Lessons from the Farm, Pt. III

Be sure to check out the other articles in this season’s series:

Lessons from the Farm, Pt. I – Brooders and Feeding
Lessons from the Farm, Pt. II – Poultry Processing


How much does it cost to start a farm?

Every now and again I like to fact-check and put numbers behind some of the statements I’ve made in previous blog articles. In one such article, I decided to try and back up the claim that conventional agriculture results in hidden costs by figuring out exactly what those costs were, and I found myself shocked by the results (about $25/week in hidden costs).

This time I’ve decided to fact check another statement I made awhile back about the cost involved with starting a farm. In the article “Six Reasons You Shouldn’t Wait to Start Farming,” I asserted that you could get yourself up and running with a 1,000-bird pastured poultry operation and a small 2,000 sqft market garden for under $20K. Here’s what I’d listed:

Poultry processing equipment and portable shed: $5,500
Poultry feed: $4,000
20′ x 100′ hoophouse/greenhouse: $2,500
Basic tool budget (table saws, leatherman, chainsaw, drill, etc.): $2,000
Misc. expenses (brooder, compost carbon, broiler pens, feeders/waterers, seed, rain capture equipment): $2,000
Poultry Stock: $1,000
20 acres rented pasture: $40/acre/year, $800

This comes out to $15,800. So how does that compare to how much I’ve actually spent (keeping in mind that we’ve included an egg and pork operation)? Well, here’s a table of our expenditures starting from April of this year:

Date Type Description/Source Amount
4/3/2013 Capital Acres USA Seminar $700.00
5/28/2013 Capital Lowes $54.56
6/2/2013 Capital Lowes $337.14
6/2/2013 Capital Lowes $48.85
6/10/2013 Capital Lowes $62.96
6/10/2013 Capital Lowes $365.08
6/26/2013 Capital Trailer Hitch $68.68
6/27/2013 Capital Website $37.99
6/29/2013 Capital Books (Amazon) $59.08
6/30/2013 Capital Lowes $80.02
6/30/2013 Capital Website $194.00
7/2/2013 Capital Adv. Auto Parts $7.34
7/8/2013 Capital Utility Trailer $1,500.00
7/29/2013 Capital Farm Equipment (FarmTek) $113.38
7/29/2013 Capital Lowes $27.36
7/29/2013 Operations Meyer Hatchery $130.49
7/29/2013 Capital Southern States $385.33
7/31/2013 Capital Lowes $185.90
8/1/2013 Operations Land Rental $200.00
8/6/2013 Operations Meyer Hatchery $334.94
8/12/2013 Capital Greenhouse Hoop Bender $129.53
8/12/2013 Capital Lowes $90.85
8/12/2013 Operations Seeds $74.74
8/13/2013 Capital Featherman Equipment $4,675.00
8/13/2013 Capital Southern States $50.46
8/15/2013 Operations Sunrise Farms Feed $360.00
8/18/2013 Operations Target $8.94
8/20/2013 Operations Vistaprint $46.97
8/21/2013 Capital FarmTek (Greenhouse, etc.) $639.24
8/23/2013 Capital Home Depot (Greenhouse) $841.59
8/27/2013 Operations Compost Worms $42.90
8/28/2013 Capital Lowes $92.07
8/31/2013 Capital Lowes $73.29
9/1/2013 Operations Land Rental $200.00
9/3/2013 Capital Southern States $27.37
9/5/2013 Operations Check Payment (Straw) $54.50
9/6/2013 Operations Cash Payment (Straw) $200.00
9/10/2013 Operations Acres USA Subscription $29.00
9/11/2013 Operations Southern States $9.45
9/12/2013 Operations Southern States $30.00
9/13/2013 Capital Lowes $535.06
9/18/2013 Capital Lowes $55.12
9/18/2013 Operations Southern States $24.63
9/18/2013 Operations Lowes $18.91
9/19/2013 Operations Blankshirts.com (t-shirts) $152.84
9/23/2013 Operations State Corporation Commission (llc reinstatement) $225.00
9/24/2013 Operations Constant Contact $255.00
9/27/2013 Operations Fedex (screenprint supplies) $18.94
9/30/2013 Capital Lowes $128.86
10/1/2013 Operations Land Rental $200.00
10/1/2013 Operations Sunrise Farms Feed $90.00
10/2/2013 Operations Southern States $355.67
10/3/2013 Capital Lowes $207.53
10/4/2013 Operations Southern States $217.59
10/7/2013 Operations Cash Payment (Unkn) $100.00
10/7/2013 Capital Lowes $139.50
10/7/2013 Operations State Corporation Commission (name change) $25.00
10/9/2013 Operations Featherman Equipment $366.45
10/10/2013 Capital Cavalier Restaurant Equipment $305.47
10/11/2013 Capital Lowes $285.46
10/12/2013 Capital Staples (Label Maker) $109.28
No Date Capital Misc Lumber & Supplies $1,100.00
Total $17,485.31

