Thursday, July 09, 2009
Metro columnist Dan Casey: Hatching a business: Botetourt Co. boy learns valuable lessons through egg business
Caleb Amstutz, a 12-year-old from Botetourt County, is learning valuable lessons and making a few dollars by selling eggs to neighbors and friends.
John W. Adkisson | The Roanoke Times
Caleb Amstutz, 12, sits in his chicken coop surrounded by hens. Caleb's 23 hens produce the eggs he sells to 10 or so Eagle Rock- and Roanoke-area families each week.
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EAGLE ROCK -- Do you remember when the kid down the street used to knock on your door and ask if you'd like your lawn cut for a few bucks?
Or when teenage (or younger) newspaper carriers dropped the daily paper on your front porch? And collected for your weekly bill? Sometime you even tipped that boy or girl.
These days, adults usually perform both of those services, and many others that enterprising kids used to.
As a parent of four, that worries me.
Are we spoiling our children too much? Are their lives so filled with dance lessons and soccer practices and video games that we're stifling good-old American hustle?
If you have the same concerns, I'd like to introduce you to Caleb Amstutz, 12, who lives in northern Botetourt County outside Eagle Rock.
Though child entrepreneurship may be on the wane, he's proof that it's not entirely dead.
Wiry, curly-headed and soft-spoken, Caleb lives in a house 4 miles off the nearest paved road. He has no neighbors to speak of.
What he does have is chickens. Rusty brown ones. Black-and-white speckled ones. Gray and black ones, some with brown streaks. His 23 hens produce a daily bounty of organic brown, green, pink- and blue-tinged eggs for 10 or so families in the Eagle Rock and Roanoke areas each week -- at $3 per dozen, thank you.
That business started more than a year ago, when Caleb and his parents bought some chicks from a mail-order catalog.
He raised them in his garage, tending them daily, and when they were big enough, introduced them to the backyard coop built by his father, Richard Amstutz, 58, a retired dentist.
The first egg arrived in August. Now, he's harvesting about 18 or so a day. Customers buy them as quickly as the hens can lay them.
Tuesday, Caleb walked a photographer and me through his daily toils. Those start in the coop a few yards from his back door.
Inside are the hens -- golden comets and Araucanas and silver-legged Wyandottes, and a lone but loud rooster named Mr. Gray. Twice a day, Caleb carries a basket into the coop and retrieves eggs from the undersides of some sometimes not-too-pleased hens.
"We have three eggs here," Caleb says as he reached into a nest box. "These were mostly likely laid by the comets."
Each of the brood has a name, like Fifi, Rosey, Ruby, Little Brown, Henrietta and Redneck. "She had a really big, almost fierylike neck," Caleb explains.
Caleb carries the basket into the family's kitchen, where he loads the eggs into pressed-cardboard cartons, to which he affixes a label he designed on his home computer: "From the flock at Eagle Rock, Caleb's Farm Fresh Eggs." Then he places the loaded cartons into a refrigerator; soon they'll head off to a customer.
Some are friends of the family around Eagle Rock. Others work at Hollins University with Caleb's mom, Renee Godard, 45, a professor who is chairwoman of the biology department.
Some of the eggs Caleb sells at the private Community School in northern Roanoke County, which he attends.
The proceeds cover expenses such as cracked-corn feed and the cartons. The young egg entrepreneur nets between $90 and $100 a month. His mom gets a third for the gas she burns helping him with deliveries.
Half of Caleb's income goes into a savings account; the rest is spending money that amounts to little more than pocket change.
But, like most things, the true value comes not from the money but from lessons Caleb has learned in the business: marketing, handling cash, expenses, customer service and more about chicken biology than you probably would ever want to know.
He's also learned a small measure of self-sufficiency: At the tender age of 12, he can make some effort and at the end of day have something to show for it.
All of our children could benefit from that, eh?
Dan Casey's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.