Farm | Scaling Your Farm to Fit You

Homestead Meats - Grassfed Beef and lamb Farm - Southern Wisconsin - Greater Madison Area

Scaling your farm to fit You

Scaling your farm is going to look different for you than it does for me and other farmers. Each farmer and farm is going to answer the scale question differently and that is what is beautiful about this subject. Scaling your farm is going to be specific to YOU. You have to scale your farm to fit you, your goals and your desired lifestyle. It may mean a large operation or it may mean something small.

While it might be nice to know the answer to the scale question before you start, I’ve found that this question continues to develop and change for me.

So what things should you think when it comes to defining your scale?

how many people are involved

Is it a family operation, or are you just a girl with a love for livestock like I was?

When we first set out to farm it was going to be myself and my husband, Matt. However, Mattquickly realized that livestock were not his passion and that our ‘farm gig’ would fall mostly on me. So, I’ve had to look at what type of operation I can reasonably manage. Now, Matt does help me with things like building infrastructure and putting up endless bales of hay, but again, this was something we had to consider in our scale. Matt’s off-farm job keeps him very busy, and while he has flexibility he isn’t able to help on a daily basis, and honestly neither of us want him to.

You might come from a farming family with the same love for the lifestyle as you, or you may be on your own. But how much can you realistically run in either situation?

Do you want to hire

This could be actual employees or it might mean contracted work.

I’ve written off employees in my operation for a lot of reasons (again I never like to say never, but for now I’m not considering this), though I’ve contracted other farmers to help with with tasks like baling hay and projects where I need special equipment. Hiring and managing employees is too much office work for my desired lifestyle. I want to be hands-on with the operation, not sitting behind a desk paying Federal and State taxes, completing payroll and figuring out employee benefits. So, contracted labor has worked better for me.

what systems can you put in place to make scaling easier

Every year I take a look at my growth chart and set new goals and projections. Things have changed a heck of a lot in four years and with the change I’ve had to improve my systems to give myself room to grow. The biggest change was mental for me. I grew up very ‘dutch’ which has been a huge blessing, but it can also be a hindrance to scaling. I’ve had to re-evaluate what ‘the cost of things’ and ‘the cost of my time’ means in the scheme of the bottom line. In order to scale to my idea of a ‘profitable’ farm I had to put value on my time in order to place those orders on things that reduce my workload.

For example…

When I started grazing spending $85 on a grazing reel seemed like a waste of money and I would hand wrap my twine to move cattle. It was incredibly inefficient and I spent WAY too much time moving cattle to new pastures. Now I have 3 reels that allow me to quickly move cattle from one paddock to the next.

I kept track of receipts and expenses in Google spreadsheets because it was free, now I pay to use Quickbooks because it saves me LOADS of time at tax time and on a daily basis. It helps me keep track of customer payments so I no longer have to manually remember to ask for payment etc. Paying sales tax, federal and state deposits, and running Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet reports are now available at a click of a button. That $275 investment has saved me thousands of dollars in time over that initial cost.

I used to weigh each cut as it came back from the butcher because getting weights cost me something (an we’re talking pennies here); now I have it labeled with weights to save me time during inventory and packaging.

I used to send invoices to customers after weighing their meat to make sure I got every dime owed to me, now I sell it all online based on weight averages so I don’t have to spend the time to manually bill anyone.

I bought hundreds of temporary fence posts so that I can set up my rotations once, and the rest of the summer I only have to run wire. Instead of 4 trips across the field per day, just to move cattle, I’m down to two. Multiply that savings per grazing season (with a daily move) and I’m saving 30+ hours a season in cattle moves.

These are just a few examples, but these little changes were necessary in order for me to grow. Your system design might look radically different than mine and that’s great. Again, you have to put systems in place that help YOU scale.

What is your idea of profitable

If you want to bring home ‘loads of bacon’ you might need to scale big or find a niche market. If you want to add a little side income then a small operation might work for you.

I was after a viable income, a big enough income to make farming a good portion of my working hours. However, I’ve diversified my business with non-farm offerings to get to what I felt was a profitable career. Success and ‘profitable’ look different for each person, Matt and I don’t always agree on what these numbers actually are, so you’re going to need to decide for yourself. I chose to diversify outside of the farm because I didn’t want to farm full-time. I wanted to pursue other passions along-side farming so that’s what I’ve done and it’s what works for ME, things may look different for YOU.

Do you have access to land

This might be a huge limiting factor when it comes to scaling your farm. Whether you buy or rent land, accessing good land for your operation could be a huge obstacle.

Originally my husband and I were looking at 10 acre farms. However, it became quickly apparent that 10 acres was not going to allow me to scale to my desired income. I can’t say we got anything but lucky in being able to get our 55 acre farm, because we definitely had everything fall into place. I’m also blessed that we have an additional 20 acres in my family should I ever want to go bigger. Land can be a huge hurdle, and you’re not alone in that struggle.

What’s your end goal

Do you want to work 365 days a year, do you want to have winters off and raise quick to slaughter livestock or do you have the means to hire? Do you want to make a full income on the farm, or do you enjoy farming as a side-hustle?

Defining your end goal will help you scale to what works for you, your goals and your lifestyle.

I hope you find your perfect scale

I really hope this gives you a little bit of help when it comes to defining your scale. You may not always answer these questions the same, life changes and your ideas might too. If you’re anything like me you might have to ask the ‘scale’ question on a yearly basis, but I hope whatever you decide you find a way to make it happen.

Brittany McCoy