Why the mass exodus of young people from farming? Here is another example of one of several problems – well identified – yet apparently laughed off by the current generation of farmers and ranchers left scratching their heads wondering why junior is leaving for good. Sad, very sad.
If, by purchasing hay, i can increase the number of employees (cows) which do not need health insurance, workman’s compensation, employee benefits, bonuses, etc and they seldom complain about the work (grazing and raising babies) they enjoy, and in so doing, also increase the soil quality by feeding microbes (making those employees happy as well), and would decrease my actual labor costs and time, wouldn’t this be a good thing?
I’m not sure!
There are many qualified experts who discourage the hay habit – and i completely agree if i had to own and operate the very expensive equipment and time needed to bale hay, which would be on my own property, thereby simply moving nutrients from one point to another and not increasing – so, am i missing a very big point?
Winter is basically 180 days in north Missouri, so if hay is the sole feed source, the amount would figure as 180 days times 30# per cow/calf pair= 5400#, allowing some ‘waste,’ and unusually harsh weather, it would be reasonable and wise to round up to 6000#. If it cost me 5 cents per pound delivered and unloaded at my farm, this is $300 per cow/calf unit for winter feed (180 days), the rest of the year would be 2 acres per cow/calf at the rate $55 per acre rent or $110 per annum. Total grass/hay feed costs total $410 per cow/calf unit. It would actually add about 12 hours of my labor to position the bales for bale grazing. So adding another $20 per cow/calf for $430
Given that info, my farm, depending on weather, could accommodate 200 pairs, figuring 2% death loss of calves to various reasons would result in 196 calves to sell. If i continue with what i can do and graze only through the winter (relying on fall rain to grow stockpile), then there are 98 calves to sell. So, to compare:
Calves to sell: 196 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $141,120 – $86,000 = $55,120
Calves to sell: 98 times 400 lbs times 1.80/lb = $70,560 – $22,000 = $48,560
BUT, soil quality is not increased (unless mob grazing is implemented), and certainly not as fast, Compared to renting more acres, fence and water maintenance does not increase.
What is the right answer!!!!????
There is time for more reading, listening, studying, and sharpening the pencil. In the meantime, first week of April , calves will be weaned, then second vaccinations on weaned calves, by 25 April cows will begin calving for 45 days, soil sampling select paddocks, then i plan to implement UHGD (aka mob grazing).
Winter grazing in north Missouri.
Since the first of the year, i’ve headed to the local YMCA just 10 minutes drive away and working out (walking at least 10,000 steps according to Fitbit and lifting weights) for 2 to 2 1/2 hours each morning. Our YMCA opens a bit before 5am, so this is a perfect time for me to go. I’m usually awake anyway and it’s far too cold outside to do anything, plus it’s dark.
Anyway, like the others who come in early to workout, i plug into my phone and listen to something. I really enjoy listening to audio books through our local library‘s subscription to Hoopla. Granted, i suspect there is not as many books on offer as a paid subscription like Audiobooks, but Hoopla is included in our library membership. But, i mix up the books with Youtube of grazing and cattle management experts. This has included Jim Gerrish, Jaime Elizondo Braum, Johann Zietsman, Doug Peterson, Greg Judy, David Pratt, Allen Williams.
Continuing education is necessary in any endeavour and as margins tighten and disappear in cattle production it becomes critical to discover little ways to squeeze a bit of income out of our chosen career despite outside pressures OR to discover that you must forge a totally different path if this one simply can no longer be financially sustained.
Regardless of one’s age, evaluation of your chosen work needs doing regularly, but having just turned 56, it may be time consider winding down and looking at retirement. Nevertheless, the older we get, we must discover if what we are doing is the most effective use of our time and energy (which physically wanes). If the activity is marginally profitable, then what can be done to make it more profitable without increasing labor (labor and feed are huge costs in raising livestock). Or are we better purposed to volunteer, counsel, or help our children more.
- Last year, i used a lot of iron (tractors, rotavator, plough disk, no-till drill) to establish, first, 18 acres of annuals, and second, establish a permanent ley on 50 acres. The first experiment resulted in quality grazing, but not more grazing as measured in cow days per acre, than my poor quality forage already growing. So, i don’t plan to incur that cost again, though my soil may have experienced some improvement. The second experiment was severely hampered by the lack of rain for the seeds to grow. However, it may have been a blessing, 1) a better kill of the toxic endophyte fescue due to dry and hot weather, and 2) the seeds hopefully did not germ and will come up this spring. Time will tell on that here in about 3 months. However, this project was extremely expensive at $175/acre.
- Last year, i also had lime spread on the 160 at the rate of 2 tons per acre for a cost of $66/acre. The addition of lime typically doesn’t show any production increase for a couple years.
- Bale feeding was used quite a lot on various parts of my paddocks. This may very well be the fastest way to build soil health, but it’s expensive (like all inputs) and time consuming to place the bales.
- Last year, I also synchronised my cows with hormones and AI’d a good portion of them. The reason was because i was going to shorten my breeding season once again to 45 days vs 65 days. This is expensive, but it does seem to help. However, due to ragweed allergies, i am simply unable to remove the bulls from the pasture on 1 September, so i will change my plan and leave the bulls in for 60 days and simply sell those that do not calve within the 45 day window. This does not, however, address the fact that i don’t want to calve for 60 days. Nothing to be done for that. Allergies rule my schedule in this regard.
