Posted on November 25, 2014 @ 07:16:00 AM by Paul Meagher
When we purchased the farm 5 yrs ago I never thought that hay would be a main product. Over the first couple of years I got other
people to make it and take it away. They had big equipment, made round bales, and could get the job done in fairly short
order. I wasn't comfortable, however, in just giving the hay away often for deals that never fully materialized. I slowly
began building up old second hand machinery so that I could make square bales and store them in the barn. The barn has a
large hayloft but when we purchased the ashphalt shingles were starting to leak. I invested money and time into reshingling
it and now it can hold around 2700 square bales.
Today, me and my hay making partner, sold another load of 130 bales to a guy who had 4 horses. They apparently like our
hay based on his last purchase and he and his wife were leary of purchasing hay that the horses wouldn't like. Most people who
own horses are very particular so it is somewhat rewarding to know that we are making horses happy and well fed on the hay
If you don't have major equipment breakdowns and don't have to pay too much for labor, then making and storing hay bales for
later sale can be fairly profitable as judged by the rate of return. We invested around $1200 hundred dollars into making
it this year (e.g., fuel, baler twine, labor, hoses, grease, bolts). The labor turned out to be fairly cheap because three
families worked together to put the hay in. As long as you supply the beer, they will supply the labor although a 1/3 of the
workforce were not of drinking age. For the most part, when there are lots of people helping out, putting hay involves jovial outdoor physical exercise using muscles that you don't often enough get a chance to exercise and test the limits off (how high/far can you throw a bale, how long can you do it for) combined with some sweating in the barn followed by cooldown/watering breaks before you go out into the field for another load of hay.
We still have around 1900 bales in the barn to sell which will help finance the purchase of fruit and nut trees in the spring,
fuel, new tools, new equipment, equipment and building maintenance and so on. The farm is close to being financially sustainable
with the help of the hay product. I also dabble in agritourism in a small way so far. Next year I may have some wine grape
product to sell as 3/4 acre of planted vines produced it's first crop this year (resulted in around 18 gallons of juice). In
the next two years I will have more vines coming online as I have planted around 750 each year for the last three years.
I wouldn't say the farm is financially self-sufficient at this point. Me and my wife have to put money made through other jobs into
the farm to fund ongoing improvements. It is my hope that the farm will become profitable with the addition of a better
agritourism package and with the production of grape juice and apples. I'm always on the lookout for other farm products
that I might offer but right now these four products, hay, agritourism, wine grape juice and apples, are the main products I'm focused on producing/selling.
Trying to make a go of a farm property is similar in many respects to trying to make a go of any business. You have to
figure out what products you are going to attempt to sell and then make the investments in time and money to get to the point
of production. Products without production are just costing money so the sooner you can get into production the better. In alot
of farm startups they start with planting annual vegetables because you can generate a return within a one year period. That was
not a committment I had the time or desire to make. Instead I invested into perennials (grape vines and apple trees) which I
mistakenly assumed would be less work then they are, especially the grape vines. Sometimes I wonder if wine grape juice was the
right product to get into because of the amount of money and tending you have to put into growing them. So one caution when choosing
a product to sell is to navigate the price/effort tradeoff to find a product at the right price with the right time/effort involved in
selling it. If you have a high priced item to sell (e.g., wine), maybe that involves more time/effort to produce/sell than a lower
priced item that involves less time/effort to produce/sell.
It is a nice warm day at the farm today and I'm going to take a break from the computer to head out to the woods at the edge of a field to cut some posts. I will use the posts to trellis the grapes I planted this spring. I'll be trellising them next spring but will cut some posts off my land now while the weather is nice. I'd also like to have an excuse to work/play in the woods today.