This post has been rolling around in my head for awhile. I could go in so many different directions and confuse us all. We are local farmers. I feel so funny saying that. We have had friends say they told someone to call us with their questions because we were homesteaders or farmers. It always catches us by surprise. We don’t feel like experts at all. We have been walking into and living this lifestyle for over 15 years. Neither of us grew up on a farm, so we have had to learn by experience. I think, inside, we still feel like beginners, uncertain that what we are doing is right. I have met many people who have started this lifestyle and in the first couple of years they are confident enough to pass on their knowledge with certainty. That is not us though. We can share what has worked or not worked for us. If that helps someone, then we are glad.
We try to raise and grow as much of our food as possible. We have not done the big garden in the last couple of years, but we would love to get back to it. We also try to raise enough extra to sell so that it cuts our costs down, or even makes our portion free. We have a pretty solid customer base that we have built up over the years. We love and appreciate our customers and consider many of them friends. Some of them have blessed us beyond what we could ever dream.
There are some things you can do to bless or frustrate your local farmer. We are a very small farm. We do a little of several things rather than being a large beef farm or dairy farm, etc. We try to make sure we have enough of everything to meet our customers’ needs, but we do fail in that area sometimes and often it is because of circumstances beyond our control. We are a bit short on eggs right now. We had something kill some of our chickens and right now we are battling an egg eating skunk.
All of our poultry (both broilers and turkeys) are reserved by pre-ordering. So is our beef. We do not require a deposit on these. We send out a newsletter and order form early in the year with the dates for poultry pick ups and also an approximate time for beef. People print these and fill them out and mail them back to us or they email their order to us. We fill in our order book. We are limited by time and equipment as to how many birds we can do each summer. We try to do our maximum each year. This ensures that all of our regular customers get their birds and that some new people get to try them as well. We do 2 to 4 batches of broilers per summer and we do turkeys for Thanksgiving week.
We have not really had a problem with people not showing up to get their birds or beef. There has been an occasional problem that we have had to deal with. We ask on the order form that people write on their calendar the dates they chose to get their birds. We really stress that point. We tell them that it is very important that they show up on that day to get their birds. We do usually send a reminder email closer to the actual butcher dates, but that is just a courtesy.
Selling our beef is where we get our hay money for the winter and the start up fees for poultry in the Spring. So, we really count on this money. The year my Mom died, I was in Florida with my Dad when our cows went to the butcher. This was the only time we have had a problem with people backing out on beef. My husband is a hard worker and does most, if not all of the hard physical work with the animals. I am the office person, customer service girl and customer greeter. I was not there to handle the details which with beef at that point is not a big deal. I had left information with Michael on who got what. When he takes cows to the butcher, he gives them a list of the customers names and phone numbers and how much beef they are getting. We also instruct our customers to call the butcher the day we take the cows in so that they can tell them how they want their meat cut up and packaged. Once the butcher has the hanging weight and we get it from him, we bill the customers for their meat. They pay the butcher his fee when they pick their meat up. It is fairly simple and straightforward. That year, we had not only our cows, but we also sold a couple for a friend who raised them just like we did (our customers knew this). We picked up the animals and took them to the butcher along with ours. Once the customer paid us, we would then pay our friends for the ones they raised. We had a couple of people back out on us and we ended up with 3/4 of a cow that were not spoken for. This meant that they would not be paid for and we had no room in our freezers to store that much extra meat. The one customer was supposed to take a whole cow, but decided they only wanted half. They kept telling Michael that he should be glad they still wanted some and weren’t backing out on the whole cow. They did not realize (even after he told them) that this was a big problem for us for the reasons listed above. So from Florida, I was trying to give Michael some ideas on who he would contact about beef being available. It all worked out in the end, although part of one of those cows that we paid our friend for was never paid for by the person who took it. So, we basically paid money out of our profits to allow someone to have some good beef. We don’t feel any ill will toward those people, but we are not sure what exactly happened.
