Farming can be a slow-to-grow business, so when you’re starting a farm, it’s important to have at least one high-profit venture. This venture should fit with your overall farm plan—a vegetable for vegetable farms, an animal for livestock farms—and it needs to be something that will pay for it’s initial investment within a few weeks or months. That way, this profitable venture can begin to support your other, perhaps slower, farming endeavors. (Looking at you, apple trees.)
1. Broiler Chickens
If you’re starting a livestock farm, think about starting with a fast-producing animal like broiler chickens. The temptation is often to raise laying hens, but broiler chickens are ready for market in six to nine weeks (depending on target weight) instead of 9 months, like the eggs from laying hens. These broilers are often at a sellable weight (4 pounds or so) in just a couple of months and go for $3 to $6 a pound depending on your market. They take up very little room, can be raised on pasture (which will increase their price-per-pound), and bring in a nice chunk of change very quickly.
To start, you will need to purchase chicks or incubate your own. Brood them in a warm, dry place for a couple weeks before putting them outside. Broilers also have many predators, so make sure they are well protected. Contact local processors early on to set up an appointment—they may be booked several months in advance.
If square footage is valuable on your farm, consider microgreens. Although they can be a finicky endeavor, microgreens can provide a large profit very quickly. Most are ready to harvest within two to three weeks and bring upwards of $15 per pound, often sold by the ounce. One thing with microgreens is that they need to be sold fresh, and they need to have a market. Otherwise, it can be a grave waste of seed.
Find a consistent market before diving too heavily into microgreens—retailers, restaurants or a farmers market are all great places to sell. Start with some shoots, like peas or sunflowers, and then move to a few of the less robust crops, like radishes and basil to introduce new flavors. Like all plants, microgreens need consistent water, sunlight and airflow to produce a healthy, consistent crop.
Another spectacularly fast-producing livestock for a budding farmer is rabbit. In roughly the same amount of time as broiler chickens, you can have rabbits ready for market—depending on the breed—in eight to 12 weeks for a 4- to 5-pound animal. I would advise researching your local processors or home-processing laws before diving too heavily into raising rabbits to make sure it’s legally viable. However, their niche quality among chefs makes them highly marketable and profitable.
Rabbits, like chickens, are a favorite treat for predators, so they must be kept well-protected. Not every rabbit is going to do well on pasture, so look for breed stock from someone who is already raising them in this way if that is your intention.
Flowers are an excellent opportunity to make a lot of money on a small amount of space. In just a couple of months, you can have a garden full of cosmos, celosia, sunflowers, zinnias and other annuals to start filling vases and peddling to local businesses and at farmers markets. At $10 tp $20 per bouquet, it doesn’t take long to start raising capital so you can invest in bulbs and some of the more exotic flowers.
Flowers are very similar to vegetables in that shelf-life matters. Make sure you have a nice cool place to take your flowers to get the field heat off and keep them fresh for market. “Local flowers” is a popular enterprise right now, so make sure you are not diving into a saturated market before, well, diving in.
5. Oyster Mushrooms
You probably didn’t see mushrooms coming, but don’t underestimate the potential of fungi in the marketplace. Oysters, in particular, can be grown just as fast as broiler chickens (8 to 12 weeks) and fetch a price of $10 to $18 per pound. It is admittedly not always easy to sell fresh oyster mushrooms, but they can be dried to be sold as a value-added item rather easily. Although you do have to buy the first round of spawn, once your oyster logs or blocks are done producing, you can split the remaining substrate (the growing medium) into new blocks. In other words, they are very easily propagated.
Disease can be an issue in growing oysters, and you will need a steady supply of organic substrate—straw, generally—plus, a way to sterilize it. The mushrooms should be chilled right away after harvest, and they have a week or so of shelf life, so they should be sold quickly. In general, however, they are extremely easy to grow and can be sold at markets, restaurants or retail shops.