Sunday, March 10, 2013

Are you paying too little for eggs?

When you think about sustainable farmers, one thing that you should know is that a lot of well-meaning folks who run farms can't do the math. 
What I mean by that is that it's pretty common for folks raising small quantities of stuff to be selling at a price that basically means they are taking a loss every time they sell; they pay themselves $2.75 an hour for their labor, for instance, or they just have never looked at their production costs. 

Rebecca Thistlewaite over at has taken the time to write up the costs of running an egg operation, and argues that you should be paying at least $4.49 a dozen for eggs, but more like $8 a dozen, to your local farmer. 

Now I don't like to give away money either, but remember folks, you want to make sure that they know you appreciate their time and effort, and you want to be fair to them, too.   And you want them to be your egg supplier next month, and next year.  If it's profitable, they are much more likely to keep doing it. 

Lots of farmers have a hard time asking for their price.  So help them a little with this.  If they're an egg farmer, point them to her entry. 

One word of caution:  Price alone isn't a guarantee that you're getting what you pay for.  This is for a pastured egg producer who free-ranges their hens on grass.   There's no guarantee with the term "Free range" that the birds ever see a blade of grass or the outdoors at all - "free range" has been defined by industry to mean that they have a door in the side of the barn that the chickens probably will never use.  Ask your producer about their standards, or go look for yourself. 

On my farm I was happy to learn that folks would pay $15 for a live bird at the farm gate.  Here's my comment on that blog entry: 

"I've cultivated a market for live roosters and spent hens and don't get much price resistance at $15 a bird, live. 

Selling them live means no permitting, no processing costs or equipment, and is generally a much better deal for me. 

It's interesting because you can get a packaged cornish cross at the local big-box retail store for about $3 each -- the customers who choose to buy these birds from me prefer the parts of the chicken that they cannot get in the bag (feet, blood, entrails) the security of knowing the health and look of the chicken that they are buying, and they know that the processing is done according to their preferences, traditions and personal safety guidelines -- as they do the processing themselves. 
it's difficult for most Americans to understand, but there actually is a pretty good market for these birds.  We raise around 500 roosters a year and sell them all at the farm gate, usually in batches of 50 to 100 birds 2 weeks apart. 

We do heritage roosters because we get them from a local hatchery at $0.25/each, put $8 in feed and not much labor into them, and sell them for $15.  Labor is at a minimum because they're all raised in one flock, free-range, so one feeder, one waterer.  Customers choose their birds out of the flock.  Some want lighter, some heavier, some prefer red or black (almost no one wants a white bird), etc. 
...Because of cultural differences we always ask for $20 to allow the customer room to haggle.  Surprisingly enough, we get $20 sometimes, but our average sale price is pretty close to $15.  "

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