“Inflation is when you pay fifteen dollars for the ten-dollar haircut you used to get for five dollars when you had hair.” ~Sam Ewing
Although we initially intended to just raise bees, here at Big Branch Apiary we have four main products that bring in revenue. In order of least to most lucrative, they are:
The current increase in eggs is driven by the H5N1 Bird Flue epidemic. According to the CDC it has infected over 57,800,000 in 47 states since January 2022.
With a flock that is half pet, half farm animal, eggs are supposed to be a novelty by-product here at the farm. You can read my January 4th blog for more on this quandary.
Four years ago we sold eggs mostly to neighbors. We asked $2 a dozen in order to break even.
Then we moved to the farm. We gained customers and the flock grew to accommodate the demand. Feed prices had climbed so the price of eggs was raised to $5 a dozen. Off-season we sold wholesale to Top Box and Recirculating Farms–two entities that distribute affordable produce to inner city areas of New Orleans. And we were able to make a meager profit.
Then came 2022 and a $900 loss. I’m giving you hard numbers in case you go to the grocery store, see the price of eggs, and think something foolish along the lines of, “I’mma get me some chickens and raise my own eggs!” That first egg will be the most expensive you ever stuffed in your mouth.
The first challenge was predation. Coyotes found the flock and in mid-day with me not 100 yards away, a coyote dashed out of the woods and grabbed a hen. Big Tom, bite-sized fool that he is, chased after them with no effect. A head count indicated this was not the first meal. But it was their last. We countered by shutting the flock into their pen and bringing the forage to them: we purchased cabbages, dumped the weeds from the garden to them, and gave them pumpkins left over from fall decorating. It kept them from being eaten but their consumption of commercial food tripled.
And then the price of that food took on extortion-like proportions. What we had paid $10 for two years ago was now over $17. In some cases, the price not only jumped but the bag went from 50 to 40 pounds. We countered by feeding deer corn which had also jumped in price, but not like the same corn packaged for farm animals. We purchased in bulk at Tractor Supply which gleaned a meager 5% off.
We sold off the always-hungry turkeys.
Other losses came in the way of fowl pox which decimated the replacement hen flock. We countered by starting a vaccination program. We weeded out chickens that decided to they, too, liked to eat eggs. Some landed in the freezer as food themselves. We also retrofitted the nest boxes with a roll-out feature so the birds couldn’t be tempted to eat their own eggs. This also had the benefit of keeping the hens from accidentally cracking eggs as they jostled with each other in the nest boxes.
We are also going to try tractor pens–enclosed moveable runs that allow for unrestricted grazing while protecting the hens from predators.
And finally, sadly, we raised prices.
I recall a passage from the book “Angela’s Ashes” in which the gifted seanchaidhe, Frank McCort tells a story from his impoverished boyhood where he found and ate an egg. He described the experience so well that I still relish that egg with him today. But time will tell if we are able to keep eggs affordable or if eggs move from a pantry staple to an unaffordable and rare luxury like they were to young Frank McCort.
Today’s chore list was light and looked something like this:
1. Feed hens and bees
2. Put final touches on roll-out egg box
3. Plant garlic starts
4. Move 1-year-old asparagus to better light in hothouse
That was enough. It was a glorious day so we thought the rest was best spent on a hike. We loaded the dogs into the truck and headed out to Boy Scout Road and the tranquility of Big Branch Marsh.