This year, we had someone who ordered a lot of poultry from us from each batch we did. They did not show up for their chickens from the second batch. We got no call, no email, nothing. They had expressed some concern that week about having room in their freezers for the birds and asked again how many they had ordered. We told them, but never heard back from them. When they did not show up we called several times and left messages. We also emailed them several times and never heard the first word from them and still have not to this day. These people had been wonderful customers for years. If they had just communicated to us something like… “We are not going to have room in our freezer, would you be able to sell these birds to someone else?” we would have told them yes. We had people on that chicken pick-up day wanting extra birds. One person brought a friend and they asked if we had any extra and said they would take all the extras we had. We told them we did not have any because they were all spoken for. We did not know until the end of the day when this family did not show up, that we did indeed have extra birds. We put out the word that we had extra chickens available and were so grateful we actually had some freezer room at that point. Over a period of a few days, we had them all sold and gone. People made another long trip back out to the farm to get more birds.
We had someone not pick up a turkey this year and they never called or sent an email. They had gotten one last year, so they were not new customers to our farm. In this case we were actually grateful because we had sold a couple more turkeys than we wanted to and this gave us an extra bird.
I am not telling you all of this to complain about people. God has been so good to us and it has worked out each time. I am trying to show you the view from the other side and some of the problems it could cause the farmer if you do not follow through with your orders. If you communicate with your farmer before the fact, things can usually be arranged to work for both parties. If something comes up (someone went to the hospital, had an emergency, etc) and they communicate with us then we could work with them. If we have the freezer space, we would hold something for a couple of days if need be. If we don’t have freezer space, we would try to help them find someone to pick up their order for them. Simply not calling is never a good option. You put the farmer in a bad position and you will probably not be able to do business with them again. The people who don’t show up and never call or communicate are taken off of our list. It is hard to do and we feel bad doing it.
I would also ask you that if you have problems with a product, communicate that to the farmer. Obviously, it should be done kindly and with tact. We had some eggs we found in a “new nest”. We floated them to make sure they were good (we would now also candle them). Some of them were questionable and set aside. That fact was not communicated between Michael and I, and they mistakenly went to customers and some of them were bad. I had a couple of people tell me they had found a bad one and we were so glad they told us. I then asked several others that got eggs around that time and found another person who had gotten a bad one. We apologized and made it right with them. We want to know this type of thing and it reminded us to do better in communicating on what eggs were what.
We also like good feedback and I will be honest, we do get that. It feels good to know that with God’s help, we are able to provide healthy, wholesome food that is not only good for people, but that they think is the best. I have one customer that wants to know if we feed our laying hens gold dust. She said she has tried eggs from other farms even and none compare to ours. Sometimes we get discouraged in the day to day problems of farm life, so hearing things like that give us a boost that we are doing the right thing. We have been given gifts and some have even paid extra just because they want to bless us. We had one family offer us an interest free loan to buy some equipment we really wanted. We did not take them up on this, but it felt good knowing they had enough confidence in us to offer.
Your local farmer wants to work with you. They appreciate you and know that without you, they would not have a business. I know our prices are higher than what you can buy in a store. I will say our quality is also much higher. We try to keep prices as low as we can, but we have no control over feed prices and that is usually what drives our prices up. We have not done an exact accounting yet of our turkeys this year, but we think we may have actually lost a bit of money on them due to feed prices. We have talked to other farmers that are charging $5 a pound for their birds. We know that would be hard for many of our customers to pay. I hope we never have to go that high, but we are re-evaluating what we do and how we are going to do it next year. We can’t afford to lose money in any area of our farming. We work on a tight budget with the farm. We will keep everyone informed of what we are doing as the Lord shows us.
I hope this helps you better understand things from the farmer’s side. If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comments below. ALL bloggers love comments. That is the only feed back we usually get to know how we are doing.