I have around 8 acres on one side of my driveway that's open pasture and around 3 more on the right side of the same. As a family, we consume a lot of beef so my first thought was to fence the 8 acres and put 2-3 cows out here in an intensive mob grazing system with very small paddocks, then make hay with the rest of the land. But everyone one around here is telling me it won't work, because there's not enough land. I've been told to do every thing, and they'll all make me rich. Here's what I'm considering at this point and am open to suggestions.
1. Small cow/calf operation using AI.
2. Feeder beef calves in the spring, sell in fall.
3. Holstein bottle bull calves. We're in the largest dairy producing county in Kentucky, so they're on every corner for $150.
4. Meat goats.
5. Sheep of some variety.
I know that cattle would be extremely cost prohibitive now since they're through the roof. But wouldn't be buying too many, so it should be manageable. I've heard that buying calves would be risky since they're so prone to sickness, especially the dairy calves. Most people around here give them at least a double dose of everything the vet will sell them, thinking they're heading off trouble. The idea of having the freedom to mess with them when the grass is green, then sell them before it gets too nasty in the winter is appealing. I would be using these ahead of my chickens as a complimentary system. I'm new to the farming thing so be gentle with me. I know that I'm not going to get rich and retire off of any of them, but need them to pay for fencing, then make it worth my while.
I would do a silvopasture system with sheep......plant walnut or some other valuable trees on the 8 acres and have the sheep graze between them. Down the road you can then harvest the trees and make some cash, One veneer quality walnut tree can go for a few thousand dollars imagine how much 8 acres of walnut would bring in.......in the mean time you can sell the sheep wool and meat for profit.
I would encourage you to go buy a few lamb chops and feed them to your family. Tell them what it is afterwards. After that, look into raising them. Just the size compared to cows makes it so much easier to manage. From moving them around into paddocks, loading them in trailer, as well as plant management ( the weeds that cows don't eat eventually take over the land). Sheep seem to eat a little of everything. Nothing seems to take over.
40 pounds of meat is also easier to freeze vs 600 pounds of meat.
I think Twins and triplets are pretty common also.
Everything but predator control. And shearing. But you can't make money on them here.
Holstein bottle bulls are cheap for a reason. They don't grow well and you will spend the price difference and then some in extra feed to get them to butcher weight.
Feeders have the best chance of not losing money. Still hard to make money, but they are cheap mowers at the very least.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
Do some research into niche markets. Hides come first to mind. Years ago when I was keeping goats in GA, I connected with a drum maker; who usually used dried imported goatskins from Africa for drum heads. It was quite a process to rehydrate them and prepare them for use, whereas a fresh hide shrinks in place on the drum head. He ended up paying me more $ to ship him fresh hides, right off the animal on butchering day, by express mail, than I could have gotten for the whole animal at the local livestock auction!
I run sheep on 10 acres. I am lucky in that I have grass year around. After I factor in the cost of fencing, shelters, predator control, loses, medications, feed supplements, fly control, and miscellaneous expenses, I surely don't make much profit. I make the most profit off of selling pet bottle lambs, but there is a very limited market for them. I'll never get rich off of sheep. But they supply our own safe to eat nutritious meat, keep the grass under control, and give me a valuable product for trading. By the way, we butcher our own and arrange commercial butchering for buyers. We save big time that way. When we have to use a commercial butcher for resale meat, it severely cuts into the profit, making selling meat at a farmers market hardly worth the effort....especially since I have to pay a hefty county permit to do that.
I won't run cattle because the costs are too high. Besides, cattle are more apt to hurt or kill me. Plus they are much harder to confine than sheep. My fencing would need to be upgraded. And I'd either have to maintain a commercial freezer or rent space at the slaughter house to store the meat. And there is not much of a market for live steers here. On top of that, I don't know that much about them so I'd need to hire a veterinarian to deal with medical problems. At least the sheep I can deal with myself.
I don't know what species to suggest. It all depends on your area, market, ability, and knowledge, and which you like. I've found that you really need to LIKE the type of livestock you work with. It sounds like you're not already knowledgable with any particular species of livestock. So my only suggestions are:
...start out slow
...don't invest a lot of money into purchasing lots of stock
...read and learn as much as you can about the species you decide upon
...hook up with someone who is local who already is working with that type of animal
I've heard plenty of stories of people who invested all their money into livestock they knew nothing about, then ended up losing them all and going broke. Boer goats. Potbellied pigs. Ostriches. Alpacas. Even a large dairy goat herd, a commercial rabbitry, and fancy show ponies. Livestock can die on you if you don't know what you're doing. When I started with sheep, I lost many to various problems.....flystrike, parasites, nutritional problems, fencing accidents, predators. I learned a lot from each disaster. But since I started out on a small scale, it wasn't a financial disaster. Plus I was willing and able to literally eat our loss or use the dead sheep to feed the dogs, chickens, or pigs.
Being new to farming just means that you'll need to do a lot of learning.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
So many ways to approach this. Profit is when you can sell an item for more than your costs of production and marketing. Obvious but important. You need to sell the product. Typically that means reaching out to the market and convincing them to buy your product.
In our permie context I suggest reading some of what Adam Klaus has to say on the subject. He makes some great arguments for persuading markets to pay a premium for premium products.
Again, simple and obvious, but for most of us really hard in practice.
You need to know both your market and your product.
Costs of production. The bigger the animal, the higher your production costs are likely to be. Not just feed or animal purchase price but infrastructure - fencing, shelter, processing.
