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Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land-Part 1

As you may already know, Jim and Dawn Gerrish are two of the most notable and knowledgeable people when it comes to land and livestock management, including management-intensive grazing (MiG).  Jim has his own consulting business which can save you lots of money right from the start of your adventure in managed grazing.  Contact him through American GrazingLands Services, LLC.  Find him on Youtube videos and pick up one of his well written books, Management Intensive Grazing – The Grassroots of Grass Farming and Kick the Hay Habit – a Practical Guide to Year Round Grazing.

Feeding Hay to Improve Your Land – Part 1

By   /  February 25, 2019  /  3 Comments

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We think it is far more important to stop making hay on your land than it is to stop feeding hay on your land. Here are some things to think about.

What Made Sense in 1973 Doesn’t Make Sense Today

Making hay is a whole lot more expensive than it used to be. This table compares input costs for making hay in 1973 in contrast to 2013.

 

All of the input costs have increased at a much faster rate than the value of beef cattle, lamb, or milk. To be on par with costs experienced in 1973, fed cattle should have been $284/cwt, not the $148 they were.

Hay = Inexpensive Fertility

While making hay is expensive, in much of the US, hay can be bought for less than the cost of production. When you buy someone else’s hay and feed it on your property, you are buying their fertility at a highly discounted rate. In some years in some locations, you can buy beef cattle hay for less than the fertilizer value it contains.

This is a great opportunity for improving your land in a way that also benefits soil health.

Feeding Uniformly is the Key

The key to soil improvement is to get the hay fed uniformly over your pastures. This is how you can realize the greatest benefit from purchased hay as a planned fertility input.

Large round bales are still the norm in much of US cow country. Round bales can be unrolled with relatively low-cost equipment. Bales don’t unroll uniformly all the time, but the subsequent manure distribution is way better than feeding bales in ring feeders.

Big square bales can be flaked off easily in a systematic way to cover a specific area with each bale fed.

Bale processors are expensive pieces of equipment. If you are invested in something like this, make sure you are feeding all of your hay to optimize the distribution of manure across the pasture.

We need to be thinking about how much nitrogen and phosphorus is in each bale we are feeding so we can plan our daily feeding to apply appropriate levels of nutrients rather than feeding too little and not realizing the benefit we expected or feeding too much and overloading the soil and environment with excess N. We’ll look at that next week!

Stay tuned! Jim will be covering all the data and math in this series to help us figure out how to do the best we can at improving pastures with hay feeding. If you have questions for Jim, do share them in the comments section below!

Parity? Not a chance in Farming

It’s not hard to understand why most young people have no interest in farming as a career.  Low wages, working conditions can be brutal at times (weather related or dangerous), and very low return on investment coupled with high financial risk.  Not a good combination.  The average age of principle operators continues to rise and is now over 58 years old – a time when many in other sectors are planning retirement.  However, the young people who are starting up do seem to work smarter and not harder with the result being a more balanced family/work lifestyle.  Also, mechanisation and better ranching principles continue to make the work more pleasant and give farmers/ranchers the opportunity to expand without working harder or longer hours.  There is hope that agriculture will continue in the US, just with fewer operators and sadly, still supported with off farm income.  There is a joke amongst farmers and ranchers that when asked what they’d do if they won a million dollars, the answer is ‘farm until it’s gone.’

1966

Land cost per acre:  $93/acre  (my Bowyer Place)

Cow Prices:  $20/cwt  (20 cents per pound)

Fed Steer Price:  $25/cwt  (25 cents per pound)

Wages per hour:  $1.25 (minimum wage)

Fuel:  .32/gallon

2018

Land cost per acre:  $2800/acre (similar land sales in Linn County, MO)

Cow Prices:  $63/cwt  (63 cents per pound)

Fed Steer Price:  $115/cwt  ($1.15 per pound)

Wages per hour:  $7.25 (minimum wage)

Fuel: $2.45/gallon

CPI Inflation Calculator to compare:

