Be sure to check out the other articles in this season’s series:
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:
|4/3/2013||Capital||Acres USA Seminar||$700.00|
|7/2/2013||Capital||Adv. Auto Parts||$7.34|
|7/29/2013||Capital||Farm Equipment (FarmTek)||$113.38|
|8/12/2013||Capital||Greenhouse Hoop Bender||$129.53|
|8/15/2013||Operations||Sunrise Farms Feed||$360.00|
|8/21/2013||Capital||FarmTek (Greenhouse, etc.)||$639.24|
|8/23/2013||Capital||Home Depot (Greenhouse)||$841.59|
|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|
|9/23/2013||Operations||State Corporation Commission (llc reinstatement)||$225.00|
|9/27/2013||Operations||Fedex (screenprint supplies)||$18.94|
|10/1/2013||Operations||Sunrise Farms Feed||$90.00|
|10/7/2013||Operations||Cash Payment (Unkn)||$100.00|
|10/7/2013||Operations||State Corporation Commission (name change)||$25.00|
|10/10/2013||Capital||Cavalier Restaurant Equipment||$305.47|
|10/12/2013||Capital||Staples (Label Maker)||$109.28|
|No Date||Capital||Misc Lumber & Supplies||$1,100.00|
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Proprietor, Sylvanaqua Farms