By the Numbers – Behind the Scenes of a Nascent Farm Business

My past few posts have been fairly light and positive.  Here’s one about the nitty gritty:  This weekend, we tabulated the Profit/Loss statement for Sheep and Pickle Farm, and I am going to share what we discovered.

Our costs totaled about $2700 in 2013.  That includes hay, trips to the butcher shop, spinning the yarn, going to a few farmer’s markets, shearing, shipping things, and all the little odds and ends.  It also includes 20% of the capital costs that happened in 2012 and 2013 (I am amortizing those costs over 5 years).  That includes the sheep, the fencing, buckets and other durable stuff.

Our gross cash income totaled a little over $2600.   That’s a small loss.  This number includes all of the cash sales we made of meat, pelts, roving, and yarn this year.

I admit to being a little disappointed – I had a notion that we’d do a bit better, that we’d have a positive cash balance.  Luckily, we’re not quite done with the math:

  • We have leftover inventory worth about $150 (Here’s a cue for you yarn-lovers to consider picking up that hand-dyed yarn you’re seeing on the left-hand side of the screen!)
  • I used some yarn and some lamb for gifts this Christmas, to the tune of about $100.  I also used some to pay a vet bill.
  • Slaughtering Janet, the cost of which is included in the “Costs” calculation, yielded 96(!) lbs of meat.  Valued at the price of the lowest-cost protein we’d be *willing* to buy (that would be tofu, no factory meat for us), Janet created a lot of “value” even if she didn’t bring in any cash.
  • Finally, the addition of four ewes to the herd increased its capital value from about $800 to about $1500 (really rough numbers, based on Craigslist prices for mixed-breed ewes by age).  That is to say, if I sold the herd tomorrow, it would have increased significantly in value from when I bought it.

If you’ve talked to me in person about this subject before, you’ll know just how sensitive I am whenever someone implies that this venture is a “hobby.”  I get defensive, even irrationally, to the implication that I’m on a lark or somehow not serious about the money side of raising these sheep.  If I can’t made the sheep sustainable, and make the flock reward my efforts financially, then I will simply need to get out of the sheep business because I don’t have time to do this if it doesn’t help me towards my other life goals.  That said, even with a “break even” cash scenario, 2013 was a worthwhile effort, in my opinion.  To be sure, the value we created won’t pay the hours that we put in.  I think we can cut that calculation some slack by acknowledging the inherent inefficiency for caring for 5 sheep, when it would only take a few more minutes to handle 25 on average.  I came away from this calculation project feeling good.