I have been very stressed out this past week. Between some shaky family relations, having to find a new vet, ear mites, baby rabbits and planning for the quickly approaching spring things have just been getting to me more than usual lately. I have spent some time meditating and have gotten plenty of sympathetic hugs from Greg which has helped… But I still feel actively stressed out even when I am relaxing on the couch. It’s my hope that this too shall pass.
Part of running a successful small farm in modern america is balancing cost with profit. If you’re not making a profit you’re screwed. To do this I have taken to the idea of raising specialty products. Specialty products go a LONG way to helping fund your farm. Being able to say your product has an edge over others can increase the value. This is part of why animal welfare is important for small farms… Saying “My rabbits eat grass hay as the majority of their diet” or “my product is organic” or “my product is local” or “my animals are humanely kept to these standards” makes your product a specialty product. People aren’t buying your rabbits for rabbit meat. They are buying your rabbits to know they come from a place where they are well-cared for and local. Without that a small farm can’t compete. Small farms receive little to no government subsidiaries. They have much higher costs for feed and basic supplies. It can cost a factory rabbit farm as little as $0.25/lb to raise a rabbit that is eventually sold for $5.00/lb to the consumer! How can a small farm where it costs up to $1.25/lb to raise rabbits keep up with those numbers? To get the same profit margin a small farmer would have to charge $30 a pound! THIRTY dollars for a pound of rabbit meat bone-in. Nobody will pay it. Even I wouldn’t.
So small farmers accept a smaller profit margin but they also increase the value of their products by being specialty. A “farm fresh” chicken egg, for example, brings in a mere $0.20 each around here. At less than a quarter a day income you’re not looking at much money when you spend $0.10 a day in feed. But a duck egg can bring in $0.60 each… Three times the amount for a half-again increase in feed costs up to $0.15/day. The profit margin on duck eggs is MUCH higher. A dozen chicken eggs has a profit of $1.25ish, but a dozen duck eggs has a profit of $6.
The same goes for organics. And it’s why I decided to raise organic plants come spring (aside from the potential health benefits). Someday I would like to have an organic certification, but that is expensive. In the mean time I will raise organically anyhow.
So I have been planning my garden and I made my seed order for veggies. I have all heirloom species of plants coming in, all organic seeds. I will be attempting to grow spinach, carrots, corn, kale, pumpkins, peas, peppers, tomatoes and arugula. I will also be trying to grow some of my own hay. I have a plan for a mix of seeds that is three parts alfalfa, three parts orchard grass and one part timothy hay to give me a strong 17%-18% protein with a good longevity in my animals.
The plants I have picked out are mostly good for wet, heavy soils. This is because that is all that my back yard is. About a foot down it’s clay. The topsoil is a wet, densely packed mud most of the time. I will be doing my best to make sure my plants can grow in it. I will throw in topsoil and sand to break it up, ash and charcoal to add potassium and bring down the acid levels in the soil and balance out the PH. I will smother weeds and build walls for raised beds. And I will try to find a thawed-out day come march to start planting.
Hopefully next year I will have more than wild garlic growing in my back yard!