Regardless of where your homesteading is located, one thing is certain… you will always need at least a little money to make it all happen. Property taxes need to be paid, vehicles need to be purchased occasionally, and doctors no longer accept a couple of dead chickens in exchange for their services. Make no mistake: If you live on a homestead, you will need access to cold, hard cash.
Outside employment is the solution for many, but working a nine-to-five job isn’t for everyone and might not be a viable option if you live in a rural environment where jobs are scarce. The high price of gas for a long commute can also be a deterrent. A better option might be to create a business built on a small, yet loyal customer base. By thinking creatively, you might be able to spend more time enjoying the cozy nest that you’ve built for yourself and eliminate the need to leave the farm in a quest for a paycheck.
If you can market a quality product at a fair price, it is likely that someone will be willing to buy it. However, identifying a specialty niche product or service for your home-based business can be far more profitable than selling the usual offerings and often require a lot less work.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a niche as:
a: a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted <finally found her niche> b: a habitat supplying the factors necessary for the existence of an organism or species c: the ecological role of an organism in a community especially in regard to food consumption d: a specialized market.
Merriam-Webster aside, let me define a specialty business niche in layman’s terms: A specialty business niche is a product or service that won’t necessarily appeal to all customers, but it will appeal to enough consumers to enable you to charge more money because the product or service is value-added. With a really good niche, demand for your product may actually grow as more people hear about it. This, in turn, can allow you to earn more money for less work.
There is plenty of information available in the library and on the internet about finding your niche in the business world. On a farm or a homestead, a niche can be a bit more difficult to identify. Sometimes, you can utilize a skill honed from a prior career such as building websites, providing telephone customer service or performing internet research for a fee, but what happens when your prior career doesn’t translate easily into homestead cash? Here are a few ideas to get the thought process started to identify and fill a void in the marketplace and the void in your wallet.
1. Listen to people to capitalize on an overlooked problem: Growing up, I couldn’t name a single person with a known sensitivity to the chemical fertilizers used on food crops. We all ate our favorite processed foods, oblivious to origin. Modern science has allowed physicians to identify people with this issue, including several of my relatives. Luckily, the internet has made it possible for many of these people to have virtual get-togethers. They share information in cyberspace forums and email groups about the challenges of finding foods fertilized naturally with manure, rather than petrochemicals. Swapping sources for organic products, they find that managing their food issues isn’t quite as challenging with the support of a few e-friends.
An enterprising individual might pull together a collection of wheat-free recipes which could be marketed and sold as a cookbook to the members of such a forum. Another option would be to create an e-newsletter with helpful articles about wheat-free living with targeted advertisements to generate income. This type of a business would probably be best suited to a person with a background in the nursing or dietary field or to someone with firsthand experience in coping with a similar food allergy issue. Additionally, a bit of technical savvy would be required to bring these ideas to fruition.
2. Make sure that you have practical, reasonable access to your customers: In an urban center, a niche bakery business might specialize in cupcakes only. As a matter of fact, this type of establishment is gaining in popularity in cities across America. As successful as this idea has been for some entrepreneurs, it would likely fail in the country. There just aren’t enough people who need heavily frosted confections on a daily basis in a rural area. Besides, chocolate cupcakes tend to resemble cow patties when they are shipped via the postal service.
3. Work smarter, not harder: A former co-worker of mine inherited the family horse farm. It came complete with a lot of horses that ate a lot of her money in the form of feed, producing an overabundance of manure to shovel. After operating on her own for a few years, she realized that this was also a lot of WORK! She decided that she wanted to raise smaller animals and acquired some goats instead. She tried several breeds, but they didn’t quite meet her needs. She needed to maintain a large herd to be able to sell them for meat and they occasionally needed medical assistance, which ate into the profits.
Eventually, her research led her to Myotonic goats, which are also known as fainting goats. Fainting goats will freeze up and tip over when they are scared, rendering them unable to move. Originally bred to be sacrificial animals, they were pastured with sheep to act as bait for wolves, allowing the more expensive sheep to escape unharmed as the wolves would feast on the defenseless goat that had fallen and could no longer get up.
She tried her hand at raising the breed and found them to be easy to get along with and economical to boot! Although the goats did eat as much feed as any other breed their size and required medical care at about the same rate, Myotonic goats were infinitely more profitable. You see, other breeds of goats sold for between $50 and $150, but the average Myotonic goat sold in excess of $700 each! She was able to keep and care for a much smaller herd and yet earn enough income to maintain her farm. It has only been a few years, but she is gaining notoriety as a top breeder of these animals and she currently has a waiting list for her does and bucks.
4. Only sell a product or service that you believe in: A recent trip to the local farmers’ market led to a wonderful discovery for our family…American Buffalo meat also known as bison. The salesman in the booth did a phenomenal job. He energetically touted the taste and health benefits of the meat to everyone who passed by and managed to sell numerous packages containing 3 ground buffalo patties to several people in the few minutes that we were at his booth. Though he retailed a number of buffalo meat products like sausages and various cuts of steaks, the patties were the least expensive item that he carried at around $2.00 for each 1/3 lb burger. It was rather pricey to people as frugal as we have become, but we bought a pack anyway just to give it a try.
We were sold after the first bite. For those who haven’t tried buffalo before, the meat is tender and somehow sweeter than regular ground beef. Since it provides a different dining experience, customers are willing to pay for it. Though we won’t try to replace ground beef with buffalo in most recipes, we have committed to purchase it again as a special treat. Incidentally, rather than ground buffalo patties, we had wanted to try buffalo breakfast sausage as our first purchase. Unfortunately, the sausage was sold out. His booth had been open for a mere 4 hours before he sold out of everything except a few rib-eye steaks and ground buffalo patties. Most of his bison products sell at the modest price of $9.50/lb while the steaks sell at a premium $22.00/lb. Best of all, there is no middle man to take a cut out of the profits.
