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Let's Have a Birthday Party!

By Jane Eckert

Growing up, most kids have three or four favorite days out of the year, but for many, the most special day of the year comes but once—their birthday—that’s the day it’s “all about me.”

For you and me, a birthday party was a special time at home. When I was growing up, mom let me invite six friends to my house for games, cake and ice cream. But today, it seems that most mom’s would rather host the party anywhere but home.

Certainly we’ve all been to birthday parties at Chuckie Cheese or some other fast food restaurant. Now, parents can take the kids to the mall to Build a Bear or Libby Lou’s or other retail businesses, and spend plenty of money doing so. And some moms and dads are finding a great fun place to take the kids for both a unique outing and the party—on the farm!

If you are not yet hosting birthday parties on the farm, this might be just the new income producing enterprise for you to add for next year. Hosting birthday parties is truly pretty simple and easy to manage – particularly because you probably already have most of the activities already in place on your farm.

To look more closely at birthday parties on the farm, I invited my e-newsletter readers to take a quick survey about their birthday party services. I wanted to know how they did their pricing, what size groups they serve, how many parties they do a year, and why they thought their customers came to the farm for their special day. Here is what they told me.

Fee Structure
Thirty-one farms participated in the survey, with three Canadian farms and 28 in the United States. All but seven require a minimum charge to provide the event, although the minimum ranged from under $80 (7 farms) up to one farm charging $300. Once the minimum is met, the charge per additional guest ranged from $5 to $12.

Do they charge for the parents and additional siblings attending? YES, there is a cost for these additional people. Most farms set their fees based on the total number of people in the group, and why not—particularly when food and activities are included—since the whole group tends to participate.

Party Packages
There are just about as many different party packages as there are farms—and that’s good, that’s what makes us different from the franchise places in town! Everyone provides a private space with tables and chairs. Several farms had two or more party locations on the farm, with different accommodations. Altogether, 40% offer an enclosed space for the party, 22% an outdoor pavilion, 44% provide a tent, and a third serve their guests in the great out-of-doors.

About half the respondents say that they provide hot dogs, ice cream, and cold drinks (usually lemonade or cider) as part of the party package. All but four let the parents bring the cake! While providing the food might be a bit of a hassle for you, the farms that do so can charge more, and many a parent seems happy to pay it rather than have to bring it all in themselves. I’d say this is definitely the best option if you have the ability to provide these simple food services.

Other Activities
Other activities included in the basic birthday package are: hayrides (20 respondents), petting animals (13), a present for the birthday child (8), decorations (6), and invitations for the parents to make out and mail (3).

What else was included? I received many, many different answers: free admission for grandparents, corn maze, kiddee cars, pick your own, cow train, gem mining, buggy rides, campfires, games, goat food, pony rides, walk in the woods, ceramic and pumpkin painting, and a variety of activities. Many times these activities were also offered as an additional charge. You use what you’ve got, and every farm sounded like fun!

Twelve of the farms had a two-hour maximum time limit, and twelve had no time limit at all. Many offered parties year round, but as might be expected, the biggest concentration of birthday parties on the farm is during the fall season.

Who Does the Work?
I asked, “Who runs the party?” and 30% said they do it themselves, while another 56% said they do it themselves, with a helper. Only 4 farms said they had an employee that did the parties for them. 62% said that one person usually manages groups up to 15 kids, but a hardy 27% responded that they were managing over 25 kids on their own! Still, about a third of the farms consistently have two hosts, even with smaller parties of 6 to 10.

The largest birthday group was reported at 450 people! Others reported 120, 80, 50, 40, and that one group of 25 kids—plus 2 parents each! Four farms said they host over 100 parties each year. There were 3 more in the range of 25-100 parties a year, and 10 in the 16-25 parties per year range.

Many did not really track their annual revenues by categories (how do you know it’s worth your time?), but 3 said that they earn more than $1,000 a year from birthday parties, 3 reported over $2,000 a year, and one farm said they earn over $20,000 a year from birthday parties alone.

I was a little surprised to see that over half the respondents said they have at least 20% re-bookings each year! This speaks well for the great variety of entertainment and unique fun that kids are finding down on the farm.

When asked, “What is the most important factor in your success?” I got 21 different answers!” Many spoke to how the parents were able to relax and let the kids be kids without bothering anyone. They also said that the parents felt they receive something of real value—a good price for a very unique and fun afternoon.

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge that the farmer faces is still the weather! Even with a covered building, the weather will result in late arrivals, more risk for the customer, and a daunting task for the farmer to come up with some creative last minute activities to keep young minds and hands busy.

Marketing Birthday Parties
From a marketing point of view, birthday parties are most often marketed as a separate page on the farm website with plenty of good photo’s, as well as through simple flyers that most people just develop on their own computers. The most important thing is to just get the word out – make the flyers, post them on your farm, include the activity on your regular flyer, send e-newsletter stories, etc. Like most good things, birthday parties begin to sell themselves when the kids leave happy and go home and ask for their party to be at the farm next year.

So—are you ready to have a party? It’s not very complicated, it doesn’t require a lot of advertising, and it uses the resources you already have! It’s not too soon to be planning for 2007—and I would definitely suggest that birthday parties should be on your list for consideration and growth.

My thanks to all of you who participated in this study.

Jane Eckert is the founder of Eckert AgriMarketing (, a full-service marketing and public relations firm that helps farmers to sell directly to consumers, diversify operations and become tourist destinations. She is also CEO of, a search directory for agritourism farms and ranches in North America. Jane can be reached at 314-862-6288 or you may email her directly.