So thus far, I’m off by a little less than $2,000, but there are a few caveats that both nudge the numbers up and down.

Factors that nudge the numbers up:

  • This does not include feed for 1,000 broilers, though it does include feed for 150+ laying hens that are about 6 weeks old. This additional feed outlay will run about $3,800.
  • The cost of only 80 broilers (plus 150+ laying hens) is accounted for. We’d need to purchase just over 900 more, which will run about $950. Subtract from that the $300 we paid for our laying flock and we’re looking at an additional $600.

And there are several items in my list that bring the numbers down:

  • Our list includes a $700 charge for attending the Polyface IDS seminar.
  • Food and equipment we purchased for a special event we did later in the month is included, to the tune of about $300.
  • We’ve listed expenses for Kickstarter rewards, which runs to about $250.

So, if we start with $17,485, add to that the increasing factors of $4,400, then subtract the decreasing factors of $1,250, we arrive at:

Chris’ Original Estimate: $15,800
Amount Chris Actually Spent: $20,635

This is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that I was off by a whopping 30%. The good news is that I wasn’t off by orders of magnitude – I originally said that the farm operation could be had for under $20K, but it turns out it can be had for ABOUT $20K. This is much better than me having to eat crow because, whoops, it actually set me back $50K or $100K.

So the next logical question is: what happened that caused my estimate to be off? I think this can be nailed down to a few distinct categories:

1. Support Equipment

The biggest single item I didn’t account for in the original estimate was a $1,500 utility trailer I picked up on Craigslist. I didn’t include it because it was initially planned to just be used for hauling pigs, but since I wound up using it to haul lumber, feed, and other supplies, I decided to include it as something I’d missed. I’d be willing to argue that having at least one utility trailer is an absolute necessity. I also underestimated the cost of the four chicken transport crates I bought, which ran $85 apiece.

2. Composting

Composting is one of those things that seems like it’ll be next to free, but it really isn’t when you’re setting yourself up to fertilize your entire farm. I wound up spending a couple hundred dollars on straw bales (our bins are made of straw to provide more “middle” to our piles), about $40+ on red hybrid compost worms, and then the big ticket item of $750 for the wood chipper to make our own carbon.

3. Marketing

This was the most egregious one I missed in my first estimate. Producing without marketing is, of course, like winking at a beautiful woman in the dark, so you’ll need to set aside a decent budget for this. We paid about $250 for our website, about the same for an email marketing package, plus business cards, brochures, flyers, samples and giveaways, etc. All together these probably ran close to $1,000.

4. Supplies

There was a hodgepodge of supplies I hadn’t included in my original estimate. Among them were replacement chainsaw blades, gasoline, pine shavings for the brooders, ice/hoses/manifolds for processing, freezers, coolers, a label maker, a scale, replacement feeders, etc. These costs added up to over $1,000 I’m sure.

So there you have it; my estimate certainly wasn’t sharpshooter accurate, but it was at least inside the ballpark. I’ll happily amend my earlier statement to read, “you can have a 1,000 bird operation with a 2,000 sqft market garden operation for just over $20K.”

Happy farming!

Chris Newman
Proprietor, Sylvanaqua Farms


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