Bacon Economics Update

Back in October I mentioned that I was going to sell our farm raised pork using a totally untested method. Being the rash unmanageable maniac I am, I was going to ask for a specific numeric amount of cash in exchange for the pork. Nobody in farm country does this; ever. I think it’s probably a rural religious thing that’s deeply rooted in farmer’s souls. I explained it here:

  • Bacon Update: Part 2: Scoring Bacon From A Pusher

    You’re radiating confusion… …No money changed hands, you don’t know what you’ll get, you don’t know how much you’ll pay, you don’t know when it’ll happen…

    Three weeks later your cell phone rings while you’re in the middle of a business meeting… “Your pig is done. I close at five.”…

    You go back to the meeting and explain that your child just got struck by lightning. Therefore you must leave right away.

    …Bill sticks the rest in an old waxed box and hands you a bill for what appears to be a random amount… …You still don’t quite know what you’ve received or how the amount you paid was determined. They might as well be using a roulette wheel.

  • Bacon Update: Part 3: The Barter Economy

    “Yes I am selling pigs. Do you want one?”

    “Yes! Yes I do! How much?”

    “I have no idea whatsoever.”

Well I stood up to the world and won! I set a solid, numeric price and sold that way. I took on all the expense of the actual farming (which is a huge risk), then I took a deep breath and doubled down. I paid (out of pocket) the butchering cost (which ‘aint cheap). Then I gambled with hanging weight and a bunch of other unknowables by promising “at least” so much weight (and I exceeded that weight and let the customer enjoy their good fortune of getting a bit more than I promised).

I boiled a thousand unknowns into a price and I sold at that price. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Because I took on all that risk (and hassle) I reached markets that aren’t normally willing to buy directly from a farm. Not everyone is cut out to wander around farm country trying to score ham. I was trying to reach these people… because I care. Also because bacon.

Since I was taking on extra risk and doing more work and trying to reach untapped markets I charged fairly high; probably a bit more than one would pay if you bought from a local small farm and paid the usual random “by the pound plus butchering fees and an extra ten bucks if I need to pay alimony that week” pricing scheme. Doing all the leg work myself was a big hassle but I think it made for happy customers and allowed me to sell at a “value added” price.

Also our pork was epic quality. I expected good and got amazing. The kind of delicious taste that inspires sagas and poetry and becomes pretty much the apex of civilization. It was outrageously good. We had some on Thanksgiving and it was like nothing I’ve experienced. I think that big huge pen and all the exercise (and good bloodlines) combined to make the leanest tastiest pork I’ve ever encountered; and that’s not an exaggeration.

From a purely economic point of view, the perfect price starts when you cover all your expenses (piglets, feed, fencing, etc…), allow for risk, ensure a fair profit, an dvalue your labor at more than zero. Ha ha ha… like that’s ever happened in homesteading. Take it from me, if you’re raising food and selling it, you’re getting hosed. Switch to selling semiconductors or crack.

But suppose you’re so stupid that you can’t help yourself. (I’m not the only one. It’s something that attracts fools and believers. You know why family farmers have “day jobs”? Because they’re idiots. Nobody works a “day job” to support their hobby of accounting. Folks  don’t work nights and weekends as a dentist to support their hobby as a transmission mechanic. Farming is not terribly wise if you’re in it exclusively for the money.) Embrace it and get on with it.

So back at the drawing board I picked what I thought the market would bear and hopefully make a fair profit (maybe). Everything was based on imperfect information. I didn’t even know the butchering fee until I’d already paid it. Capitalism is a crapshoot.

If I priced too low, people would stampede and shove money in my pockets, and then I’d work to death for hardly any profit. I’ve done that before with meatbirds.

If I priced too high, nobody would buy and I’d wind up with 600 pounds of meat to eat. Hm… is that really so bad? First world problem right?

Well I priced high and at first got no takers. I was pretty worried. Maybe I’d been too greedy. I dropped it a tiny bit and prepared to freak out if nobody called.

Then, gradually and from unexpected sources, we made a sale here and there. We sold 1/2 pig at a time. (That was part of my idea to make the price more accessible to a consumer who can’t handle a full pig’s worth of food or muster a full pig’s worth of cash.)

