Over the years we have looked at various ways of making money homesteading. And we are always looking for ways to generate more revenue off of the small acreage we manage on the family farm.
In a recent post, I explained how we make money raising sheep and why we choose to breed purebred animals. But today I want to explain why after eight years of selling meat every weekend, we chose to quit farmers markets.
Making Money Homesteading
One of the biggest questions we hear from new and veteran homesteaders alike is how do you make money homesteading? Google “how to make money homesteading” and you will get over 14 million results — listing all kinds of ideas on how to generate income.
The problem is that many of these are simple that, ideas. But what really works? And will any give you an income level sustainable enough to support a family?
The reality is not what most people want to hear. Yes, there are many ways to earn additional income, but very few that will generate enough revenue to sustain a homesteading family. For that matter, many won’t even generate enough to be worth your time.
Alternative Sources of Income
Our sheep flock has fluctuated over the years, but for the most part we seem to hover around 40 to 50 mature ewes. Although we live in town, the sheep are kept on Farmer’s family farm of which we have roughly 7 acres enclosed and access to an additional 45 acres for part of the year.
Because only about 60-70% of our lambs are of high enough quality to show, I got the idea to harvest and sell the meat directly to consumers. This would allow us to not only tap into the retail market, but set our prices based on the quality of our meat.
Eager to get started, I first set down and created a business plan and sales projections. We had to know for sure that the additional cost incurred getting it to retail would be more than made up by the additional income we would receive. It would only be worthwhile if we could make more money than selling those lambs through the commercial market.
All looked good on paper. So we jumped. Both feet. Head first.
We started with lamb, but quickly included seasonal pork, goat, and beef. We were already growing out and harvesting these for ourselves. By adding a few more animals, we could offer these meats to our customers on a limited bases. Likewise, our flock of laying hens grew from 12 to over 160. And we got into raising meat birds during the summer.
As our business grew, our profit margins continued to get tighter. We were beginning to get squeezed by farmers market fees and processing costs. On top of that, commercial prices of lamb increased to an all time high.
One way to increase margins was by adding value to our products. We sold meat into up-scale, dual income, busy households, that I knew they would be willing to pay extra for ready-made meals. So I begin to sell soups, stews, other home cooked entrees.
By the time we hit our stride, we were bringing in a six figure income. So why did we quit?
Quitting the Farmers Markets
After eight long years of working the farmers markets every weekend, it was time to call it quits. For us it came down to several reasons.
Much of our week revolved around getting ready for, or going to, farmers markets. We had lambs to take to the butcher. Then we had lambs to pick up from the butcher. I spent over two days a week in the kitchen cooking and packaging over 125 pints of soups and stews. Then we had bread to bake. And don’t forget condiments to make such as rubs, jellies, and sauces that go so nicely with meat.
What started out as a way to take advantage of extra lambs, turned into a full-time job.
Our biggest farmers market was Dupont Circle Farmers Marketing in Washington DC. It is one of the premier farmers markets on the east coast and is open year round on Sundays.
Being in such a high traffic farmers market year round is a meat sellers dream. Right?!? I mean we have meat year round. So sales year round must be good.
Yes. And no.
Each spring we had to give a list to the farmer market master of dates we would miss. We always took off Easter, County Fair weekend, Virginia State Fair weekend, and Christmas, if it fell on a weekend.
Missing the farmers market meant an empty stall. And market masters don’t like empty stalls. So those were our few “get out of jail free” dates. And those were it.
That meant we had to miss many family social gathers over the years. And traveling to visit out of town friends and attend sheep events was on hold. Shoot, even Sunday drives were out of the question. Unless it entailed Route 7 to the beltway and back.
We also had to attend church at odd times, finding services either Sunday or Wednesday evening, since Dupont Circle Farmers Market was Sunday morning.
By the time we decided to quit the farmers markets, we felt like the sacrifice on our family time had become too great.
Cash flow was never a problem while attending farmers markets. Like I mentioned, we brought in more than $125,000 annually. Where we definitely making money homesteading.
Or were we?
Unfortunately each year we saw our processing costs (butchering, packaging, seasonings, and labels) go up exponentially. Then 6% of our total sales went straight to farmers market fees. Add to that, travel costs and additional labor, and net profits were minimal.
And although we raised our per pound prices throughout the years, the market would only bare so much.
We were getting squeezed in the middle.
I think one of the biggest light-bulb moments was while we were working sheep one afternoon. We were dividing up the mature ewes for breeding. As we were looking through the flock, we realized that all of our mature ewes were, well, mature. Very mature.
Because demand had been so overwhelming at the farmers market, we had changed our marketing strategy quite a bit. Instead of 80% of our lambs being sold for show lambs and 20% of our lambs going to farmers market sales, it had more than flipped. On top of that, most of our ewe lambs were now going to meat sales.
A year or two of this wouldn’t have been bad. But after several years, we were now staring at an aging flock. In order to sustain our flock, we were going to have to start keeping back the majority of ewe lambs each year.
Our Ladder Was Against the Wrong Wall
For eight years we kept our heads down, marching forward, making money, selling meat. When the moment came for us to look up, we not only saw an aging flock, we realized that we had left our first passion.
What we loved most about raising sheep is continually striving to breed better and better lambs, working with youth as they raise their projects and show at the fairs, and spending time with all of the sheep friends we have acquired over the years.
We were doing none of this.
Instead all of our time, energy, and resources where going towards the farmers market.
Our Last Day
It was painful leaving the farmers market scene. Like pulling off a bandaid.
We had grown to love our customers. After seeing them every weekend for eight years they were like family.
They might have only been under our tent for minutes at a time, but we knew when babies were due, when family members passed, when congratulations were deserved for job promotions. And they knew the seasonally workings of our farm.
It was hard leaving all of that behind. And it took us several months before we were able to sleep past 4:00am on a weekend.
Now our focus has changed. Will we continue making money homesteading? Yes, we are always open to new ventures. But moving forward, we will be much more protective of our time, energy, and passion.
Making money homesteading or small acreage can be challenging. In the thirty years we have been raising sheep, we have tried several different endeavors. If you are raising livestock and have questions on how to make money from your farm, leave us a comment below.
Or are you looking to start selling homestead raised items at farmers markets? Looking for insights in how to navigate the farmers market scene? Leave us a comment below. We’d love to chat.
Other Making Money with Homesteading Posts You Might Like:
- Purebred Animals on the Homestead
- 40 Creative Ways to Save Money on Chicken Feed
- 9 Ways to Make Money with Chickens