Thursday, August 11, 2005

Long Time....No Posts

We have been very busy. I have not had much time to spend on blogging. The garden continues to grow and Leah has been doing a lot of canning. The meat chicks are out on grass and enjoying the fresh air. Having raised them indoors, in my younger days, I can't believe how much happier and healthier they are outdoors. We have had a few cows freshen in. The calf barn is full of the nicest group of young stock we have had in a long while.......must be all those minus proof bulls I'm using. We still need rain. Everything is dead. Cows are eating a lot of hay that I had hoped to save for winter. There are even trees on the edge of the woods that are starting to die. Seems like its a drought or flood the last few years, no in between. The milk price is dropping and the heat has really started to decrease our production. We have some steers to kill soon and lots of food from the garden, so at least I won't be hungry, even if I'm broke.

Life Without Usury and Ian Hodge On Usury are well worth reading, over at the House of Degenhart. This subject is one that interests me (pun intended) a great deal and should be on the minds of all agrarians.

R. L. Dabney on Law and Lawyers

CAFTA: The New Race to the Floor .... I know its already a done deal, but this is worth reading.

If you think CAFTA is the "shafta", just wait for the FTAA.

I have said in the past that we should not sell our products for whatever the market will bare. It wouldn't be right to say, sell eggs for $5 a dozen just because we could. On the flip side of the coin, I wish hobby farmers would stop selling at a loss just because they are having fun. We have some yahoos out here that work a full time job and keep hobby farms to entertain themselves. Fine, more power to ya. Just don't drive me out of business selling your free range eggs for 75 cents a dozen. Those of us that have made the sacrifices required to try to scratch out living at this, are sick of being undercut by products subsidized by city jobs. If your goal is to someday be a real farmer, you'll never get there the way your going.

CRP is a fraud. I live in the middle of CRP country. You know, where the government pays you to let land grow up to weeds as long as you mow it by a certain date. My town is full of people who never ever intended to farm the land collecting huge checks to let it look like it would have anyway. First, they ain't conserving anything. All the CRP land I see is sparse, spotty, awful looking stuff that needs manure and compost on it. They are not doing the land any favors, or the wildlife. Number two, it drives up the rental price for land. The government pays people out here as much as $65 an acre for land that would rent for $15 an acre. A chunk of mediocre hill dirt cannot be farmed for $65. But they know they can get it from the FedGov so there is no need to rent it to farmer Brown for $15. Farmer Brown might make something of it...... but we all know MONEY is more important


At 8/11/2005 10:34 PM, Blogger KSmilkmaid said...

"On the flip side of the coin, I wish hobby farmers would stop selling at a loss just because they are having fun. We have some yahoos out here that work a full time job and keep hobby farms to entertain themselves. Fine, more power to ya. Just don't drive me out of business selling your free range eggs for 75 cents a dozen. Those of us that have made the sacrifices required to try to scratch out living at this, are sick of being undercut by products subsidized by city jobs. If your goal is to someday be a real farmer, you'll never get there the way your going."

I can certainly empathize with where you are coming from, but there are many things to consider when making the above statement. Not all people who subsidize their farms by city jobs, are aiming to undercut others. Not all people who have city jobs to subsidize farms, would feel comfortable in being called "hobby farmers". Because there is a city job supporting our farm, doesn't mean we are not "real farmers". You see, family farming has been lost. There has to be a way to inch back into the picture. Some of that inching may mean testing the waters. Keep the city job for a while while developing the farm. Yes, Scott, we once asked .50 for free range eggs. We had never heard of the word free range. We were just that citified. I belive many Americans are just that citified. I belive it is our responsibility to educate people as we produce good quality food. Part of the loss of the small family farm is the loss of concepts like "free range eggs". We had no idea these eggs were special. We just liked seeing happy chickens roaming around. There were times even at .50 we had way to many eggs. A good ole' doc told me of the benefits of free range and insisted on paying more for the eggs that got me to looking into what they were worth. Slowly as the demand grew we inched the prices up. We are now equivalent to what everyone else charges for free range at 1.25 a dozen for this area. A "real farmer" here asks 2.00 and has eggs sitting around unsold. I would hate to think that any "real farmer" thought we were undercutting them maliciously. It is just a sad fact that we didn't know they were worth anything at all. We were happy to have help paying for the grain. With hindsight, charging that little was good for us to test the market to wet people's appetite for good eggs. I have orders for Saturday, I can't fill for eight dozen eggs. I had the cafeteria at the milkman's work ask us to supply 15 dozen a week. We never would have sold milk off our farm if we would have started out charging a 1.50 over store prices. Remember we are bound and gagged by the law. We can not advertise raw milk sales. We can sell off the farm only. So, how does a farmer make an introduction. We charged a good bit under the store to get folks to drive out here. We even gave away milk free because we didn't know it was legal to sell. We had more than our family could drink. We didn't want to waste it. We started in low testing the market pleased to get any reimbursement for our feed. Yes, we loved having the cows and had no idea that there was a whole market demand for raw milk and cheese products. That information is not made public. We had no idea than that we could make a living off a farm like this. We see it now and are inching prices slowly up and I would add humbly up. As we gain confidence with cheese making we have increased prices. The introduction phase was beneficial. Just want you to know that not everyone is out to undercut, there are introductory phases and all kinds of rationale for prices. I believe those yahoos might like to make a little more money if they knew what they had. Chances are they have a yearning to be connected to farming and just don't know they can do more. We assumed that we would always have cows and pay to work ourselves to death. We never dreamed that they could pay for themselves, make a profit and maybe eventually support a family. I believe our government has done a great job of convincing folks that small farming is not possible. We even had ole timers tell us there is no way to make a living off the farm now adays. Those ole timers are all amazed now to see our little business take off. I will say too we have not lost business for our prices going up that I am aware of. I think we established confidence with our customers first and they were willing to stick with us as we increased.