Land – $93 in 1966 is the same as $725 in 2018 dollars

Cow Prices:  $0.20/lb  in 1966 is the same as $1.56/lb in 2018 dollars

Fed Steers:  $0.25/lb in 1966 is the same as $1.95/lb in 2018 dollars

Wages per hour:  $1.25/hr in 1966 is the same as $9.74/hr in 2018 dollars

Fuel: $0.32/gallon in 1966 is the same as $2.49/gallon in 2018

Second Pass & Broadcast

With the first pass May 15, 16, and 17 behind me, several very light rain showers, and a few days of drying out, I was ready to get to that second tillage pass and get the annual seeds in the dirt!.  Thursday,  May 25, 2017, I spent 4 hours with the Howard Rotavator 600 and was pleasantly surprised that, for the most part, the John Deere 4250 tractor worked along nicely at A2 speed vs A1.  This effectively increased my speed from 2.1 mph to 2.6 mph.  And it showed up in the final tally for sure!  The second pass on the same 18 acres, instead of taking 12 hours as before, only rang up 7 1/2 hours.  Nice.  Admittedly, i could never make a farmer (row cropper); how do those guys run those things for hours on end, daylight to dark, day after day.  I was thankful, i could distract myself for a while, at least on the long rows, by chatting (private message) with my son, who was at a cafe in Spain, and texting about soil conditions with a friend who was farming another part of my farm with 120 acres for organic soybean production.  I finished up with the second pass on the 26th.  It was also seeded on the 26th.

When i was about 2/3 rds completed, Allen came with a huge bag of premixed annual seed to fill the hopper on the Einbock power seeder and harrow.  He finished all 18 acres in about 4 hours, counting a couple stoppages due to hoses plugging.

So, time spent so far:

Mixing seeds – 1 hour

Tractor – first pass – 12 hours

Tractor – second pass – 7 1/2 hours

Tractor/Seeding  – 4 hours

A couple of ways to figure the cost of establishment.

One is to figure my actual costs and assign an hourly rate for our time plus wear/tear/depreciation on the tractor and implements.  And the other is to use custom rental rates which are figured by the acre.

  1. Total man hours spent – 24.5 hours at $??/hr
  2. Tractor costs for 23.5 hours at $??/hr
  3. Seed cost
  4. Fuel costs – 23.5 times 7.7 gph = 181 gallons @

Or using machinery rental rates (which is what i’m going to do since i don’t know the above costs!)

  1. tractor and rotavator – 36 acres times $20/acre = $720.00
  2. tractor and seeder/harrow – 18 acres times $15/acre = $270.00
  3. Seed costs – $31.56 per acre is what i ordered – HOWEVER, i am informed that Allen actually put on about half again as much, so i will multiply that amount by 1.5 for a per acre cost of $47.34.  The additional seed will hopefully pay off in increased forage yields.  So total seed costs are $$852.12.

Buckwheat 6# @ $ .90/lb

Lespedeza 6# @ $1.00/lb

Pearl Millet 5# @ $1.05/lb

Oats 12# @ $ .28/lb

Cowpeas 6# @ $ .90/lb

Sunflower 5# @ $.45/lb

Red Clover  2# @ $1.95/lb

Total expenses then amount to $1842.12 or $102.34 per acre.  That’s a lot and does not include the 2 tons of lime i had applied in April at a cost of $66/acre.  It’s tough to say this all has to be recouped in one year or one grazing because the lime will be there for the rest of my life and the tillage will have long term effects in loosening the soil as well as eradicating the toxic endophyte infected fescue.  With so many variables, counting the cost, or rather, measuring the increase or lack thereof, in the short run, is very difficult in ranch renovation.

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Greased up and ready to go!
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Greased up and ready to go!
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On the long rows, i can distract myself by chatting through Facebook with my son, who was in Spain, and texting my friend who is farming another portion of my land about soil conditions.  Lot of talk about the negative aspects of multitasking, but we all do it and it works.
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Seen here the second pass.
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Wasn’t just a plethora of big rocks this machine dug up.  Boy howdy, this made quite a clatter!  Thankfully, it did not do any damage and i was able to easily unwind this heavy chain from the shaft.
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After the Einbock Pneumatic Seeder/Harrow passes.
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Seeded 26 May, no rain, but took this photo this morning, the 1st of June, and it can already be rowed, but ya gotta hold your head just right to see it.
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Close up of some of the forages emerging – very exciting!  Only 5 days in the ground.

The plan is to have something to graze in 60-75 days. This will depend large part on moisture.  We are getting pretty dry now already and need a rain.  I will post updates.

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Here’s a shot of my seed mix in the machine.

By the way, you noticed i’m not including costs associated with photography and blogging.  It’s a good way to force me to sit down and keep a log of expenses, time, and results.  Hopefully, it will help others as well!

Managing soil, water, and animals properly and privately goes a lot further than politically motivated government regulations written by people who are far removed from soil and weather.

Cheers!

tauna