Courtesy of Roxanne C., Philadelphia PA
Established livestock farmers looking to diversify into crop production find their way to SPIN-Farming for the same reasons new vegetable farmers do - SPIN-type operations are quick to set up and produce income. But before established SPIN farmers diversify into livestock, they should apply the same ROI analysis. When they do, they'll see livestock farming is a much different animal.
SPIN's relay cropping system has relatively few inputs — capital, labor or land — which makes a quick return possible. No such quick returns exist in most livestock operations with the exception of small meat animals that can be produced in a short time, like broilers and rabbits. But more infrastructure is required for rabbits, or more land for poultry. And these businesses are much more regulated.
What about selling eggs from your backyard chickens? Here's how SPIN farmer Andrew Bennett lays out those economics: "Let's say it takes 5 months to raise a chick just to the point that it's laying small eggs. I spend about $2.50 per dozen eggs just in organic feed costs. A typical hen costs $5 as a chick, $10-$15 in feed to raise to 5 months old, and about $5-$20 in labor. Once I start selling eggs, I need a margin of $1 per dozen to pay back the initial cost of the bird, so you are looking at 20-40 dozen eggs for the bird to finally pay itself off. For most birds, that's half to a whole lifetime's worth of eggs, so eggs aren't profitable unless you can do about 400 hens or more." You'll need a pretty big backyard to accommodate them all. That will force your operation further from core markets inside cities and towns. The further you are from population centers, the less sales channels you have, and the more limited your business model options become.
Farming, perhaps more than other businesses, constantly tempts you with ways to spread yourself too thin. Some say that even though livestock might not make sense as a solo enterprise, it compliments other parts of a farming operation. Everything has its price, and it's up to you to decide if it's worth it.
These chickens belong to SPIN farmer Erik Halvorson who began in 2013, leasing 5 acres from his parents. He started with livestock, offering pork, turkey and eggs. In 2015, Erik is diversifying to include crops from a ¾ acre plot. He has access to 5 markets within a 30 minute drive. You can read more about Halvorson Farms here.