At 8/11/2005 10:48 PM, Blogger KSmilkmaid said...

Just to give you a sense of how uneducated people are around here, here is a story we heard recently. A sign was posted on the highway reading "FREE RANGE TURKEY'S". The farmer received numerous calls from people wanting the free turkeys. No one in this area understood what it meant and were perturbed about false advertising. We had to explain to the person telling us this story what "free range" meant.

Blessings, the milkmaid

At 8/12/2005 5:59 AM, Anonymous Scott said...

I have no problem with people having city jobs while they start up a farm. Its very smart, really. BUT, I still think it is silly to sell at a loss. Farms must have profit to exist. I think that one is in a much better position to be a "full timer" if they start with the idea that their products must make a profit.

At 8/12/2005 8:04 AM, Blogger KSmilkmaid said...

We may have to agree to disagree here. The dairy farm I admire so much in your neck of the woods, Hendren dairy, started up knowing that for five years he might not make a profit. I believe it is mentioned in the New Farm article that he strategically set up his operation with a nest egg of sorts knowing that he might not make money for the first few years. It does take a bit of time, in our case five years to develop a market. We have friends in this area who are attempting to do what we are doing and can't figure out where all the people are. There is another cheesemaker around here too that jumped into the market in a huge way without the market. He didn't give his business time to develop. He saw it starting, but tried to jumpstart it. He is selling his cheese to a more public market and breaks even. What we did, IMHO, is not different then what Salatin says to do with a broiler flock. Get a hundred to start with, don't plan on selling any. Raise it for your family. Get the hang of it, develop quality and then sell. There is a learning curve with these things. We should allow ourselves a "loss period" during that learning curve. Cheesemaking is an incredibly complex process. In Europe, it takes 12 years to become a master cheesemaker. I used to laugh at the idea because it seemed so easy to follow the recipe. Then the cheese started coming out of aging. My lands was it bad stuff. Sam Hendren shared stories of his learning curve with me when he started up. He had to take bucket loads of curd in his front end loader to the woods and dump it. If he had not had his nestegg to rely on he would have had a failed business. The biggest key to failure as a cheese maker as a farmer really is to jump in never having made any of it,thinking you will like it, that you will be good at it and that the market will be there. Even if you price your stuff fairly and/or high, you still may sell at a loss because the market takes time to develop. You have to get your name out there and you have to educate people about the goodness of your product. We have an idiotic public that has been brainwashed that factory is best. They haven't a clue that you can make a good cheese in your own kitchen. They think Kraft singles are cheese. They don't realize that most of the cheese they eat are chemically aged and chemically standardized.

The other factor to consider in farming is the Lord's will. We thought we were going to jump in and build a barn and sell to a co-op. We never planned to sell direct. For the first few years we belly ached because nothing worked out and getting our permit was more expensive than we thought. We made cheese because we had too or dump the milk. We stumbled upon direct marketing accidently or with the Lord's leading in retrospect. What we thought was a transition time turned out being the permanent path God wanted us to go down.

But, do celebrate with us. After five years of us financing our dairy/farming operations and working at a loss, our flow sheets show that we are clearing an excellent profit. With our profit we bought two Guernsey cows. One is a good show quality the other is still looking very runt. It looks like we can actually build that barn now with the actual money we bring in from our cheese, meat and milk sales. Now having said that, we also know that if we got five more cows milking and made 200lb batches of cheese that it would sit. Our market is still growing. We can not make the jump yet from city job to farm centered income. With the pastured poultry and salad bar beef, the dream may come to fruition faster.

