Horse Business: additional income from horses: tree farming

Question: I was wondering what other ideas you had for making money on a horse farm?

Question: I have a boarding facility, 40 acres. What else can I do to earn more money?

Question: How can we make additional incomes on our horse boarding facility?

Answer from April Reeves: This was the most responses I received from any post – total of over 100 as of only a week or so since I put the post up. Since this seems to be the question of the ‘times’ we are in, I will wander into my memory banks and pull out some of the tricks I did with my horse facilities. While I made a good income with just horses alone, I enjoyed trying my hand at other things, and took advantage of all the tax breaks available to me.

I will post one at a time, so I don’t spend half a year writing a long winded post, which I have been known to do…..

Tree Farms

I found this to be one of the most useful and interesting ventures I had going. How many of you have ‘spaces’ around your farm that are just sitting there empty and bare? Now, how many of you know what incomes a tree farm makes?

In the area you live, you need to decide whether: 1. People buy live trees at Christmas, 2. If you can resell to another seller if you don’t have the time for a roadside stand, 3. Allow people to come onto your property and cut their own, 4. Tax breaks in your region for tree farms, 5. Other tree farm varieties – for landscape businesses and other ‘tree’ businesses.

Where I lived the tax breaks for tree farms were not only good, they PAID you to grow them! (where did this government go to?). Found this out by accident one day, which started me thinking about using my horse facility for other incomes. Ask questions, do some homework. You may be very surprised at what you find.

One problem I had was that anyone could go into the forest and cut down their own tree for Christmas. So I found a supplier that shipped to the cities, and set up something with them. Eventually I grew ornamentals and shrubbery. I was raised in a commercial nursery so this came rather ‘second nature’ for me. (Sorry, another failed attempt at a pun.)

How I started: I looked for areas around the barns and paddocks that I thought would not only be useful for growing but would look nice once they were planted. I measured the areas to get an idea of what to plant there (size, space, will the horses eat them, do I need to see through them, what species fits, what grows fast where?). I decided to plant all around the outside of the acreage also. They created a wind and snow block and looked nice. I created areas that took on a life of their own – like little forests that you could ride the horses in and around. I tried to make it fun, appealing and useful, and to have some vision of the day when they were either cut down or dug up.

Start-up costs: The first farm I had I paid nothing for my trees. They were gratis of the BC government at the time. So I planted a bazillion little trees. I took 4 species as I didn’t want them to all grow at the same speed or I would have bare holes around the farm from where I cut them all down. You need to decide how to manage the growth versus the removal, so your farm doesn’t look like a bad haircut.

The growing years: This is where horse manure really pays off. I found that many of the trees matured a year earlier when you fertilized with what nature had given back. Horse manure is a wonderful thing with it’s rapid compost times and lack of odor (to us horse people anyway). I was told some of the ornamentals I grew were not appreciative of horse manure. What a load of crap that was. I have yet to find a living plant that does not do well with horse poo.

There is a 4-5 year period of ‘growth’, where you need patience for trees to grow, but in my experience I had useful trees in the third year. Normally you expect harvests at year 5, depending on your maintenance and species.

Maintenance: I am a purist, and refuse to use chemical sprays. I prefer to research what trees work with what flowers and plants to naturally ward off bugs and pests. What can you grow that attracts birds that eat invasive bugs? This was the area that fascinated me the most. If you like this type of challenge, you will find it with this operation.

Irrigation can be an issue. For me, I would never think of buying a farm without water access or source. I have not found water and irrigation a problem yet. Could be a very valid reason not to look into this business if water is a problem in your region.

Discoveries: What I did discover after a few years with the first one was that I had created a whole acreage of plant and animal harmony. I had bird species I never saw before. I attracted bluebirds that ‘set up shop’ in an area that was not known for the bird at all. I also found a great deal of bird poop on the horses’ backs. Everyone had made new friends.

Returns on trees:

Year 1-5: Sweat equity – trimming, watering, planting, nurturing, finding markets for products. (If you grow flowers and produce you’ll have revenue here).

Year 5: Sell 1000 trees @ average $15/ea. = 15,000 (some trees sold on site). Time in @ 520 hours: $28/hour. Take out costs of seeds, trees, hard costs (irrigation, hoses, gas, tractor costs, additional barn labor). Average of $19/hour first year – net profit $9880.

Year 6: Sell 1500 trees @ $15/ea. = $22,500. Time in @ 460 hours: $48/hour. Take out costs. Average of $32/hour – net profit $14,720.

Each year assumes you increase harvest by increasing markets. No trees die. There is a market for the products. Cost of production stays the same. Time in influences final number.

Problems: With every venture comes problems. One came up for me within a week: how can I week whack the grass now without taking out the trees? I put up a gated perimeter, and in the evenings I put out my mares and foals to graze around the perimeters that were unoccupied by horses in the day. The mares were very careful when they ate, and soon became my permanent weed wackers and eventually, this idea led into a whole pasture management system that I now implement on small farms that need to utilize space. I also found that if I planted slightly taller trees where there was grass, the horses knew not to disturb them. I would not put out geldings for this precision exercise. They tend to goof off and play and run too much. Mares just get down to the business of eating, especially broodmares. The only thing I had to do was pick up manure, but the majority of it was raked back into the grass anyway, enriching the soil and the cycle continued…

Of course these things take up more time than you probably have. So how can you make this work? I figured out how much I made per hour with the additional revenue streams (turned out to be $30/hour average), so I hired someone to clean stalls and do other chores for $10/hour while I played in the gardens. If you have a spare quiet horse kicking around you can trade work for riding privileges. Oddly enough, I have always had adults take me up on this offer. One father cleaned paddocks every day in exchange for lessons for his daughter (it kept him busy waiting for her). Things can work if you are creative enough. Sometimes you just have to put the idea out there and see who bites. I posted it on a bulletin board for all to read.

Opportunities: You don’t have to stop with trees. You can grow vegetables and keep the seeds. Start your own local seed company (I currently live on a lot in the city, and have a small seed company for heirloom vegetables). Same applies to flowers, and they always look nice around a farm. You might be surprised that you have a built-in clientele if you own a boarding facility. I sold flowers to my boarders every week, plus lettuce, carrots, and a few varieties that the boarders suggested. That brought in around $100 per month just from them (I had 16 boarders). Had I been thinking I would have encouraged them to start a CSA – community supported agriculture. That’s where you grow a specified amount and type of vegetable for one community. An entire group can order 40 pounds of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and lettuce greens each week. You can find lots of CSA information on the web.

Go check out what tax incentives are available in your region. Can you make something work here? What appeals to you?

My thoughts: It never ceases to amaze me to look at the wasted space (and material) around so many horse facilities. While I understand the value of time, I also know that in this changing world we all have to start looking at what we have and how we can add value to it.  Revenue streams must be considered in order to survive difficult times. There is no excuse for laziness or lack of business sense, yet far too many horse facilities are managed and owned by people who got into it because they loved horses, not because they graduated from business school and after crunching the numbers, a horse boarding barn was the answer.

While finding a way to pay for your horses, consider your own abilities and knowledge before venturing into any business with horses.

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