Risk - bigger animals means fewer animals means loss of one is a bigger hit. Bigger animals are riskier for the farmer's health too. A cow can kill a person. A goose not so likely (but they may try!).
Learning curve on animal husbandry and associated costs. Easier and less expensive to work out the general principles with a few rabbits than a few beeves.
Personally, the plan begins with small livestock that will not break the bank to house, feed, shelter, process and where I win any confrontation without a doubt. Chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits. I can get multiple functions, provide most of their food, and get valuable experience in principles of animal husbandry.
Not likely to get rich off them, but will eat well with variety.
Down the road a little come sheep and goats for dairy, meat and fiber. Pigs fit in along the line as well, if only because bacon is awesome;)
I do not expect to try cows, I see them as not suiting my scale of operation.
Long winded point, one needs to know the business, whatever business, to make a profit. Learning the business can be expensive, especially if you go right to big ticket items for your learning phase.
Well said Peter. I've had a lot of the same thoughts. There's definitely more money in selling higher quality, all natural meat delivered to a processor straight from the farm. It would be easier to absorb losses/additions with smaller animals.
Infrastructure is a big deal also. I thought about building a mobile barn on an old hay wagon to move for them(sheep or goats). Would you see a problem with that? I'm thinking it may even improve the vulnerability to worms.? How many goats or sheep do you all think I could safely put on this amount of land?
I'm still pondering what to. At this point, I'm leaning toward either getting beef calves in the spring and putting my feet up in the winter or hair sheep to sell lambs off the farm.
I'm interested in the silvopasture system that Sean suggested. It would be great for all animals involved, including the chickens. Would Mark Shepard's or Olivier Asselin's system would be the most suitable for these animals and my 6b zone? The STUN thing that Mark advocates is pretty appealing to me.
Pigs are interesting, but I've always heard that they're destructive to the pastures.
Your prices will vary for your area etc, but for me I would consider net profit before deciding. For my area if I was getting average prices, the economics would be like this.
-Cows and calves, I'd say you could do 3 cows selling the calves as weaners would net you $1,300 or $2,000+ for yearlings but you may struggle with feed over the winter.
- Weaner calves through to yearlings, maybe you could do 10 netting $2,000
-Pigs weaners through to hogs, you could do 20-25 netting $4-5,000
-Chickens (eggs) 100 $5,000
I have no idea for the broilers because I have no idea on how much food they eat or how much that would cost, but I think you need a pretty sharp price for your feed and a great premium for the birds to make money there.
At a good estimate those are all similar stocking rates, and would include good management intensive rotational grazing, maybe 1/2 acre paddocks, and the prices are for my area and will be different where you are, but I imagine the relative differences between animals will stay similar.
I would do the pigs, you need to put in the infrastructure fences, water, piglets etc but better income, whatever you do, you can stack some chickens in there as well for a few eggs, to do chickens you would need to clip their wings and keep them in a netting electric fence.
Mark and Stephan (Olivier is the video producer, Stephan the orchardist, if I recall correctly) are both primarily tree guys. I doubt Mark would recommend STUN for animals. They do have good stuff on integration, but it might be worth keeping in mind that for them the animals are a secondary benefit in a tree centric system.
As for the pond, how deep, what temperatures, how is it fed, what oxygen levels? All things that impact what to stock. My first thought with none of that information is catfish.
Andy-The only person that I've ever heard say anything at all about pigs was Joel Salatin, he makes pretty good money with them. I'd just have a lot to learn about them.
•I'm with you on the eggs as long as I have a market for them. We currently sell all of our surplus(a few dozen per month) at only $2 though.
•I've sold a few broilers this fall to test the waters to see if I can get a few families to commit to several next year but haven't had any luck yet. I would like to ramp up to several hundred to make them worth while.
•I need something to go ahead of the chickens to be the mowers. That's the reason I had my mind on sheep or cattle. Last year I used a briar hook to trim the grass in front of my pens, it wasn't as fun as I'd thought.
Peter-You're right, Stephan is his name. It's been a while since I watched the videos but I thought that I saw one of Mark's orchard with temporary electric fencing for pigs. I've slept since then though.
•the pond is only about 4-4.5 feet deep in the center, but it recedes very little in the heat of the summer. It's at the foot of a small hill and the ground is a little wet anyway so it holds up well.
•I don't know about the oxygen levels, but it's supporting a pretty large number of bluegill and catfish with a few bass and crappie through in there. My father in law is a hard core fisherman. He's caught several at the lake and put in our pond.
•Everybody loves catfish, but could I sell them?
•Would they even reproduce and grow fast enough to have anything to sell?
I wouldn't bother with broilers, I think the margins are too thin, especially if you don't have a brand. Anything where you have to buy inputs (excluding infrastructure) is pretty much a non starter for me. It's too hard to make a buck when you have to start making money for other people first.
It may be worth getting a lamb, a calf and 10 piglets, set up your fencing and see how it goes. Run them all together, the lamb and calf will think they are pigs and teach the pigs how to graze, you will have a variety of meat for yourself and something to sell.
One thing about Joel Salatin is he is a great marketer and gets a real premium for his pigs and can afford to feed them mostly on grains and legumes.
I am waiting on a land sale, then hopefully by june nest year I'll be doing some medium scale pig/chicken/beef farming. So I have been looking into the most effective ways of doing this, and pigs seem to be a pretty good choice. That's just my opinion.