I just think it is fair to readers to know that even if you sell at a decent price expect a loss at first, have a back up plan during the learning curve. Remember we have a public that has been lied to and they are a bit skeptical. we have got to educate and win them over and yes sell at a loss for a time.

In Him, The milkmaid

At 8/12/2005 3:14 PM, Blogger reformed farmer said...

I think we agree more than we disagree on this subject, really. I'll be the first one to say start small and all that. I too started with off farm income. When I refer to "hobby farmers", I'm talking about a different class of people than you are I think. My point is just about basic economics. A person will get to the end of the race faster if they have off farm income and are making a profit on the product. It leaves more of the off farm income go toward the goal. Like it or not, selling something with the goal of covering feed costs and nothing more does hurt other people. Even doing it this way does not insure you a profit in the end, but will get things moving in the right direction.

We can disagree, its healthy. :)

At 8/12/2005 3:34 PM, Blogger Chad said...

Scott, I understand your frustration. As an accountant its painful for me to see how glibly some of these hobby farmers price their goods without any earthly idea of how much it actually cost them. You're right that the corporate job subsidizes this for many of them.

On the other hand, I don't think you can insist that they make a profit. If they want to give away eggs, that's theur business. If I can be so bold, I would say that our real beef is with our marketplace in general, not with these hobby farmers and transitional farmers. We should be encouraging everyone that is moving in the agrarian direction, and be patient with each other as we figure things out.

No small-time hobby farmer is really going to take as much of your business away as the agri-giants are - that's who is messing things up! Even if a hobby-farmer is subsidizing his prices with a corporate job, its literally a drop in the bucket compared to the subsidies given to conventional agri-business.

At 8/12/2005 3:52 PM, Blogger reformed farmer said...

I agree Chad. It seems I could of have worded my "advice" a little better. I'm not known for being to diplomatic and people often take me the wrong wrong way. What bothers me is this. Becouse of the way I got into the milk business, selling a commodity, I have always been a slave to the market magicians and agri-giants. Alternitive ag has a chance to break from that system. You know that I'm not money hungry, but on the same token I'm sick of being a serf. Farmers in general start off with the presuppusition that they should work for nothing. Its bred into us, I think. What I'm saying is that farmers produce food, which is just as valuable, if not more, than computer chips or cars. I don't think its outlandish to think we should expect to be able to do more than break even. Direct marketing gives us that chance, but we have to take the chance and believe in our products and price them accordingly.

The great thing about farming is everyone can do there own thing and have their own ideas. These are mine. I have not ment to discourage anyone and hope that I haven't.

At 8/12/2005 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to be a voice of discord on the subject I have a question as to what constitutes a 'profit' as reformed farmer states, as well as 'pricing goods without any earthly idea of how much it actually cost them' from chad, How do you draw the line or define what a profit is or cost is, for a specific product using a combination of religious and/or business ideals. For one who takes the view that one needs to live right and the Lord will provide, than to use the example of the dozen eggs is it not fair to say the cost is only the grain? If one takes the view of render unto Ceaser what is Ceasers, than do you factor in property taxes on the square feet the chickens reside in? and if you take the business approach do you factor in the cost of your time in tending the chickens at a hourly rate including FICA? If your homesteading endeavour is to be lasting and self supporting how much profit do you need or justify towards that goal? (not trying to be a burr under the saddle here, just curious as to how and where you can draw the line, and how much of it comes down to kind of 'winging it' on hope and prayer (in a good way ;) ))

At 8/12/2005 7:46 PM, Blogger KSmilkmaid said...

Anon raises a good point because there are things that can't be quantified in dollar terms that are payment beyond belief here. There are also things that we haven't calculated in determining our profit like phone calls to customers, percentage of electricity used etc. There are payments that are invaluable and unquantifiable. For example, dealing with people direct instead of inspectors. When a customer says thank you so much for your hard work and holds up jugs of milk and says it is white gold. There is no figure a person can put on that. When a child of ours toddles into the hen house picks up eggs stops in the doorway pauses kisses the egg and says "thank you chicken for the egg" there is a payment again.

Scott, you have not discouraged at all. This is a good discussion. Pricing is such a sensitive issue.

Perhaps another issue of payment is that of training our children to work, to take care of an animal and to recieve the animals gifts with a balanced stewardship. Then add in the health benefits of eating and consuming food we produce.

I will never forget being in the church nursery last year and conversing with a CPA. A very citified CPA. She scoffed big time about our farming. "Tell your husband there is no money in dairying". I replied, "It is not about money. It is about a quality of life issue". She couldn't understand how working with filthy animals was a quality of life issue. In some ways I wish she were our accountant so she could see the money in our farm now. She would eat her words. It is not much but it is thriving.

I suppose where we draw the line would be different for each homesteader based on many factors. This has been an eye opening discussion. Thanks to all.


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