Over the past couple of months, we’ve been analyzing the business aspects of our farm and trying to determine how to refocus ourselves, because we are giving all of our time, energy and money to this farm, and to be quite blunt, we are simply being drained – getting very little in return. And I don’t just mean in terms of money. Because we have been investing so much of ourselves into raising food for others, we are frequently left without the time, energy, and money to be able to do anything for ourselves. We often struggle financially in our personal budget due to the high costs of feed, especially since the drought last year. Feed prices are still high. So is the cost of fuel to go get the feed and to run our farm vehicles. Even if we had the ability to leave the farm for more than a few hours, we can’t afford to take a vacation – even an overnight trip, to try and recharge our batteries so that we can continue doing what we do. Let’s face it, folks, that’s not a long-term sustainable plan. And so we realized, we have to make some changes.
Our first step was to look at things that aren’t selling. That’s what you have to do as an ongoing part of running a business. From this we’ve concluded that we will never raise duck meat for sale again, because those ducks have been selling, but at a snail’s pace, and it’s going to result in our not being able to raise and offer meat chickens for sale this year – there simply isn’t going to be enough room in the freezer. We are also taking turkeys off of the “repeat” list – after this year we will not be offering those. But I’ve already mentioned those in past posts. Here’s the news today: effective immediately, we will no longer be offering duck eggs for sale.
Why? Well, month after month, we were spending at least three times on average as much just to keep those ducks fed, versus what we have ever sold in eggs. That doesn’t include the cost of egg cartons, electricity, bedding, etc., and most certainly not a labor rate for all of the time we invested day in and out. We had plenty of eggs to sell, but they just didn’t all move, even when we took a further loss on the price by offering volume discounts. We can only eat so many eggs here between the three of us. 🙂 And we can’t afford to keep producing food that either doesn’t sell or that we can’t consume enough of ourselves.
As a business owner, you hope that the thousands of dollars and hours you invest in producing something will eventually pay off. It didn’t with duck eggs, and so we have “sunsetted” that part of our operation, as they say. It was time. We have shrunk our duck flock significantly over the past couple of days, to the point where we have just enough for our family. It will save us significant money and time each month. It wasn’t a happy decision to make, but a necessary one. We thank everyone who did purchase and enjoy our duck eggs over the years, and encourage you to check out the “Farm Directory Sites” section of our links page to find other farms offering them.
A word of advice: ask the farmer if they feed their ducks. Many just force their flocks to free-range forage, which as a part of their feed program is great for their health, but the farmer does need to insure a full spectrum of nutrition for those birds if they are going to lay the best quality eggs. Find out what type of feed ration they use and how much they feed their ducks. Most adult laying ducks need at least .55 pounds of layer ration per duck per day. Start adding that up over a flock, over a month, and the cost of cartons, and the cost of bedding, housing, etc., and think about the fact that the farmer has to feed and care for those ducks, and keep them safe. The ducks don’t lay every day. They sometimes stop laying because it’s too cold. Or it’s too hot. Or because a raccoon tried to get to them the night before and they’re still anxious from dealing with that danger. Or just because they feel like it. They’re also much more brazen than chickens, and do not naturally seek their shelter at night. Rather, they try to hide outside so you won’t shoo them in to safety. They are party animals and do not necessarily sleep at night. They can be quite loud.
Ducks are incredibly messy creatures. We have often joked that duck poop stinks so badly and sticks so well to whatever it touches, it could be marketed as a product called “Revenge Paste” – for use under door handles, inside the cowl vent on your target’s automobile, etc. But all joking aside, that makes for very hard work when it comes to cleaning out their housing, because mix that waste with wood shavings, and it’s like shoveling concrete. And that really needs to be done once a week. All by the farmer.
The farmer has to gather the eggs every day – sometimes made more complicated by the fact that the ducks like to avoid the nest boxes you provide for them and instead send you on a hunt for the hidden eggs. It sounds charming and whimsical,until you are doing it every day, sometimes dealing with that while you are also trying to do many other farm chores, you haven’t eaten dinner yet, you have laundry to do in the house, and you’re fretting about how to stretch your budget (which has been eaten up by animal feed) so that you can keep fuel in your vehicles and your husband can get to work at his off-farm job. And then you have to take those eggs inside and gently wash them off, because ducks love water and get muddy feet, then transfer that mud to the eggs. Finally, in our case anyway, we candle each individual egg before it goes into a carton as a quality insurance measure. So there is quite a bit of labor involved. Do you really think that $3.00 per dozen covers those costs? I can assure you that it does not, if the ducks are being fed properly, housed and cared for appropriately, and the eggs are being handled as well as ours. Heck, we were charging $10.00 per dozen, and we still were losing money once all of our costs of production were factored in. And if your objective in seeking out foods directly from the farm is to insure the best possibly quality for you and your family, shouldn’t something like that matter? If your farmer has their eggs priced low, they probably haven’t analyzed all of their costs when they set their price. They probably just figured they’d set the price to be what everyone else is charging – but if that’s all anyone is doing, then nobody is covering their costs, how, exactly, are they going to sustain that over time? They will either have to cut back on their costs, or they will have to supplement with outside income, which means they are subsidizing other people’s food. In either case, that does not represent a sustainable model. Just some points to ponder as you locate other sources for eggs.
We are continuing to analyze which parts of our farm are functioning well for us, which aren’t, and what we need to do to address the latter. We’ll continue to share here as we make more decisions, not only to inform our customers of any changes we make, but also, to help others who are either small farmers already, or getting started, so that they can perhaps avoid some of the same pitfalls we’ve endured.