Hot Opportunities For Innovative Farmers



Unless you’ve seen the ad yourself, you will think I am making this up. Not only is a ten ounce bag of timothy hay selling for $4.50 for pet food as I wrote about recently, but dried lawn grass is going for three dollars an ounce for Easter basket lining. I kid you not. A four ounce bag goes for $12.95. It’s called Tim’s Real Easter Basket Grass, and is advertised as “naturally beautiful and grown right here in Vermont.” This grass, says the ad, is “wondrously fragrant and dried naturally in the sun” and “reduces plastic consumption, is fully compostable, and contains no chemicals or dyes.” I can’t help laughing but this is what I call imaginative marketing and whoever Tim is, he is a genius in my book. Those of us brought up in agriculture would hardly ever think of potential products like this from our farms. We just don’t fully appreciate our modern culture that has too much money and too few brains.

Actually that’s too harsh. Today’s customers who want genuine three dollar an ounce Vermont grass for their Easter baskets or four dollar an ounce timothy for their gerbils are not brainless at all. I imagine a ten ounce bag of timothy would last a gerbil a month anyway, fairly cheap victuals for a pet. And if you live in an apartment far removed from the real world, having your Easter basket lined with fragrant dried organic grass might be a champion one-upper in, say, Manhattan. Maybe you could feed your basket lining to your gerbil at the end of the Easter season and really save money.

Point is, in a society where pets now live better than many humans, the cost of living is not reckoned the way those of us brought up on hardscrabble farms do the arithmetic. The changing view in the way we keep our pets is particularly significant and instead of making fun, as I am tempted to do sometimes, we should pay attention to the opportunities involved for innovative farmers attuned to the new society. The number of pet cats and cats in the U.S. is over 140 million, coming closer and closer to half the number of humans eating here. Most pets eat purchased food— grains, meat, dairy products and fish— just like most humans do. One of my volunteer spies tells me about some big shipments of barley being trucked to a pet food supplier.

If you pay attention to dog and cat food ads, you know that the quality as well as the quantity of pet food is rising. Also high society is willing to pay more for their pets’ creature comforts. New litter products from plant materials are coming to market. Someone has to grow those plants. All the manure and litter now going into landfills is a fertilizer that could be marketed profitably with a little good old American advertising genius.  Pet owners more and more are providing their dogs and cats, not to mention their horses, with suitable clothing for cold weather or protection from insects, a market for cotton and other materials that come from the soil. Pet cemeteries are on the rise. Imaginative farmers are toying with ideas to turn fields and tree groves into green burial sites for humans. Certainly that idea is much easier adapted to pet animal interment. There are even retirement homes for horses. Think about it.

As more and more people miss the connection with nature and husbandry that past generations enjoyed, the yearning for pets will surely continue to grow. The whole bird feeding pastime is an offshoot of lost husbandry. People pay extravagantly for food to attract wild animals to their backyards. For them, five dollars for ten ears of corn for the squirrels is, pardon me, chicken feed. If lawn grass makes good Easter basket lining, what about lining materials for wild bird nests? Most birds have their preferred nesting materials.

Some farmers are making good money supplying sunflower seeds for bird feeders. How about a little more imagination here? For example, goldfinches love dandelion seeds. We can grow, without any tillage, perennial pasture fields choked with dandelions. Harvest the early crop for salad greens and the late crop for the windblown seeds. So I am joking… but only a little.


Thank you for the chuckle! When I drive through our city I look at all of the shops and wonder what could possibly bring enough people into them to keep each of those stores open. Maybe it’s Easter grass? I’m afraid I’m not really curious enough to scope it out. I’ll let people open to silly marketing schemes drive the economy. I suppose there is a large need for dummies with money!

…only in Vermont. I wonder if someone would buy me, since I live in Vermont. Probably not as useful as Easter Basket grass though……… Wasn’t it in Vermont that someone sold encapsulated moose poop jewelry, or was that Maine? What a waste of great fertilizer.

Yes, Gene, that is about where I’m ending up–doing it by hand and making those “doodles” you described. I think 1/4 to 1/2 acre might make all the hay I would need for most Tennessee winters.

Thanks Beth–yes smaller bales for sure! I’ve also discovered YouTube and dug out Gene’s Practical Skills book and am getting a bunch of “big ideas”!

