Retailers can cash in on local hobby farmers.
By Meghan E. Murphy
The fact that Martha Stewart recently devoted an entire episode of her television show to backyard chickens attests that the popularity of hobby farming is on the rise. The new trend may be another way for traditional pet stores in suburban and near-rural areas to expand sales.
From chickens to goats to sheep, more people are keeping farm animals in the backyard. The hobbyists are customers interested in sustainable food production as well as the family activity of caring for, and even showing, a farm animal.
“People are learning how to grow their own food and have their own eggs,” said Don Benson, owner of Rivertown Feed & Pet Country Store in Petaluma, Calif.
The proof has come in increased sales for livestock feed companies, especially of poultry feed, and goat and sheep products, said Deborah Reddeck, a marketing specialist for Blue Seal Feeds in Londonderry, N.H.
While there are some pitfalls to entering the livestock feed market, retailers in the right regions can find new customers in hobby farmers who are looking for a one-stop shopping spot for all their animals.
“I’m sure there are many stores that are able to carry pet foods that could have a market for the backyard-type farmer,” said R. Harry Anderson, Ph.D. (animal nutrition), of Total Goat in Garden City, Kan.
From Feed to Pet Store
Hobby Farming Information Online
With hobby farming on the rise, so are the websites with information on everything from caring for chick broods to recipes for repelling pests from a goat. For a decade now, BackYardChickens.com has been collecting articles and connecting hobby farmers with its online message board. The publisher of Pet Product News International, BowTie Inc., also publishes a magazine called Hobby Farms with an accompanying website at www.hobbyfarms.com.
GoatBeat.net offers a message board for those who are raising ruminants.
Martha Stewart featured Traci Torres, founder of MyPetChicken.com, on her backyard bird episode. Torres’ site offers tips and links to supplies for raising poultry. —MM
Michele Zigrossi, owner of Heritage Feed & Supply in Bullville, N.Y., just launched a new venture in a nearby town in the Hudson Valley. The Natural Pet Center at Ireland Corners in Gardiner, N.Y., is a retail store primarily for pets that also boasts supplies for the hobby farmer.
Zigrossi sells chicken feed, live baby chicks and other supplies for backyard farmers.
Zigrossi is uniquely situated for this type of business. First, her store is in an area with a mix of suburban residential homes and farms.
“You have to be in a suburban enough area that people have enough land where people are going to get into backyard farming,” Reddeck said.
Second, Zigrossi is already knowledgeable about livestock feed and care, since she has experience at the feed store.
Unlike a commercial farmer, backyard hobbyists are going to come into the store with a lot of questions. Retailers and their employees are going to need to be armed with answers.
“Your retail store has to have qualified employees there to answer the questions,” said Todd Nearing, whose family runs Cochecton Mills Inc. in Cochecton, N.Y.
Organic and All-Natural
While commercial farmers typically buy in bulk, hobby farmers who raise backyard livestock often look for feeds of the highest quality.
Many backyard farmers, after all, get into the hobby because they’re interested in the humane treatment of animals and knowing exactly what ingredients go into the food they eat, whether it’s eggs or goat’s milk.
“I think you see a lot more people being interested in the feed that’s going into an animal that you’re going to be eating,” Reddeck said.
Therefore, the trend in hobby farming, like that of the pet food market, is toward feed that includes nutritional supplements, organic minerals and all-natural ingredients.
“Pet stores should look for good quality chicken feed,” Benson said, noting that he sells feeds with no hormones or added animal proteins that comes from local mills.
Dr. R. Harry Anderson said he uses organic minerals in Total Goat feed because they’re more readily digestible for the animal. His company puts a premium on efficiency when considering the bioavailability of ingredients to ensure the animal gets the most out of every bite, he said.
Zigrossi sells feed from a local organic mill and Nutrena Animal Feeds. She offers both because the price of organic feeds can be prohibitive for some customers, she said. Nutrena just released a new omega-3 chicken food pellet that offers some of the nutrition benefit of organic feed at a lower price, she added.
Reddeck recommends a different marketing strategy for hobby farmers. She said retailers should look for feed that has nice packaging with supporting materials and guidance for the hobbyist.
Retailers considering carrying livestock feed also must take into consideration the space needed, the profit margin and potential market for such products before choosing them for their store, industry participants reported.
First, 50-pound bags of feed take up a lot of space, whether in a store or warehouse, Zigrossi said. Retailers should have room in the store to have some bags visible, so customers know the feed is available, she added.
Pet store owners should also be aware that livestock feed has a shorter shelf life than pet food. The feed is also susceptible to pest infestation. Zigrossi said she doesn’t let poultry feed stay on the shelf for more than a month.
That means a pet store needs a good market to keep feed moving off the shelves. Pet store owners looking to get into hobby farming supplies should take a thorough look at the competition, especially if there’s an existing farm store in the area, Reddeck noted.
“I would definitely encourage them to do some market analysis,” Anderson said.
Retailers will also notice there’s a lower profit margin on livestock feed than pet foods. They’ll need to sell a higher volume of the product in order to make the same profit.
Despite these challenges, experts said there is room in the retail pet store market for livestock feed. Customers are looking for high-quality natural products and a convenient place to get supplies for all their animals.
“A one stop-shopping experience, rather than going to a variety of stores to get similar products, would appeal to many people,” Anderson said.
Along with feed, retailers can also consider carrying a variety of accessories for backyard farm animals to increase sales. Some farm stores now carry chicken coop kits, watering dishes, brooding lamps and live chicks as well. <HOME>
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