I’ve never had the opportunity to learn about what led up to him and his family deciding to raise buffalo for meat, but I am quite certain that they probably used to raise animals that weren’t quite as profitable. The animals graze on the lush green grass that grows on the land and replenish the soil with their excrement. In the winter, the herd whiles away the hours, munching on organic hay grown on the property.
This farmer actually makes a profit selling an all-natural niche food product and likely has more free time to spend with his family than he would have had if they were raising cattle. You see, he and his family don’t interact with the bison all that much, allowing them to wander as they would on the prairies out west. It is very difficult to be a successful, traditional farmer in America and the red tape in New York State makes it even more of an uphill battle. Though our state’s farmland is beautiful and yields a variety of crops, it appears that most of the meat and produce at the grocery store originates outside of the state. Our buffalo farmer has found a way to beat the odds by taking the meat straight to the consumer, which directly benefits his family.
5. Consider the size and scope of the venture: In some cases, the amount of land or a physical limitation determines the type of farm venture you can effectively pursue. You also have to make an honest assessment about the number of hours that you are willing to devote to a business. When our urban family decided to try homesteading, we found that we needed to have animals that could easily fit on a ¾ acre city lot and not be in violation of inner-city zoning laws.
It was important that we manage any waste, so as not to generate foul odors which would put us in the crosshairs of the local code enforcement officer. The lack of acreage also meant that we couldn’t have a large quantity of any particular type of animal. My husband and I both have some issues with back pain. Had we more acreage, we still wouldn’t want to wrangle with large livestock like cows and horses.
Quail were our first homestead critters. We researched the breeds and found that they require very little feed, don’t take up much space and mature to produce eggs far faster than any variety of chicken! We now have a few raised hutches in our backyard, affectionately known as Quail Jails. The hutches allow us to care for the birds (and our aching backs!) without much stooping or bending.
Everything that we had been told about these little birds has proven to be true. Exactly six weeks after they hatched, we began to get organic eggs, eliminating our need for buying chicken eggs at the local farmers market. With 17 laying hens, we began to be overrun with eggs. After placing a classified ad on Craigslist, we were in the organic quail egg business. Ten tiny quail eggs sell for $3 and they are fairly popular in our area for use in Asian cuisine and as appetizers for parties. Mmmm…There’s nothing like a miniature organic deviled egg! Though we haven’t ventured into selling fertile quail hatching eggs or chicks, we will be expanding into those areas soon. In addition to paying for their own feed, the quail have also proven to be capable of paying for the feed for our other livestock, too!
Our other livestock is a bit more traditional. Armed with an incubator, we hatched our own chickens. Not just any chickens, though… We chose a breed that is highly sought after by backyard hobbyists: Black Copper Marans. A French breed that is gaining in popularity in the United States due to their large chocolate brown eggs, Black Copper Marans roosters are beautiful and look like the bird that you’d see on a box of classic corn flakes.
It is very difficult to find quality stock of this breed as day-old chicks, causing many people to pay a premium price to buy bubble-wrapped hatching eggs shipped via the US Postal Service. We expect our miniature flock of fifteen birds to earn about $200 per week once they begin to lay next month. Any eggs that don’t sell, will be included on our breakfast plates, making this a win-win situation.
While all of our birds are willing to work for chicken feed, they are also treated to organic mealworms and scraps from veggies grown using the organic fertilizer that they generously donate to the cause. We consider ourselves to be quite fortunate to have a small taste of the country while living in the city and planning our future homestead.
6. Take stock of what develops naturally: Farms and homesteads can be the perfect place to obtain the raw materials for many crafts. Pine branches, pine cones, feathers, and seedpods can all form the basis for many decorative household crafts. Certain flowers like roses and lavender make a fine base for an all natural potpourri while colorful ears of corn and their stalks make for fabulous autumn decorations.
If you have an artistic leaning, then these items can be used to construct finished handicrafts, such as sachets and wreaths to sell at a farmers market or a country boutique. Country crafted décor is quite popular among city dwellers and tends to fetch a good price, especially around the holidays.
Check out a few crafting magazines at the local library or subscribe to a good one that piques your interest in order to obtain ideas. If crafting isn’t your thing, you can always sell those raw materials to crafters. They are usually excited to find a good local source of materials.
7. One homesteader’s trash is another person’s treasure: I was rather distressed to read how many times manure has been mentioned in the course of this article. No matter how hard one tries to add variety, there are only so few names for the stuff that seems to occupy a place of prominence in the homesteading lifestyle. Piles and piles of excrement… It is generated by all manner of farm critters and shoveled by all manner of critter keepers. Regardless of its origin, there is usually someone in your community who is eager to dress their petunias in the finest black gold fertilizer.
A well-placed advertisement in a local newspaper or on Craigslist will help you to connect with gardeners. If you are particularly lucky, they will come with their own shovels and containers to cart it away, leaving you free to sip lemonade and count cash. Of course, as a value-added service, you could offer delivery for an additional fee.
The ideas that have been presented might not be exactly right for you and your family. Hopefully, they will help you to start thinking about viable options that will allow you to develop your unique skills and property assets into a money making venture that still allows you to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of your homestead. Be sure to keep your mind open to revenue generating ideas and do your research to determine the pitfalls of each. Remember the old adage about not putting all of your eggs in one basket. Instead, design your income streams so that there is always something flowing in to build a nest egg to offset circumstances both seen and unforeseen. Hope to see you sipping lemonade and counting cash in the very near future!