So, tweaking my plan for this year will be to:
- no mechanical disturbance or seed inputs (including broadcast)
- no liming or other fertiliser input purchases (save up to $100/acre)
- Utilize bale grazing extensively to increase soil health (microbial activity) and organic matter (improve tilth) (the only down side here is the time spent to set the bales in the paddocks in proper manner in preparation for winter grazing)
- eliminate the synchronising and AI costs. This eliminates the time spent in mustering and sorting the cows 3 times, shots and CIDRS, semen costs, and AI technician expense. All these costs add up to about $80 per cow.
- purchase hay early for possible reduced cost per bale (purchasing in winter tends to drive up cost due to increased demand) (delivered hay costs from 4 cents to 15 cents per pound depending on quality and demand)
- Manage my time to allow ultra high stock density grazing (UHDG) at least part of the year to increase forage diversity, water infiltration, and soil health. (time is a problem here because of my farm being a 35 minute drive from my home, it is counter productive if this increases labor that would be expensed to cows)
- let go, rent out the land, and sell my cows – no work. the drawbacks are having to quibble with renters on their lack of care and watching your land erode, grow up in brush, and/or wash away. Repair and clean up can be costly at the end of the renting period.
So, should i continue ranching – and realistically, i plan to – giving it up unless necessary is not really a consideration, although it should be, then i need to decide whether to reduce the number of cows to what my pastures can sustain during the non growing season (winter – about 5 months and summer heat – about 1 month), OR increase cow numbers to manage the growing season flush and buy in enough hay to feed them during the winter. Hay purchase and feeding will also improve the soil, so there is added value to that.
No one else can make this decision, although there are a lot of suggestions and i really appreciate all the expert and seasoned ranchers sharing their experiences – these have guided me .
Published as “Grassroots of Grazing” Jim’s regular column provides “Making Change is about Creating a New Comfort Zone” in the December 2017 issue which offers his observations about how people in the grazing/farming/ranching world accept or reject change often needed for the business to survive, or more importantly, thrive so that the next generation will be willing to be involved.
His closing comments of the article: (you’ll have to buy a back issue for Jim’s full article as well as great articles by other authors)
“I had already come to understand people were not going to change just because something made biological and economic sense. We all have to be comfortable with the idea of change before we will be willing to even consider change no matter how much empirical evidence is thrown at us supporting that change.
For many of us that comfort level is based on acceptance by our family and community.
I have found it is much easier to sell the ideas of MiG (management-intensive grazing), soil health, grassfed beef, summer calving, and a myriad of other atypical management concepts to someone who has no background at all in ranching and no tie to the local community than it is to get someone with 40 years of experience on a family ranch to change. The lifelong rancher may grudgingly agree that those ideas make sense, but the most common retort is still, “but I can’t see how we can make that work here.”
That individual is absolutely correct, until you can see that it will work here, it probably won’t. The biggest part of that “will it work here” question is how the rest of the family sees it. The better a family knows itself, the easier it is for that one rabble-rouse to make a difference. If the lines of communication are broken, the more likely it is that things will continue to operate the way they always have.
Then we are back to that sad situation so common in multi-generational agriculture: We advance one funeral at a time.”
Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally. He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com
Oh my goodness – i am such a good cook. Start with quality ingredients and anyone is a star in the kitchen. Start to finish – about 35 minutes. Now, i must get outside or i’ll eat all!
Chicken fried steak with smashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.
Chicken fried steak (our home raised grass finished round steak beef)
Organic Einkorn ancient grain flour
Organic black pepper
Farm fresh eggs
Milk and butter from local pastured cows
Organic russets from Wal-Mart
Organic broccoli from Wal-Mart
Solid figures to help me decide whether or not to pursue any land purchases should any come up for sale. Farms in Linn County, MO rarely change hands.
What and Why?
First, do you want to own a ranch or do you just want to be in the cattle business? Did you know that you can enter the cattle business without owning either land or cattle?
You are already thinking, “This guy has lost his mind!” But seriously, you can. You can lease land and take in pasture cattle–i.e. you can pasture someone else’s cattle on leased land for a monthly per head fee. Once you get a reputation for paying your bills and taking good care of other peoples land, ranch lease opportunities will come to you. You won’t have to look for them.
This is an excellent way for young prospective ranchers to get into the business without having to…
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For some reason, farmers of old (and, sadly, probably some still) thought that throwing old metal farm implements, myriads of rolls of barbed wire or woven wire in ditches, along with old hedge posts would somehow magically make the ditch stop washing. Nothing could be further from the truth! However, it could be said that throwing trash in the ditch answers men’s idea of ‘cleaning’ sort of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ that women simply cannot fathom. It’s still there for goodness sake!
Blessed with incredibly fine weather and a wee bit of time and some great help last week and after owning this property for about 26 years, this 50 foot stretch of ditch had the metal pulled out. Because of the junk, the water simply pools and won’t allow healing. Once I graze the pasture down this winter with my cows, I’ll burn all the wood trash and cut down as many rubbish trees as necessary to allow this ditch/draw to grass over and heal, so erosion will STOP!
What a surprise to find these fine implements stacked alongside the ditch – most are in decent working order, though too antiquated to be useful except as yard ornaments.