Every two years we tend to keep a truck load of replacement heifers. What this means is instead of selling the heifers, along with the steers, on the video sale (as commercial cattle); we keep them to replace our old cows that are starting to decline in health. This does many things, it keeps our herd young and healthy, it improves the genetics in our herd and I get to sell the “open” heifers as grass fed and finished beef to the public.
Before I started selling to the public, we would either harvest the beefs for the weekend cowboys that helped us on the ranch or we would load the heifers into a trailer and take them to the auction yard. Yes, it was a disservice to the beautiful, quality beef we raised but it was quick and easy, compared with direct marketing. During college I managed to talk my parents into letting me direct market our extra heifers. After all I did major in Ag Business with an emphasis in marketing – this is what I was made to do!
Selling beef to the public instead of to a feed lot is a lot more work. I have to find buyers, explain how we harvest, cut and wrap the beef, find a butcher shop that I trust and that can accommodate us, get payments from customers, pay the butcher shop, separate the “open” heifers away from the rest of the herd, determine a price, help my customers with their cutting and wrapping orders, answer any and all questions relating to beef, well, you get the picture. Instead of having one buyer I know and trust buy my entire product at once, I have many buyers, I’ve never met before, buying small quantities of my product over a month and a half. There is a lot more risk and work involved when the public is involved.
I started at our local farmers market. As a 21 year old college student, getting up at 5:00 AM to sit in the cold, heat or rain only to have eco-Mommies and “educated” foodies tell me how bad beef was for the environment and people wasn’t too fun. Most people respond pretty well when they learn you are a 6th generation rancher, earning your degree in agriculture and will listen to you, but there is a certain demographic that no matter how much science and experience you have – will never believe you (because I’m not a celebrity or on TV). And they just happen to all shop at farmer’s market.
After I determined that selling at the farmer’s market was not for me, I started marketing to friends and family. That worked for a couple of years until SOMETHING BAD HAPPENED. That something bad was I had a “friend” agree to purchase a beef. Then after I had the beef harvested, cut and wrapped – he decided that he didn’t want it. So I was stuck with a beef that I couldn’t sell because she was already dead (we sell our cattle alive – there are a whisper less regulations that way).
However I learned from SOMETHING BAD. I started getting 50% deposits. I started telling my customers that payment is require before you pick your beef up, if I thought a particular person was going to cause me any drama, I didn’t sell to them. Things got better. My parents started letting me have more responsibility and more beef to sell. I started a blog about the ranch so people could see where they were getting their beef and who I am. I really enjoy connecting with buyers, connecting farm to fork gives me a rush.
People want to know more about their food now. This makes me very happy, they are demanding local food, unprocessed food, and they want to know HOW food gets from farm to fork. This has been great for me! I’ve sold more beef to the public this year than I have ever! But it has also been a lot of work for me and my family, it’s enjoyable to teach and share about our ranching life. But our livelihood does not hinge on the 10 animals I sell to the public, so when SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS I have less incentive to make my product available to the public. So remember it’s hard for producers out there, especially when we are trying to develop new markets. If you really are one of those people that want to buy local and support local farmers, listen to us when we tell you the process/policies, pay us when you get your product., basically help us, help you. There is nothing I HATE more than chasing one of my customers down to get my payment. Let’s make this an enjoyable experience for us all!