It's for the Farmers
Is Raising Pastured Hens good for Family Farmers?
Much has been made about the changing nature of agriculture in the United States. Family farmers and an agricultural lifestyle have been declared everything from in danger to out-right dead. The truth is more complicated. It is true that giant corporate agribusiness like Tyson and Conagra have taken over the role of many family farmers. Even those family farms that remain are little like what our imagination would suggest. These farms may be owned by one family, but they are far from small. In order to compete with the big farms, these family farms are often massive operations that employ numerous individuals and use many of the same practices as the mega-corporations. This leaves true family farmers on a precipice: how can they continue to exist and prosper?
Small Farmers Can Afford to Pasture Raise Hens
The economics of pasture raising laying hens make it ideal for small farmers. The upfront investment is comparatively small relative to big laying operations.
- A typical barn for 5-15,000 pastured hens is 1/10th of the cost of the 300,000 hen aviary system barns required for a competitive cage-free operation
This allows small farmers, along with a number of very amenable banks, to raise the start-up capital for their operations. By turning the tables on the giant financial hurdles facing small farmers, pasture raising becomes not just an affordable option, but profitable one too.
Small Farmers Can Profit from Pasture Raised Hens
The other critical difference with pasture raised hens is that farmers can earn a living from their investment. In the commodity egg market, the prices for eggs are set by the market. Like other commodities (oil, copper, wheat, etc) the prices for conventional and cage free eggs rise and fall based on supply and demand. While this can be a windfall for large farmers, it is also very risky. Small farmers are often unable to withstand these fluctuations.
- In the pasture raised egg market, prices are fixed by contract – at an average of more than twice the price of conventional eggs.
This allows farmers to make rational investment decisions and understand what they will earn over the life of their flock.
A Lifesaver for Small Family Farmers
With pasture raised laying hens, farmers can afford to enter the business and earn a profit on their investment. This means more small farmers are able to stay on their land. This is particularly helpful in the rural communities where Handsome Brook Farm produces. In central Pennsylvania, Eastern Kentucky, and the other states where we have farm partners, Handsome Brook has become a lifeline, especially in the Amish and Mennonite communities where there is a cultural, as well as economic, importance to living off the land.
Continuing to Build our Networks of Small Family Farmers
Through our continued growth and ability to work with small family farmers, from providing expertise for those new to laying hens, to working with banks to approve capital loans, Handsome Brook Farm is committed to the development and preservation of the small family farm in America.