As you probably know by now, our farm has multiple revenue streams - pastured pork, chickens, turkeys (at Thanksgiving), rabbits, goat meat, partnerships with other farms for soap and grass-fed beef, non-GMO feed sales, and raw milk herdshares.
For the past year or so, in any given month, we'll average between $2500 and $5000 in sales, depending on what's available and how active our customer base is. January and February tend to be our slowest months, as everyone seems to be nesting and recovering from their spending sprees of November and December. That said, everyone has to eat, right? :)
Even though sales are slow, January and February are very expensive months on the farm, as we are pre-ordering our poultry for the year, processing pigs and goats, and buying a new batch of pigs. In addition, the quieter months on the farm give us time to work on projects. This year, our big project is to build a new dairy goat barn.
We have outgrown the old horse run-in shed on a hill that we reconfigured a week before our first kids were born in 2016. The placement on the slope presents a major challenge for spring removal of the manure pack that accumulates over the winter months. Right now, it is over 24" deep! You don't smell a thing or see any poop lying around though - new hay is dropped every day and spread across the barn, and the chickens break up every last berry that drops - I swear, they watch the hind ends of every goat. Sometimes they are scratching the berries before the goat has even finished dropping them all! I think this behavior is also why we rarely have parasite problems with the goats.
Sorry about that detour, I think I could write about those sweet, feisty girls all day long! Where was I? Winter is expensive. Right.
So what do we do when winter is so expensive but has less income? Sure, we have some savings from previous year sales, but it sure is nice that the herdshare program gives us steady, year-round income.
What is a herdshare program? Simply put, it's a way to get raw milk in the hands of people who need and want it. They purchase a share in the dairy goat herd (like a stock market purchase), and pay a monthly board or service fee every month. In exchange, they receive a half gallon of raw goat's milk every week.
We have slowly built the herd up from 3 goats in milk and 10 herdshare customers, to a place that I am happy with: 10-15 goats in milk and 30-40 herdshare customers. Since I work full time and have teenagers, that's about all that I can comfortably manage. We charge $35/mo as a board fee, so that comes out to about $1,225 per month, year round.
That steady monthly board income covers not only the goats' grain and hay expenses monthly, but actually covers all of our feed expenses for the farm each month.
Knowing that we have a steady income coming in each month over and above sales, which can have peaks and troughs, allows us to plan and feel more comfortable with our monthly sale/expense projections.
As I have said several times in Herdshare School, the synergy between regular milk customers and any other farm products that we produce is amazing - many of our members who found us for the milk are now faithful customers of our egg and meat products. It's also easy enough to add in a meat order and bring it along to the drop sites for them.
Another advantage that I've mentioned before is that we established weekly drop sites for our members to receive their milk. This guarantees that I will be delivering to that location every week. The herdshare members who receive delivery pay a monthly delivery fee, so our expenses and time in making those drops are already covered. Thus, we can extend our meat and egg delivery network to those drop sites, which really wouldn't be economically realistic if we were just delivering a few dozen eggs or packages of sausage without the milk deliveries already covering those travel expenses.
So while the herdshare program started as a way for me to have my does pay for their expenses, it has turned into a vital part of the farm's business plan, both in terms of stabilizing our income as well as providing a network of drop sites and 'locked-in' customers who are weekly reminded of our farm offerings and already know and trust that we produce quality food.