - the list is nearly endless in support of better value. I look forward to hearing more from you...
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Matthew Lindsay said:
Now this may seem like a blessing, however after being drunk for three days, and having to continually buy bags of ice to keep the thing cool, one was usually stuck with several gallons of flat warm beer. With their money already in the deal, everyone showed up! A little off topic but it just goes to show the power of preselling.
You owe me a new monitor!

And I don't see that as off topic, simply another example in support of an excellent tool for folks to use in their business - thanks for sharing.

I've been very sparing with the consumption of our lamb - I generally only fix some for a celebration or special occasion - it is soooo good... Too bad sheep aren't the size of buffaloes...

I think it's a real oversight for any small farm not to have substantial plantings of perennial plants - the gift that keeps on giving - whether it's brambles, fruit trees, asparagus, grapes - this is another long list. Thanks for bringing it up....
 

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I'd love to see more numbers too, if anyone is comfortable sharing. What you sell for, what your expenses vs. your income is.

Location was also a big priority for us when we bought this place. We are about an hour from two major cities and 20 minutes from two small cities with a fairly affluent population. I think that makes a huge difference for us when it comes to what we can sell and for how much. We don't have to work too hard to sell our products; people pretty much seek us out. We don't do farmers markets or sell to retailers, we are strictly sales-off-the-farm. We also have a website that draws a lot of business for us and we network a lot.

We started with chickens, both for meat and eggs. We have a mix of egg-layers, Rhode Island Reds, Ameracaunas, Sex-Links, etc. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 mature egg-layers and another 40 that are almost ready-to-lay. We try keep a laying flock of at least 50. We currently sell our eggs for $2.50 a dozen, and usually sell them all without a problem.

We raise meat birds and have tried numerous types of the last few years. Currently, we do a mix of fast-growing Cornish Crosses and medium-growing Cornish. We raise them in batches of 50-100 and butcher them in batches of about 25. So we have some 4-pounders at 6 weeks, and up to about 6-pounders at 8 or 9 weeks on the fast-growing. Smaller sizes on the medium-growing. We sell whole chickens for $2.75 a pound and generally sell all we produce. We will probably do in the neighborhood of 500 this year, from about May through Thanksgiving. We did larger batches in the spring. Currently, we are bringing in 50 every 4 weeks, and butchering 25 at a time, twice a month.

They are raised completely free-range. No chicken tractors here. They are in movable electric netting or inside electric fencing. They don't wander too far from the feeders though. In addition to forage, they get leftover milk from our goats and commercial feed. We only feed non-medicated feed, but not organic.

We do turkeys for Thanksgiving. We buy standard broad-breasted turkeys and raise them free-range. They do get grain, as well as milk from our goats, and of course, all the pasture, bugs, etc. that they want. We did 25 last year and will do (gulp) 50 this year. We'll probably sell them for $3 a pound and they should be in the 15-22 lb range. (Side note: I HATE doing turkeys. They are my least favorite thing we sell. But we get a tremendous amount of marketing and publicity from them and it brings in customers that we would otherwise miss. And my husband loves them. :rolleyes: )

We raise feeders pigs. We get them in batches of 3 or 4 and generally have them pre-ordered pretty early on. The last batch we sold for $200 a half, plus butchering costs. We may be raising that price a little since feed costs are going up. We usually get Yorkshire or crosses from a local farmer. They are raised on pasture and supplemented with milk, garden scraps, etc. They also get non-medicated hog feed. We also use them as needed to plow up new garden space or pasture we want reconditioned.

Goats... We have Lamancha dairy goats. They are mostly for our own household use, as we can't sell milk or dairy products in this state. We also feed a lot of the milk to the other animals. Milk-fed pork and chickens is soooooo delicious!

We have also raised fainting goats as well, although we are in the process of getting rid of them. They were our "starter" goats, as they are easy to care for, easy to fence, etc. Once we were confident of our goating skills, we "moved up" to the dairy goats. The fainters sold really well as pets and breeding stock, but we're just not comfortable in that line of business. We prefer to sell the finished product, so we're selling off our fainters. We do sell a few dairy goat kids in the spring, but only because we have to breed to have the milk. We will also be butchering dairy kids for sale and for our own freezer.

The latest addition to the farm is sheep. We have a small flock of 11 Icelandic sheep. We will have their lambs to sell next summer and fall. And I am building a fiber business as well. We're still very early in the process, so not much to share there yet. I will sell some as raw fleece, have some processed as rovings and possibly yarn, and do some handspinning and dying it myself to sell as well.

Overall, we have done pretty well. We sell pretty much everything we produce and have had very positive feedback from our customers. We seem to always find things to put the money back into around the farm, so we're not making a lot according to the IRS. For example, most of our income this year has gone into the new sheep business. But, so far, the chickens, turkeys, goats, and pigs have all been profitable.

Whew, I did go on, didn't I. LOL.
 
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