As we have settled into the routine of daily care for the ducks, we have been considering other products that we can offer.
We have heard many ideas from our customers as to what we should produce. Customers are always excited to find a local farmer that can provide what they want, and it’s only logical to want more from the same source. It’s inefficient to drive to 8 different farms to get the food you want, and that’s why markets exist.
So what have we been asked to start raising at FeatherField Farm?
We are almost always asked about chicken eggs and we have to apologetically reply that we don’t have chickens. We have discussed getting chickens, but probably only 6 or so. We would only want enough chickens to provide eggs for the rare friend or family member that wants farm fresh eggs, but for some weird reason cannot bring themselves to try something new and “strange” like duck eggs.
Drive down any road in a rural area and you will find someone selling chicken eggs. Chicken eggs are in every store with many different marketing strategies like conventional battery cage eggs, free-run, free-range, Organic or 100% vegetarian (read this as confined chickens since they love eating bugs!). We simply see no benefit in trying to jump into that market.
Aside from eggs, another reason we would keep chickens is for their scratching behaviour. We could focus them on a garden bed and have them prepare the ground and eat insects, larvae and weed seeds. Utilizing them this way would keep them happy by allowing them to engage in natural behavior and it would reduce our work in terms of tilling, fertilizing and weeding.
Keeping quail is not a new idea to me. I have heard the virtues of quail extolled extensively in articles and podcasts.
- Their feed conversion is very good. For those who aren’t into reading about raising animals, this means that they are good at turning their food into body weight.
- Laying age is reached much earlier than any other common egg producers.
- Simple housing requirements. Many raise them in racks inside of suburban garages.
- Very quiet birds. Did I mention they are raised in garages in suburbia? That’s usually a no-no as far as any municipality is concerned. What your neighbours don’t know, they can’t complain to the city about.
- Easy to process as a meat yield.
Quail are an attractive option to us, however, there have not been enough serious inquiries from customers to encourage us to take the leap. If we did get more interest, I would seriously look at the costs and see if there was a viable business there.
One of our customers is pushing us hard to get rabbits (you know who you are). When I heard how much it costs for this customer to buy a rabbit from their butcher, it is enough to make me take a hard look at raising rabbits.
What makes rabbits a good choice, though?
- Excellent feed conversion.
- Low space requirements.
- Fast reproduction. They breed like rabbits! A doe can be bred every 3 months, for a total of 4 litters a year.
- Pelts are valuable.
- Their manure is absolute gold for gardeners. Rabbit manure is one of the best fertilizers you can get, and unlike manure from other animals, it doesn’t need to be composted or left to rest for long periods before using. It’s ready to apply immediately.
- Fiber harvest. Our daughter is especially excited about the possibility of raising Angora rabbits. These are a breed of rabbit that are excessively fluffy. They are the rabbit version of a sheep and you just harvest hair from them without harming the rabbit in any way.
Sheep are an idea that Trisha and I have been looking at. We don’t have a ton of space on the farm, so we would not consider getting more than 2 or 3.
The main purpose of the sheep would be to keep the grasses down within the paddocks. Ducks like to be on grass, but they have a lot of difficulty getting through long and coarse grasses and weeds so it is difficult to move them. They also don’t like to eat tougher plants. They like to nibble on tender plants, though they do really enjoy chowing on seed heads of mature grass and weeds.
The idea would be to have the sheep a paddock or two ahead of the ducks. A few weeks after the sheep have left that paddock, the ducks will enter the paddock and be able to nibble on tender regrowth, and bugs and larvae that are in the ground as a result of the sheep manure.
A meat harvest is not one of our considerations in regards to the sheep. They would simply be a maintenance tool and we would harvest wool from them, and sell lambs to other farmers.
There have been a few who have suggested we raise goats.
Let me be clear. We don’t like the idea of raising goats. They are cute and all, but we don’t drink goats milk, nor do we eat goat meat. We have no interest in raising them and producing these products for others. Let me tell you why. With our eggs, when we are left with a surplus, we simply eat them ourselves because we like them. With anything goat related product, we want nothing to do with it and it would go to waste.
So, no goats.
So what will we do?
After going through the options that I’ve laid out here, I think that the most likely new thing you will see on the farm will be Rabbits. Our daughter is on board, ready to tackle this venture herself. She is saving her money to buy the rabbits she needs to get started. I’ll of course need to do the grunt work to get this all set up, but I want to strike while the iron is hot! She’s just five (that’s 5!) years old and she wants to start her own business! You just can’t let that simmer too long or the flame will go out.
A couple of sheep would be the next likeliest animals for us to add to the farm.
Another idea that Trisha has had and has been echoed by many other people over the last year and a half is that we should sell pies. I’ve been told that I make great Apple and Pumpkin Pies, and they are all from scratch. We can use lard from the pigs here on the farm for making pie crusts and locally sourced fruit.
What do you think? What would you like to see on offer from FeatherField Farm? Leave a comment below or send us an email.