    Betty, doing bales is fine but remember that farmers were storing hay for centuries before balers came along. I don’t know how much hay you are handling, but it might be easier to build little haystacks and let the goats eat from them or put hay loose in the barn and feed a little by hand and hayfork every day. For quite a few years we put up loose (unbaled) hay entirely. Of course I will admit that when Dad got a baler when I was a teenager I blessed it every day… easier than putting loose hay in the barn. Gene

Betty, don’t know how old you are, but I would opt for smaller bales if you’re expecting to be doing your own hay for years to come. When I was 30, I could handle a 100-pound bale. At 65, it’s a real stretch. Hubby has had 3 back surgeries, so that’s another factor for us. If you can find one of the really old models that let you put up 60-80 pound bales, you’ll be much more likely to keep hauling!

I’m trying to be an innovative farmer–so I want to save $ and not have to buy hay for my goats. What is the absolute least I need in equipment to make my own square bales? I have a 1949 Farmall Cub with a Woods bush hog thingy. I bush hog twice a year–after the spring and fall blooms (so my bees can harvest all the nectar first). What else do I need to make square bales?

There are quite a few older farmers in my area going out of the haying business and thus I am losing my hay connection. I’m thinking they will be selling off their equipment too, so need to inform myself. Any advice/ideas from this esteemed bunch of Gene followers?

    Buy large round bales and just take some off every day,the hay you get will be about 1/3 the cost of square bales and better quality as square balers beat the leaves off hay something terrible or do as I do and just set the round bales in for the goats and I just keep setting them in the same place all Winter come Spring the pile of ‘wasted’ hay is a Gold Mine for my garden and the pile is worth more for fertilizer then the hay was that fed my goats all Winter.

Jeepers, Gene, my hubby is still trying to figure out how to rent a truck and trailer to haul timothy hay to your neck of the woods because of that $10,000 a ton price you talked about recently. Don’t give him any more ideas, it just makes work for me! 🙂

City-raised lady here who’s been “farming” and Farming all my life one way or another. I’m laughing right along with you and enjoying the heck out of hamster-hay and horse clothes. Heck yes I’d sell mini-bales, and I’d sell dandelion seeds, too. Whatever people are willing to buy, if it doesn’t detract from the health and welfare of the Earth and it’s inhabitants, who am I to judge? And I’ll be honest, when I was a kid playing “plow the garden” with my plastic model horses and my tiny home-made plow, I would have been over the moon to have tiny hay bales to feed my little team, and maybe to treat a horse with after my riding lesson was over. Anything to feel connected to agriculture until I could grow up and get my own patch of dirt to dig in!
Thanks again for another good read, I look forward to your posts, and have been reading and being inspired by your words for as long as I can remember. “The Contrary Farmer” was the first book I ever bought for myself with my own money. I still have it and treasure it.

Strange indeed the relationships between animals and humans. for examples I’ll be butchering another goat for human food shortly. I did all I could to ensure the goat had a good life, but in the end the goat is a source of meat milk and manure which are end products transformed from brush, weeds, hay and grass. A pet is another story.

In contrast as i write this a friendly one- eyed PET cat keeps my lap warm. He provides none of the meat and milk the goat may provide but instead competes for meat and milk. I try not to think about the vet bill to keep him healthy and sexually sterile. Yet the comfort the cat gives is indeed immeasurable. One of my three dogs is recuperating from a disastrous run-in with a neighbor’s truck. The vet bill for this dog is scary. The fact that the dog not only keeps predators at bay, provides good companionship, (better than most humans at times) and in fact saved my life several times, most notably from an unexpected encounter with a cougar at very close range and another time saving my bacon when a mother bison from a neighbor’s herd thought I was threatening her calf as I was bicycling along the road outside their pasture when someone left the gate open; but that is another story as they say. The point is that in many ways pets keep us going and keep us human hence it is probably futile to assign a dollar value to what pets provide for us .

I could argue that having pets is somehow deeply imbedded within our genetic heritage; else why would we have domesticated dogs and cats as companion animals in the first place. In the wild they are more readily viewed as competitive predators going after animals we would otherwise consume; except the dogs (wolves) and cats (wild cats) ate them first. I could think that in a society based around hunting , which I understand most societies were at one time, having wolves/ dogs as hunting companions could easily increase hunting success or in a village where rodents threatened the food supply, having a couch cougar, (house cat) to control rodents only made sense. The companionship is probably a perc that by this time is ingrained in our genes.

