Monday, February 16, 2009

Hatching eggs - farming calendar

The first batches of our own hatching eggs have been in the incubator for a week or so. These cabinet incubators make hatching pretty darn painless. Put the eggs in, candle them in 10 to days, remove any that didn't incubate, move the eggs into the hatching area in 18 days, pull out the chicks in 21 days and off they go to the brooding room. Six weeks later they're out on grass.

Nothing we don't eat...
I own three of these incubators. The one in the picture I just purchased new after using the two "emu" models for two years. Designed for emus and I purchased them off craigslist for $100 each. With a little bit of hardware cloth, each "emu" egg rack can hold about 18 turkey eggs or 2 dozen chicken eggs, and there are three racks per level, so an emu incubator can hold about 250 turkey eggs at a time. The woman I purchased these incubators from had paid more than $800 each for them, and she had 7 more still in their factory boxes to sell. She took a $5k loss on the belief that emus would be a good crop.
Exotic animals as a crop
I don't really get folks who think that somehow an exotic breed of animal is a good choice for a small farm. People who got into ostriches and emus and alpacas and llamas early can make a good profit. But then there's the inevitable crash. For years you couldn't GIVE an ostrich away in parts of Texas and Arizona. People would set them free on the roads. Every other exotic type of animal has gone through the same thing. Right now alpacas are popular -- but how many people eat them, or wear alpaca clothing? I sure don't.
On my own farm I only raise animals that I or others commonly eat, and by doing that it's kept me out of all of these speculative bursts. There's no way to get rich quickly off your farm.


Anonymous said...

This is from a couple of alpaca farmers that are lovin it! Ok, big difference in those birds and alpacas. I never had a hankerin' to eat a big bird with long legs with the exception of turkey. Alpacas have fiber that can be made into clothing and accessories that everybody loves to wear. Have you ever worn alpaca socks? Alpacas are fantastically fun to have around, sweet and loving animals, each with their own personality. We don't plan to get rich quick, but as long as we make a few dollars, we'll keep doin' it

Bruce King said...

My rule on my own farm is that if I have to ask someone if they've used xxx it's probably not a good choice. Take turkey, or pigs, or chickens, or eggs. I don't really have to sell people on the benefits of any of those crops; and there's actually very good support materials around for small farmers, based on farming literature from 30-70 years ago, when most small farms had a mix of animals and crops. Back to the future.

But I do have a question about alpacas -- is it a strictly fiber animal, or do you eat them, too? Or are the babies too valuable to eat at this point? That's my secondary indication of a livestock bubble -- when the babies are too expensive to eat.

Bruce King said...

Andrea reminded me that pigs are pretty sweet and loving, with their own little agendas. There's one little gilt that is Andreas' special friend right now, for instance. Her own personal pasture friend.

MMP said...

I checked out the sportsman. $100 is a great deal on one of those.

If you have it mapped out and are interested in sharing it, I'd interested to hear about your business model for the chickens. Some questions I had:

Your reasoning for the mix of hatching vs buying live chicks.

Financial inputs like hatching materials, feed, advertising, keeping a breeding flock.

Do you spend to advertise? Or is your sign, craigslist and word of mouth enough?

Can you sell slaughtered animals or are you limited to live sales?

What kind of a demand mix do you see for meat and egg birds.

If you haven't thought these things out, I am not asking for a term paper. Whatever you have thought out and feel like sharing would be interesting. Maybe you've already posted it?


Bruce King said...

The sportsman incubator I paid $739 for; the ones I got cheaper were the model made for emu eggs, so they don't have the same egg setup, but with a little bit of hardware cloth and a couple of rubber bands they work just fine. The important part is that the incubator achieve and maintain a temperature and humidity, which they do. That's part of why I talked about emus as a silly crop in that post. The person I bought them from thought that they'd be retiring on the sales of emu meat and feathers. I don't know anyone who's eaten an emu steak, or who owns any garment that has emu feathers on it.

With chickens, I have a whole bunch of small groups I sell to. There's a similar list of small groups for the pigs.

(1) people in the Seattle area who want laying hens, but don't want to brood them or deal with the hatchery 25 bird minimum.

(2) people who need replacement laying hens but aren't too concerned about cost (neighbors dog killed their flock, neighbor is paying)

(3) first or second generation immigrants who want parts of the bird they can't easily get somewhere else, the feet, the head, the blood, various bits of the innards, or have a ritual requirement that they kill the bird themselves. They want what they could get back in the old country. Sometimes they'll bring grandma out to let her pick the birds and she'll then show the kids (3rd generation) how they did it back there. It's a cultural thing.

4) people who want a truly slow-grown old-fashioned bird for a special dish, like coq a vin, but made with a real rooster.

Since i've got a market for both egg layers and meat, roosters are actually ok for me. I don't have neighbors, so they can crow all they want, and I like having them around.

I'm transitioning from an all-purchased chicken production to one where i hatch and grow my own chickens. This year I'm aiming at a 50/50 mix -- 50% hatched, 50% purchased. I'm doing that because the chick supply from the hatcheries is both relatively expensive (shipping, mortality, cost of chicks, trying to be more local) and sometimes unavailable. Last year there were chronic chick shortages and I had to order my chicks 4-6 months in advance -- which I've done this year as well. All of my chick purchases have already been ordered up until July at this point.

I bought all of the equipment to process chickens; killing cones, plucker, scalder... but then found that I could sell the live chickens directly for about the same price. Once I figured that out, I translated my signs to spanish and really haven't looked back. My laying hens go either to people who see the signs from the road, or to folks off craigslist.

I'll do a blog entry on the economics. Despite the relatively high price, there's only a few dollars of profit per bird. you've got to sell a lot of birds to make a decent amount.

MMP said...

I'll look forward to a future post on the economics.

10 years ago, my brother often pointed out the folly of paying $20K for a breeding pair of alpacas. With the current value of alpacas and lahmas, I guess he was right.

By the by, for the last couple of days the word verification for posting a comment hasn't been coming up correctly on my end. It is probably a Blogspot or maybe a windows explorer issue, but I thought I'd mention it in case you mess with these things. When I hit post a comment, the word verification window opens. The phrase "loading..." is in the word box and it doesn't go away. If I type something in and hit enter, if errors out. The second time it comes up lickity split no problems and allows me to verify. It's been doing this for the last two or three days.


Bruce King said...

That verification word thing has been flakey for me, too. I dont' have control over it, its a blogspot thing.

The chicken economic entry is written, it'll post on 2-19 at 4pm.

Re: alpacas - I don't like raining on someones parade, but I've seen many of these exotic animals get huge prices initially, and then virtually nothing later. There's a fellow selling alpacas on the seattle craigslist now for $150 each. Don't know what they cost to produce, but I can't imagine there being any profit at $150. And profit needs to be there because otherwise I can't afford to farm; my family would be better off if I worked somewhere for a wage. So it's pretty important to me to be able to justify myself economically, and over and over again exotics have proven that they are unstable.