Thursday, December 2, 2010

Planning for 2011

Farming animals is a pretty long-term sort of exercise.  I'll give you an example: 

Heritage turkeys have been more and more popular; this year I had to turn away 350 people who wanted to buy a turkey from me (so many calls that I finally let my voicemail get full and stay full).  In order to have a finished bird in November...

I have to have the turkey poult on my farm in March....

which means I have to order that bird for delivery in March...

Which means that I actually place the order NOW, in December, of the year before, so that I can make sure that my turkey poult order is filled.  And even then it's not certain I'll get my turkeys -- there's a small but significant chance that any given hatchery will have some sort of problem that prevents them from delivering,
My production notes for 2011: 

Pigs:  Keep piglet production steady at 900; cull and replace 5 sows, cull 1 boar.   Out of those 900 piglets (sounds like quite a few, but it works out to be 75 piglets a month on average) reserve 20 a month for growout, and produce 20 finished pigs a month out of them.    I'm at the capacity of my land with respect to pigs, and the logistics of caring for 200-300 pigs at a time are about at the limit of what I can do without hiring someone, or acquiring more land, or both. 
Chickens:  Rooster sales have been strong this year; so I'm going to increase the number of roosters I raise from last years 400 to 600 this year.   I'll order 600 heritage rooster chicks in two batches of 300, for delivery in February and May.  Laying hens have been popular, but I'm seeing quite a bit of local competition for folks raising started laying hens, so I'm going to raise a few, but not as many as in the past.  I'll order 100 laying hen chicks this year. 

Sheep and goats:  I have 30 ewes and two rams; I'm still getting used to keeping sheep, and I'm land-bound again.  So I'll keep the number of sheep steady for this year.  I'll probably produce 15-20 lambs for sale.  I've managed the breeding so that they'll lamb in May.   One of the primary markets for on-farm sales of lamb to customers is the Muslim market -- which the pigs complicate.  

Turkeys:  I've retained a breeding flock of 30 turkeys and will try again this year to hatch my own turkeys eggs.  I've had mixed success with this.  I'm going to hedge my bets by placing a small turkey poult order with two hatcheries, but my goal is to hatch and raise my own birds this year primarily. 

Beef:  I have 8 cows on 10 acres of good pasture.  I think that's about the carrying limit of the land, so I'm going to keep it at that level.  I'll be slaughtering 2 steers this year and replacing them with bottle calves in February so that they'll be weaned in time to eat the late spring/summer grass. 


Math Geek said...

Hi Bruce, why do you anticipate only 15-20 lambs form 30 ewes? Do you plan to keep all of your ewe lambs?

Marianne said...

Hi Bruce...
I was wondering who/what is your market for that many roosters?

whit said...

Hi Bruce, just curious as you talk about being "land bound" How many acres are you working?

Thanks as this will help with my planning for my 40 that I just bought.


Bruce King said...

Math: I've had mixed luck with lambs; coyotes, dogs and eagles have been the biggest predators, but I've lost a couple due to complications in pregnancy and my inexperience. In a perfect world i'd get three lambs from each ewe, retain the females and sell 45. in practice, my lambing rate is closer to 125% all things considered vs 300% perfect, so that's a rough guess on how many I'll have to sell.

Marianne: Mostly recent immigrants. Indians, south sea islanders (marshall, tongan, samoan) and asian customers prefer their chickens live and whole at the farm gate. I also sell a significant number for religious purposes; chickens are used in a number of religions. A typical sale is 5 to 10 roosters.

Whit: I own 22 acres and lease another 10. the poultry are on 7 acres; the ruminants are on 10 acres of their own, but are periodially used to mow the grass in the 5 acres I've got for pigs. I could use another 5 to 10 acres to allow more rest time for the land between animals.
Who am I kidding? I'd love 100 more acres, but I'm willing to wait until the right land deal comes up, and that takes a while.

StefRobrts said...

Why do you prefer to raise the heritage roosters vs the fast turnover Cornish cross birds that most people are used to putting on their table? Around here small farms are getting up to $4 a lb for CX (6-8 weeks to grow out) or even the free range broilers (12 weeks to grow out). I'm planning my pastured poultry operation for next year, and I'm interested to hear your experience. Last year I know I had very little luck selling my heritage roosters around here (SW WA).

Bruce King said...

Its taken me a while to find the customer base -- 4 years -- but there is a group of customers who really want and will pay for a heritage rooster. I had the opposite problem this year. I raised 100 cornish cross and had trouble selling them.

With the cornish cross, if you don't butcher them on schedule they aren't very hardy. So to do it right, you have to do reservations, pre-sell them, and then for the marjority of cornish cross customers, you've also got to process them for them, and it's a reasonably big chore.

With the heritage roosters; the chicks are usually half the price of cornish cross and they have a long shelf life. they'll do just fine running around the farm for 6 months if they need to; they're vigilant about eating spilled feed and foraging, and I like their look.

$4/lb for a cornish cross is a gross sale of $12 to $16. Figure it costs you two bucks to process each bird (labor, equipment/supply costs) and the chick costs you a $2 (murray mcmurray price, qty 1-10), and the feed costs you another $2-3, and your net is something like $6-10.

With a heritage rooster, the chick costs you something like $0.75 (cheaper if you sweet talk your local hatchery). Feed costs are similar at $3, and you do no processing but do have some equipment, so figure $1.
So your costs are $4.75 and you sell the bird for $15 flat, which ends up being an $11 profit.

And no one else in my area is raising heritage roosters in quantity, and I like that from a competitive point of view. Everyone is raising laying hens now -- 5 years ago I was the only one doing that.

Bruce King said...

mt health has (mostly) heritage rooster chicks at $.35/each.

StefRobrts said...

Thanks for the breakdown. I'm looking at raising some laying hens (though there are a lot of people doing that as well - I figure if they don't sell that's just more eggs to sell), and I'd like to learn to caponize the extra heritage roosters just to see what sort of bird they grow into. I've heard the meat is comparable to a CX, but with a longer 'shelf life' - you can butcher them when you're ready.

I've done a lot of research into the CX and I think your numbers are right on. I think the only thing that makes them worthwhile is the quick turnover, as long as you have the customers to buy them. But they do need to be presold to be picked up within 48 hrs of butchering day according to the state rules for poultry processing.

shane said...

I ordered 10 geese, 15 turkeys, and 25 chickens yesterday. It'll be my first time raising poultry so I only ordered a small number of each this year.

Kevin Kossowan said...

Great insight into what you do, and cool to hear...planning.