So when niche markets exist for miniature hay bales for pets or dried grass for chocolate eggs, I think that as Martha Stewart says :”It’s a good thing” Those of us in agricultural production benefit from the sales and the city dwellers at least have some , albeit very small, link with the natural life which those of us who are rural residents tend to take for granted.

Is the gerbil keeper really much different from the livestock grazier who knows the chances of making much profit other than an adequate supply of meat, milk and manure are slim at best? Both of them in some way are declaring a link with nature, a link with this planet which sustains us. Let’s face it : keeping animals is dare I say it: “Fun!” so how do we put a price on :”FUN”? So let’s celebrate something which brings joy tor rural and city dwellers alike: many sales of mini-bales.

We know Amish folks living nearby who invested in some equipment to produce tiny bales (I mean tiny, probably 9 inches by 3 inches. People buy them for pets, but mostly for holiday decorations around Thanksgiving, centerpieces, and yes, even a “farm-themed” wedding. If I knew where to find such a teeny tiny baler I’d get one tomorrow.

Its not just the city folks in apts that go for this type of maketing,go into any Tractor Supply and they’ll have a 3 or 4 ears of “Squirrel Corn” for around $4 when corn is under $5 a bushel or a 40lb bag of “Deer Corn” for 2X the price of their shelled corn thats about 3X as high as I can buy it from any of the grain farmers around here.25lbs of Alfalfa is about $15 when I can buty a 50lb bale for $5.Even many of those that farm for a living think its some magic in a bag of ground grain with a little molasses thats been thru Purina’s system as compared to what the grain can be purchased for from other farmers.Advertising dumbs down consumers at all levels and seeks to make those the use the advertised product all warm and cuddly inside.Sort of like the California dairy ads a few years ago pictured cows and setting a modern dairy is not even close to being.So it goes I guess.As P.T Barnum

Well, as much as I like finches they’re going to have to compete with me for the dandelions since I not only eat the greens,I also eat the flowers. Ergo, fewer seeds

I can’t help but think…”I wish I’d thought of that!”
Seriously, we raise what we can. We have pigs every year, chickens all year and a garden in the summer. We have a small lavender garden we harvest for oil and shop at the thrift stores.
If I had thought to put grass clippings in a pretty box to sell for Easter baskets I’d have done it. Here’s the problem…I think too much like Gene! It seems fantastical that people would spend good money on such a thing.
I need to get my brain adjusted.
The best I’ve come up with is a sign at the end of the driveway advertising the extra eggs my well fed chickens lay, for $3.00 a dozen. I put them into cartons folks leave for me from the guy across the river who sells them for $8.00 a dozen. I just can’t get used to the idea of high jacking my neighbors that way.
Like I said…I need a brain adjustment.

Heard you could sell maple sap (not syrup) to an Asian market for $5/gallon…
Lots of good ideas. Lots of opportunities. I’m still sticking with the strategy of having no (or little) expenses, no debt and feeding ourselves first. Then I’ll chase these marketing heavy options…

This reminds me of a farmer in our area who has made money selling rocks that he has pulled out of his field to people in the city who put them in gardens.

I realize you are writing partially in jest but you know folks are already doing this on a small scale. I save the alfalfa dust that collects around the baler knotters for friends who keep small furry animals in cages.
There are people who make tiny barley bales with little balers and sell the bales for algae control in ponds.
Dandelion seeds for finches may be available right now, I didn’t check the internet auction site or Amazon.
These are all good ideas and can be marketed locally. The real test is if you can get gear up production enough to get shelf space in a retail chain. That is when the money starts coming in. Otherwise it is just a lot of hard work.
The difference between a hobby and making a little money is a really difficult gap to overcome.
I say this from experience. I’ve spent four years grinding grain for non GMO/no soy/no corn chicken and pig feed. The first two were with a 1939 Minneapolis-Moline hammer mill and a 1939 MM model Z with a flat belt. That was fun!
The last two I’ve been using a 1970’s mixer grinder and an old 806 IH. Now it is just work…

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