We’re just a homestead so we didn’t need to close many deals. Even so, each deal wound up being logistically complex and nerve racking. Also, delivering meat to a mutually convenient location, such as a parking lot, is totally legal but looks massively illegal. I’m just sayin’. (If you see a guy accepting an envelope full of crinkled bills while handing over many small white packages from the back of a truck… that’s me selling bacon and not Tony Montana.)

Because this was our first season, each sale was a celebration. I’d clutch the money like Scrooge McDuck and jump for joy. Of course the money instantly evaporated but it’s still a nice feeling when you make an honest buck.

One memorable sale left us with a handful of cash and everyone was in very high spirits. On the way home we and some friends were attacked by a Japanese hibachi grill. What a party! We burned half the profits in an hour long sake soaked blast. No regrets.

We wanted to keep 1/2 pig for ourselves. We wound up with two halves left. Ah well, I’d priced too high. I guess I’d learned my lesson. Also more bacon for me.

Then, when I’d given up hope, Mrs. Curmudgeon closed on the last 1/2, hauled it off, and made the sale. Now that I think about it, I never saw the money. It never occurred to me to wonder about it until now. I knew I married a brilliant woman.

Having lined up just exactly the bare minimum customers to clear our meagre inventory I’m convinced I picked just the right price. Another nickel higher and I’d have lost a few sales and would balloon on a full winter’s all pork diet. Another dime lower and I wouldn’t have been able to afford that extra appetizer at the hibachi grill. Yin and yang.

There’s nothing to do but wait for spring and try the whole fool cycle again. I figure we’ll get a few repeat customers (the meat was really really really good) and start advertising earlier and all will be well.

Today I got a call that reaffirmed my plans.

“Do you have any more pork? Customer X gave me your phone number.”

“I’m sorry. It’s all gone.”

“Oh bummer. Customer X recommended it highly.”

“Yeah, we cooked some for Thanksgiving and I’m still beside myself with joy.”

“I want one for next year!”

“Well I don’t want to pressure you…”

“I missed out. Was it that good?”

“Yes, your life is not complete because you haven’t tasted this pork.”

“Here’s my number. Call me.”

“Will do.”

Isn’t that grand? Sometimes the good guys win! Also, I think next weekend I’m going back to that hibachi place. It’s expensive but I’m a rich pork farmer now.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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26 Responses to Bacon Economics Update

  1. Bruce says:

    I don’t suppose you’d deliver all the way to Montana?

    • For a fee… yes. But I’m talking the kind of money that fills my truck’s fuel tank and that baby gets thirsty. I’m always been willing to entertain a road trip. More than once I’ve gone well over a thousand miles to buy a used car (with mixed results, sometimes it sucked and sometimes it was worth the effort). Why not the same to sell or barter pork?

  2. Mark Matis says:

    Best be careful lest the “Here’s my number. Call me.” is an Only One infiltrating to incite and indict. Remember that the Four Grandpas in a Waffle House trusted their “friend”… Your guy might be an undercover pig inspector or sumthin’…

  3. cspschofield says:

    You do realize that your little enterprise violates hundreds, if not thousands, of FDA, EPA, etc. regulations, don’t you?

    Of course, REFRAINING from raising pork, except according to a strict regulatory framework, established in 1933, and updated in 1941, 1944, 1947, 1955, 1961, 1966, 1972, 1979, 1987, 1990, 1999, 2004, 2007, and 2013, ALSO violates hundreds, if not thousands, of FDA, EPA, etc. regulations.

    Don’t shoot ’till you see the green of their teeth.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations on being a successfull filthy capitalist! The down side is the other occupants of the room I’m in are irritated with me at my laughter while reading your piece. The upside is they let me blame you. Good job! Keep ’em coming. Also, now I want bacon for breakfast. I presume you have reasonably-priced bacon for sale with the usual delivery fee of a six pack of Wisconsin beer plus $700 for incidentals plus gas money? It’s freeway in WI, so don’t try to charge me for tolls. Handshake deal, my butt; I want an itemized bill.

  5. Albert says:

    So, five pigs next year?

      • Mark Matis says:

        But who’s gonna get to name ’em THIS time around?

