Farming is a business! I can’t count the times I’ve heard this remark in addition to “farmers need to run their farms like a business”. In keeping with those statements one will find that running the farm as a business can become a constant balancing act.
Any business person will tell you that the bottom line on the balance sheet is important. There are many factors which figure in to the equation of success no matter what kind of farming is done, however to narrow down the field, I’m talking about chickens.
When we began our great egg adventure on the farm we identified what we wanted the farm to be and proceeded accordingly. I recall being asked – if you could set up a chicken farm any way that you want what would it look like? Many have said that I went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum transitioning from 23 years of industrial chicken production to pasture raised hens. They are correct in what they say!
As we end our first year of egg production on the farm and reexamine I see room for improvement. In my humble opinion, there is always room for improvement no matter what one does. Relating to the farm, improvement comes down to “ideals versus reality”.
Realistically speaking, there is nothing in this world which is absolute perfection. In business, words such as principles, fundamentals, and values apply more aptly than ideals. To define this, turning to customers is a good place to start. What is most important to your customers? Answers vary, however a general theme will appear to work from. Secondly, how much of production methods does the customer easily understand when choosing your product? A product label has no room for lengthy explanations.
I’ve found that the vast majority of our customers are firstly and foremost concerned about a healthy and wholesome product followed closely by knowing your farmer and supporting local. In the Chesapeake Bay region environmental degradation from intense animal agriculture is a major concern of customers. How the animals are raised ranks as being important as well.
Taking the above issues of importance into consideration increasing customer base can be a daunting task. While you as a producer might understand what is meant on a label most don’t have the time or the patience to research what relates to words, phrases, or certifications. Labeling must be concise and easily understood.
Coupling a product which meets customer demand with farm viability presents quite a challenge. Deciding what is important to you as a farmer lays the groundwork for guiding or basic principles, fundamentals, and values. Whittling all of it down to what is most important to yourself and your customers will put you in a positive position.
All in all, if a farm is to be operated as a feasible business its starting point should be based on guiding principles, fundamentals, and values rather than an ideal.