From caring for a flock of laying hens to collecting and cleaning eggs to finding a steady customer base, selling pastured eggs is no easy matter. And none of this even mentions the idea of actually making a profit. Needless to say, this topic is loaded with questions.
Can you make an actual profit? How do you convince customers that are accustomed to a dozen eggs at $0.99? Will selling pastured eggs at scale be too much labor? Knowing just how many questions come up when you start thinking about selling pastured eggs, we decided to ask the experts. We found a bunch of farms currently selling pastured eggs and asked them this question:
What is the best advice you have for someone just starting out selling pastured eggs for profit?
Their amazing advice below gave great insight into just how they’ve been able to do it.
Matthew Grant – Diamond G Farm
Matthew operates Diamond G Farm alongside his wife, Darlene. Their pasture-based farm provides everything from non-GMO broilers to pastured eggs.
First, research your state laws regarding selling eggs. In PA there is a small farm exemption. We initially used this, and labeled our eggs as unclassified so we didn’t need to size/grade them. However, we hit a growth plateau, and few stores and produce stands wanted to deal with us due to the fact that we had no “oversight.” We picked up a few by educating them on the law, but many wanted graded eggs. We pursued becoming a state grading station, which we now are, and it became much easier to retail/wholesale eggs due to the fact that having a PA plant number gave us I guess you would say legitimacy. I don’t like to cave to do things conventional producers do, but in this aspect, it certainly helped us grow. It does have a monthly fee, and regular inspections, but the growth we experience afterward was worth the growing pains to meet the standards of having a grading station.
Secondly, marketing is tremendously important. My wife Darlene is much better at relationship building with customers both wholesale and retail than I am. When she began taking over this aspect of our farm this spring, our sales dramatically increased. Pasture based farming is about having a relationship with the farmer, and knowing the person growing your food. It takes a very outgoing person to be the marketer/face of the farm. Im not very good at that part, but she is. Before you buy your first hens, know some potential customers for your eggs, who can spread the word. Have somewhere to go with your excess like a produce auction. You won’t make a ton of money at the auction, but we don’t often lose money.
Third, figure out a housing system that works for you. My wife grew up dairying, but didn’t want that kind of farm commitment where you can’t ever go away. When we first started out with our pastured poultry operation, I was more concerned with getting eggs, than having a workable housing solution. Over the next year, the aggravation of having inconvenient housing became the impetus to the chicken wagon I designed and built. I looked at many other poultry wagons in the area, and drew from the strengths and came up with ways to overcome the weaknesses. Our wagon houses 800 birds, with gravity feed water for a weeks supply, a feed bin that we can put over 2 weeks of feed in (auger loaded in by the mill), automatic feed line, automatic doors to pasture, electric fencing, all powered by 4 solar panels and an inverter. The eggs all roll to the outside for easy collection. I have noticed some areas of improvement for when I build another one.
Fourth, do good bookkeeping. Know your true operating costs. How much does it cost per dozen of eggs? The costs that go into each dozen include: Pullets, Feed, Housing, Transportation, Packaging, Time, etc. We don’t live on the farm we operate, so I know what it costs to drive there daily. You will need some equipment from time to time. I use a tractor to pull my wagon. Owning a tractor just to pull your wagon adds a lot of cost per dozen, what else are you going to use it for? We produce hay as well. Good bookkeeping keeps you profitable. It also helps you when you need to sharpen your pencil to convince people to switch their bakery/kitchen/etc to pastured eggs from conventional. Its a big price difference for someone using hundreds of dozens a week, so knowing where your profit margin is, is quite helpful when trying to win over these types of customers. A big reason I see as an advantage to having a bakery on, is people ask them where they get their eggs, and its really a marketing tool for the farm.
In conclusion, there is no tool to insure success. Having an off the farm job I find is essential. I have a job that has a very farming conducive schedule. My wife is full time farming and mom. Hard work is critical, as is believing in your product.
Micha Ide – Bright Idea Acres
Micha farms 30 beautiful acres of land at the base of Mt. Rainier alongside her husband, Andrew. They provide everything from farm-fresh eggs to grass-fed lamb to the local Puget Sound area.
My best advice would be to make sure you know your true cost on eggs before setting a price. Once you have an idea of what your inputs are, you can figure out if it’s actually possible to make a profit. Don’t undervalue your product just because people are used to buying cheap eggs. Eggs from hens raised on pasture are nothing like grocery store eggs, and it’s your job to educate your customers about the differences so they understand what they are paying for!
Anita Poeppel – Broad Branch Farm
Anita raises everything from vegetables to grass-fed beef alongside her husband, Brian, and their three daughters. Their farm, Broad Branch Farm, provides the Chicagoland region with top notch food.
That’s easy! Charge enough for the product and educate your customer why you are not selling eggs for cheap. In the beginning, we didn’t realize just what an extraordinary product we had and we didn’t charge enough. We had to learn to price our food according to the quality we were offering. Our eggs are NOT the same as store bought.
Beginning farmers must understand it doesn’t help anyone or the local food movement to have a new farmer come on board with under priced eggs, not charge enough and then go out of business because they aren’t making enough money. We’re moving the local food movement backwards and not doing what we can to educate consumers about the TRUE cost of REAL food.
Eggs are a commodity crop, raised in streamlined factory farms with subsidized grain, with every corner cut, every extra cost trimmed to the detriment of the hens well being and the quality of the product. The low price in the stores has trained consumers to think they must be cheap. The new farmer has to overcome this mentality and separate the extraordinary pastured egg from the commodity egg.
A truly pastured egg and hopefully fed only certified organic feed is the premium egg. This is what we produce and we charge $7.50/dozen.
The other challenge is a steady supply throughout the year. Hens have cycles of heavy/light laying and they follow the season if they are truly outdoors on pasture without artificial lighting, temperature control. Makes offering a consistent supply of eggs a challenge. But, again, the customer needs to know the hens are allowed to be hens and are not being pushed to lay year round and then burned out.
We advise not to buy the leftover factory farmed hens. First of all, they have been pushed from the beginning. And, they possibly have clipped beaks. We took a farm tour of a local organic farm advertising pastured organic eggs. The hens had their beaks clipped and therefore could not graze!
Geoff McPherson – Good Life Ranch
Geoff raises everything from pastured eggs to grass-fed beef on their farm, Good Life Ranch. Their farm provides their region in Kentucky with nothing but great food.
My best advice would be two-fold:
1) find a market for your eggs before you begin producing. Selling eggs a dozen or two at a time is not reliable enough for consistent profit. It’s a great supplemental market, but make sure you have enough high-volume buyers to sustain your business.
2) make sure your buyers understand seasonality. If you’re truly pasturing your chickens, your egg production is going to be dramatically different in April and May than in December. Make sure your market and business model can handle the variance.
Growing chickens and producing eggs is relatively easy. Marketing them and selling them profitably is a whole different issue.
Wow! We’d like to give a huge thanks to the farmers that so graciously contributed their hard-earned wisdom.
We hope that you found their advice as helpful as we did.