We knew this would happen - and we still went ahead and did it anyway.
Last March, we shared our vision for the 2020 poultry flocks at the Genuine Faux Farm. We put it out there so people would know our plans, just as we often do. Here's the nutshell of what it was like in March/April 2020:
People were hoarding toilet paper and they were buying up egg supplies. Prices for eggs in the store were going up and people were finding themselves baking and cooking at home. This led to a shortage in eggs for the general public.
Our response at the farm was to bring the number of hens in our hen flock back to the numbers we had in prior years. Yes, we got a larger number of hen chicks - knowing that they would not start laying until the Fall. It wasn't a solution for the immediate problem, but it was the only way our farm could help to address the shortage.
A year later, most people have completely forgotten that our national food chain was unable to deal with the shift in demand. Many have also forgotten that it was local foods and local growers that stepped up to fill the gap in many locations. I have many farmer acquaintances who expanded their CSA slots, implemented home deliveries or modified their delivery methods to provide contactless hand-offs. While our farm was really no longer so much in the equation as it once was, there were many others who were.
No On/Off Switch
Back to last year's shortage of eggs.
We had been watching demand for our products, including eggs, decline over a period of a few years. We can attribute this to many factors and that's not the point of this particular blog. The point is, we decided to reduce the size of our hen flock to a number that we thought would probably prevent us from the issue of having refrigeration units full of a backlog of eggs we could not sell.
In short, it was a business decision. Hens require labor. Eggs and egg sales require labor. And, there are supplies and feed to buy. We couldn't really afford to stay at the same level and donate the extra and we weren't really feeling like our model fit in other sales venues at that time.
Then, suddenly, a pandemic hit. People we had not heard from, but had remained on our egg and produce sales lists, started responding that they wanted eggs. Others who had been getting a dozen eggs now and again suddenly wanted two dozen (or more) a week.
The hens we had did NOT have an on/off switch (nor do the current hens for that matter). We could not hit a magic button and increase production in a moment's time. There was no "chicken store" where we could go get another thirty laying hens that would go to work immediately. So, we were stuck with the production numbers (maybe 3 dozen to 4 dozen a day) we had.
Then we probably made two mistakes:
1. We limited sales to a dozen per interested party in an effort to get something to everyone who showed interest. We wanted to be fair and we wanted to be kind and spread the wealth, so to speak.
2. We ordered hen chicks to raise the flock to the larger numbers again. Perhaps this pandemic would be the boost that would allow us to move eggs at the prior levels we'd had in the past?
I should probably apologize to the fine people who were regularly getting eggs from us in the weeks prior to the egg shortage in 2020. We should have filled all of your orders first, regardless of the amount you asked for...
Why? Because, for the most part, you are still with us, now that we are back to harvesting and cleaning six dozen eggs a day.
Most of the other folks who suddenly wanted eggs from us again? Well, we don't hear from most of them anymore. (note - if you read this and are one of these people, please don't take this personally. We all have to make our choices and life is more complicated than deciding where you get your eggs from and how many you will purchase from week to week - see below).
We didn't want to believe this would be the case, but I think we knew it would happen in our heart of hearts. There are so many times a person can be told, "we don't have enough for your order," before they move on to some other place. We are aware that we limit our delivery times and locations and we are not as convenient as many other sources. Believe me. We get it. You wanted your eggs in March, April, May and June of last year and we didn't have them. Why would you stick around until the young hens started laying in August?
But, Do YOU Get It?
Some things I suspect those who read this will not know is that we have been fortunate to be able to offload some eggs during the Winter months (maybe 130 dozen) to another farm when their hens were not producing to cover the demand. That's a lot of eggs to sell that were going to go begging if we hadn't been fortunate to have that outlet.
With Spring's arrival, that farm no longer has an egg shortage. That's good for them and we ARE happy that is the case. But, that safety valve for our own egg production is gone.
We are also aware that there are a few folks who have been taking larger numbers of eggs from us regularly, consolidating orders for friends and family into one. It's nice to fill an order for eight or ten dozen eggs without blinking. We are grateful for these generous and kind people. But, if those folks need to do something else with their time, where do the eggs go?
Now, before you think this is a rant about OUR customers and OUR farm sales, I want you to think again. We are very grateful to all who patronize us and enjoy our eggs. We are also grateful to people who have patronized us in the past and no longer do so for any number of reasons (convenience, new stage in life, new location, farm closer to them, etc). It has been clear that our farm is changing and adjusting away from our old models anyway. But, I would be lying if I claimed the inconsistency in personal demand had nothing to do with it. It did. But, it was not the only factor.
We will simply be making adjustments to how we farm and how we move our eggs. Perhaps we'll reduce the flock again? Maybe we'll start selling through some other outlet? We've already ordered hen chicks for 2021 in numbers that would maintain the larger flock size for the next year, but we could always sell some of the ladies and drop back to a smaller flock.
Heck, we could just go with a dozen hens and feed ourselves and gift the odd dozen eggs now and again.
What I want you to understand is that small, diversified farms that target local food production feel the inconsistency of consumer attention far more than the bulk, specialized, producers do. Not only do they feel it more, they feel it more immediately.
If you want consistent, quality, local foods you have to consistently support quality, local foods.
It's that simple.
Fill up the CSAs. Make long lines for your local grower's contact deliveries. When farmers markets re-open, keep each vendor busy with sales. Don't just tolerate when they sell out - rejoice for them when they do! And then keep ordering so they sell out every week! Encourage them to adjust to higher demand by partnering with another, newer grower so we get more people on the land.
Thank you for listening, reading and considering - and have a good day and remainder of the week.