      • As a capitalist I should auction off the naming rights. Who wants to bid?

      • Albert says:

        Dunno about bidding, but my inner mean streak thinks it would be hilarious if one of them is named Wilbur.

      • I’m going to do something interesting with their naming when they’re born. I’m not sure what but I’ll try to think of something funny.

      • Albert says:

        Out of curiosity, what are the approximate dimensions of the corral? It’d be interesting to hear how much leg-room the bacon-on-hooves require to produce that yummy lean pork.

      • I can’t recall off the top of my head but it was somewhere in the vicinity of 2/10th acre for three pigs.

        It was my intention that they’d turn the whole thing into a dirt / mud area. (I’m sick of mowing and the area is loaded with nasty burr docs.) It was a bit too big. When they were little they scarcely used a fraction of it. As they got older they managed to tear up about 2/3, of the vegetation.

      • Albert says:

        So the equivalent of a square 90-100 feet on a side. Yeah, I see why you said it was over-sized for 3 pigs.

        So, burrdoc – you mean the plant that’s considered to go well with pork in miso soup, over in Japan? Hmmmm . . . I wonder how much that influenced the flavor.

      • Yes, it is indeed the plant that is eaten in Japan (and elsewhere). I hate the stuff and my homestead has it by the truckload. The place I own was grazed and then abandoned for several years in the past. That led to Godzilla sized burdoc that I’m only recently hammering into submission. (As far as I’m concerned the damn stuff serves no purpose but to tangle my dog’s fur and mess up my wool coats.)

        I’d been mowing the area for years and so it was down to mostly grass but waist high burrdoc springs up whenever I don’t mow. This year I’d hoped the pigs would root it all down to soil and tear up the burrdoc root for a snack. It didn’t work. When young they mostly ran around in the shade of ginormous burdoc like monkeys in a jungle. They only chewed up the sod as they got large. They did put a dent in it then but not really the “scorched earth” I imagined. Note; pigs have tough hide and burrdoc doesn’t bother them a bit.

        So there you have it: the pork was a success but pig based “vegetation management” was a bust. (Luckily bacon was the main point and killing weeds was only a minor experiment.) Also, I didn’t need to mow anyway because a pig sty is not a lawn right?

        Next spring I’m going seed any bare patches of soil with turnip at first thaw (pigs love turnip and should have fun digging it up). I’ll also Roundup the fence line. (Gotta’ keep the electric line clear.) I plan to do this many weeks before the piglets arrive on scene. I’ll also go for a larger number of pigs in the same area.

        I think the amazing flavor was three things; the open space, the good food they got, and their bloodline. I’m a little vague on the bloodline thing but it seems to matter. Just as angus beef is said to be better than a holstein I’ve got a better breed of pig. I deserve no credit for this, I just bought what was recommended by smart folks who know this stuff. Also I didn’t “fatten them up fast” like your average farmer. I was in no hurry. I don’t know if that helped but the pork was amazing so maybe it’s a good idea.

  6. P2 says:

    Seeing as it’s too far to travel, plus crossing that international border thing (4 times!) just isn’t worth it, would you be willing to let FEDEX do the legwork? I’m thinkin cash plus a few pounds of silver or red salmon, maybe a caribou steak or 3……

  7. PJ says:

    Where are you located anyway? We are always on the lookout for pigs. I’m in western Oregon (the wet, depressing part with too many people).

  8. Roger says:

    My wife and I sell produce at a farm markets on the weekends. We grow much of what we sell but hit an Amish auction for what we don’t. In September a guy approached me who raises hogs. He wanted to know if he could buy my leftovers. Until this year we had a steer getting the extra. But dealing with in-laws has me buying at the store or going vegetarian. So i have been dropping the extras and not charging. 50lbs here 100lbs there. The last drop was a clean out all the leftovers, squash, potatoes, beets etc. About a 1000 lbs of stuff.
    We now have a hand shake agreement for 2 hogs (I pay for processing) for my leftovers. In season it is almost criminal what I can buy produce for. We both left the hand shake giggling about the deal we made. I get bacon for vegetables!!!! He gets money and bacon for vegetables!!!


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