Animals, Crops and Gardens~Oh My

Spring time always seems to be the busiest time of year. Calves are born, chicks and poults arive. The fields get plowed and planted. The gardens rototilled and planted. This year has been difficult here on our farm, actually most of NY has seen record rain falls and most farms are almost a month behind in planting. Some of the fields are still too wet to get turned over. One of our 40 acre fields still had standing water on it two days ago. The warm sun and gentle breeze has started to dry it out but it still seems to be taking forever.
Many people outside of the agriculture world don’t realize just how detrimental all of this water has been. I was reading an article a week ago in the local newspaper about a farmer in the Watertown area that is normally harvesting short rotation crops like lettuce, radishes and beets from his fields by now. He hasn’t even been able to make it out to get the ground turned over to plant a crop yet. He made a comment about how much it hurts his income level for the year because he has now lost a full months worth of income, which he then goes on to explain that he only has income six months out of the year. That hurts any farmer!
I watched my grandparents struggle for too many years through this type of struggle. They had between 30 and 50 head of dairy cows. If milk prices bottomed out, they had to dip into any savings they may have had or had to finance the feed for them to keep producing. I know some people would say…That’s just how farming goes. I am going to say, shame on you! That is the way farming goes and anyone that produces anything to take to market should know this. So, if we all know this…then why haven’t we all diversified what we do?
Through the biomass business, I have learned that most agricultural producers want to diversify, they either just don’t know which direction to go that makes ecomonic sense or they are just too fearful of attempting to tap into a new market. It might require spending a few extra dollars or take out a bit more of our time as we start adding in new things. But in my opinion, with the right thought process, changes and transitions are much easier.
Using todays numbers for prices. Let’s say they planted and harvested all of the food needed, minus the grain needed for their herd. Recently, I was reading that corn costs somewhere around $3 to $5 a bushel to break the ground, plant the seeds, harvest and store for winter use. If they had to purchase corn and have it delivered in, it is market dependant. Last year, corn was selling for around $4.50 to 5.00 per bushel. This year the corn market has exploded and the current market value is between $7.00 and 8.00 per bushel. To those who don’t know, a bushel is 56 pounds.
Now, each cow consumes around 20 to 25 pounds of grain a day. That is about $4.00 worth of just grain. That doesn’t include bedding, hay, silage, electricity for the barn…no vet fees, none of that. So now let’s say that each cow averages about 75 pounds of milk a day. That means for every 100 pounds of milk, it takes 1.3 cows to get that amount. That means that for every 100 pounds of milk, there is $5.20 worth of just grain. Current milk prices aren’t bad at around $15.00 a hundred (per hundred pounds). That means farms are making a little bit of money, but not much. In 2008, when the milk prices plummeted to around $10.00 a hundred it wasn’t difficult to see why so many dairy farms were struggling.
Now let’s think about the impacts of diversity. By looking into different products, like adding a few beef cows in those pastures that typically aren’t used anymore. There is the ability to sell beef within the market or if you have a good network, you can self-market the meat as long as you have a good butcher. Some butcher shops will work with you too. Maybe you add in chickens are the farm. If you have pastured animals, you can let them free range in the pasture areas and they will spread out any manure pile you may have and it improved your soil fertilization. Then you can sell the eggs for additional income too. We work with a local market that sells ours as farm fresh free range eggs. They purchase all of the extras we don’t sell outright every day.
Other areas in which you can diversify require spending a fair amount of money, but it needs to be considered as investments with short pay off times. Methane ingestors are excellent options to offset high utility bills. And I know that many of you are saying, “Funny, you have to have 1,000 plus cows first!” And here is where I say to you, did you know that a methane ingestor is based size wise on the number of animals you have. And they are actually simple to construct and utilize! Yes, for the large commercial scale, pre-build options, you do need a large herd. There are other ways too…but I look at them more as sustainability options, not diversity! I will get into those another day.
The bottom line is this….If you are serious about farming and want to keep you farm for generations to come, you have to look at all options for income on your farm. Even if you just diversify with another breed of cow, it makes a difference. Everything we do on our farms should be considered as an investment, even when it comes to the electricity, fuel source for heat (especially here in our region) and hot water and even where or how the feed we use comes from. Don’t be afraid to try a new crop or a different crop rotation! The less we have to buy from within the market, the more we keep in our pockets! I don’t know about you, but I like have a few extra dollars in mine!
If anyone has any questions or comments, feel free! I would also be willing to talk to you about some of your options, no matter what size farm you have! You can either leave a comment here or contact me via my private email at doreen@broomebiomass.com!

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