pigs, money, and concience

   Finally some sunshine the last few days, and the pasture is beginning to dry out, even in the places that run with water all spring.  The wettest spots will soon be firm enough to put Isabel and Bridget on, and the forage there is nice and thick.  We can distinctly see how much better the sward is for last year’s rotations, and we expect great things for this year.

   We took delivery on the three hogs on Saturday; one customer picked up her half that day, and we delivered the other half today.  Driving into the city on a nice spring day is not what we would have chosen to do, but the check for that half hog sweetened the trip.

   Here we touch on one of the questions —  and if we haven’t made it clear that as farmers, we are mostly dealing with questions to which we do not yet have perfect answers, we are failing to communicate —  here, as we say, we touch on one of the many questions for which we have to craft creative answers as we learn this very primal vocation.  To whit, what should we charge for our beef and pork?  When we sell it, that is.  Mostly we don’t sell it, we eat it, but we sometimes have an extra animal, and then we have to come up with a price so we can sell it.  How to determine the price? 

   We started by going to K–  that is, a chain grocery store — where we noted that pork and cured hog products were, with the sole exception of split pigs’ feet, not a big seller, priced not less than $3.49 / #, and as much as $7.99 / #.  Commercial butchering around here runs about $.90 / # for hogs, so we hemmed a little and settled on $4.00 a pound hanging wt., since a hog dresses out a lot higher percentage of hanging wt. than a steer does.  At that price, we figured, buyer would be getting his meat for about five dollars a pound,.  We consider our milk-, swill (cooked human food)-, bakery product-, and corn-fed, naturally raised (small group pen with access to dirt and some grass) pork to be a superior product, and so do our buyers, and this price was immediately snapped up.

   But.

   Then we took the pigs to the butcher, and lo and behold, he was charging a MUCH,  and we mean MUCH, lower price per pound for a half hog.  So we called a farmer friend to get his price, and it, too, was much lower.  Hmmmm.

   We got out the books and slide rule and calculated our costs — always higher than we estimate them — and reconsidered what we needed to get above cost to make selling this pig worth our while.  At the outset, our hope had been that the pig sold would pay processing on our own hogs, a cost we normally avoid by butching our own.  We can do this in the winter, when the poor man proverbially has his ice; in May we cannot.  Processing adds ninety cents a pound to the cost of pork, and when the pig in question hangs over two hundred pounds, that’s a chunk of change.  But, whether our customers were willing or no, none of us were comfortable charging twice as much as the other guy, at least not until we were convinced that our product was twice as good.  So we refigured the price at $3.00 / #, which covered what we had in the pig, plus all the processing.  We are sure the customers will be satisfied, if a little puzzled, and we will all sleep better.

    Life is made of decisions. 

   Like right now, when we must decide to nurse the baby to sleep.

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