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small 20 acre profitable dairy farm possible? fair land distribution?  RSS feed

 
Wesley johnsen
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small 20 acre profitable dairy farm possible? can a farmer make over a hundred k is they run a dairy on 10 or 20 acres max? do you think farm sizes are to big like 100 acres since the land could be more broken into smaller tracks so more people could be farmers and no land hogging? another reason i like small farms is it is enough for the farmer or family both to manage the farm without hogging land where you have to hire workers at like minimum wage vs all the farmers and workers owning their own 10 acre farm as opposed to farmer owning 100 acres.
 
Deb Rebel
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It depends on what it takes to support one head of cattle, how much land. If you intend to mostly graze, it can take 40-160 acres in some places to have enough forage to have sustainable foraging for one head. Some places less. If instead you intend to feed and have a large paddock/small pasture where the cow or steer can be staked out or allowed to roam... that costs a lot to acquire or grow the feed for each head.

100k?  Um, more like, how can you do with less income? There are many ways to reduce your income NEED while still maintaining a comfortable living, which then makes your smaller farm more likely to be profitable. And, what happens if you get hit with drought, and your formerly enough land to sustain your herd, now can't do so?

There are many variables in making your way, managing your land, feeding yourself, and providing for those comforts that can only be supplied with cash (such as that cellphone and service).

A lot of people run afoul of thinking big city prices and cost of living and fail quickly when they bite off more than they can chew, or don't revamp enough to make their desires work.

I personally deal with fixed income and decades of inflation, so it gets harder to make the ends meet. Expect first, you will need to reduce your income NEED, you will need to change some things in the way you live and provide for yourself, and in what you provide yourself.

Some claim with very careful attention to the details that you can keep one cow, a few more small animals, and feed a family of four off one acre. And produce a moderate income stream (a lot less than $100k) to provide the rest needed.

20 acres might do it if you keep just a few head, milk, and produce artisanal products from the milk (following code and law regarding such) that could be sold at farmer's market or other ways; you just might make it work. Goats may be a better choice for that (milk to produce things with) but it would still probably take living closer to a greater metro than you wish, to be able to sell your production (made into cheeses perhaps)

If I was to truck farm (veggies and maybe fruits) for sale at a market or a roadside stand if you're close enough to town; raise some chickens for a few eggs; it might bring enough income to make a living. No six digit income though.

I know in one northern state a lot of farmers ran a C grade dairy (20-30 head milked) and sold the milk to a cheese factory that would send a proper insulated tank pulled by a semi, to pick up production once a week. Once a month the cheese plant would cut a check to the farmer for the hundredweights produced. THEN the state enacted a law requiring the raw milk from C grades to have some expensive tests PER FIVE GALLON PAIL... so it shut them all down. What will you do if that happens?

Rethink what you think is profitable, where you are going to locate, the laws, and what the carrying capacity of your land is. Then rethink how much you think you need to make a profit to live off of. Reducing your income need will be a big step towards 'making a living'.
 
Su Ba
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I have no experience when it comes to dairy cows, but I can say with certainty that it's possible to have a profitable dairy on 20 acres using goats, as long as the location and outlet is right. Here on my island of Hawaii, there are two profit generating goat farms, each on less than 20 acres. One processes 100% of their milk into high end cheeses and markets it through restaurants. The other is less sophisticated and markets a variety of cheeses primarily via farmers markets. I don't know if they also sell fresh milk or not.

On Maui there is a small goat dairy too. Obviously profitable since they've been in existence for years. I see their cheeses in the local retail stores. They supplement their dairy product income via farm tours and a gift shop.
 
David Livingston
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I know people with goat farms of a similar size here in France too . Cheese is the way to go
 
Wesley johnsen
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i thought of a great idea. for rural farms they should be around 100 acres. the rural farms will be for livestock, dairy and staple crops. for vegetables and specialty crops they should be farmed urban and not rural since this way they can be grown on small plots or hydroponic shipping container farms and be grown by self employed individuals in their backyards and also some worker owned cooperative for people that can not have a container by where they live. i believe farming for the most part should be done by self employed people after all it is a lifestyle. i hate the idea of farming under a boss and having to commute to work when you can work where you live. self employed lifestyle choice. and there could be like a producer coop like organic valley or a food hub so all farmers work together and do not have to compete.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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small 20 acre profitable dairy farm possible? can a farmer make over a hundred k is they run a dairy on 10 or 20 acres max? do you think farm sizes are to big like 100 acres since the land could be more broken into smaller tracks so more people could be farmers and no land hogging? another reason i like small farms is it is enough for the farmer or family both to manage the farm without hogging land where you have to hire workers at like minimum wage vs all the farmers and workers owning their own 10 acre farm as opposed to farmer owning 100 acres.


first off, making 100 thousand dollars a year from a diary operation will take at least 100 acres because the costs of operating has to be figured in as expenses, this includes vet bills, feed, milking equipment purchases and all upkeep of that equipment, barn bedding, pasture upkeep, fencing, and if you are using a tractor all the expenses for that. Subtract the expenses from the gross income and you have the profit left over. For Large milk quantity cows you should expect 3-4 gallons per day milking twice a day. If you are wholesaling then you need to be able to supply at least 2, 20 gallon containers per day or you will probably find you are on your own to market your product.  Milk at the producer end pays around 50 to 75 cents per gallon this extrapolates to the price at the grocery store after all the middle men take their piece of the dollar pie. Same applies for any farm producing anything. If you have your own pasteurization equipment you can get around 1.50 per gallon.

the normal population per acre is 4 dairy cows, if you leave them on one paddock, you will need to expand that land/use to 4 acres per cow so your pasture will not become a mud field. This is why most use multiple paddocks and rotate animals through.
So lets look at the norm., 4 cows on an acre = 2 to 4 days of food for the cows, then you need to move them to another acre, you will not bring these cows back to that first acre for at least 35 days (minimum rest period) so if you are running this system, which is marginal at best, you will need nine paddocks of one acre each.
The best way to do this is really to move the cows every 2 days and not use a paddock for at least 90 days so it can fully recover. That means you now need 27 acres of paddocked pasture for just 4 cows. You can see why most dairy men have large land holdings.
I have a friend who is a "small dairy" and he makes a nice living for himself and his two family member workers, they have 150 milking cows (don't forget that these cows have to have a calf in order for them to produce milk) and the farm is 350 acres, because he has such a "small" dairy farm he has to supplement the food intake with grains and silage along with hay for the winter. He is in the process of purchasing another 300 acres, that connects to his farm so he can go 100 percent grass fed.

In my area there are about 50 small farmers that make up the sellers at the farmer's market, none of them are on less than 5 acres and the smaller they are the fewer produce items they grow, simply because you have to have land in production and land resting.
Now, if you wanted to do something like micro greens or juice grasses then you can stack those into a smaller space because you aren't going to be growing in soil. For small plots of land, I think this is the best farm model to go after since you would be able to make a profit from your small parcel.

The problems come from trying to do too much on too little land but only if you want to be Certified Organic or All Natural. To farm in soil on extremely small parcels you will have to use non-organic items eventually or you will be bringing in most of your organic farm materials. Either of these will cut deeply into the profit margin.

Redhawk
 
wayne fajkus
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I agree that its not feasible on 20 acres and raise them on the pasture.

But one thing worth noting. Raw milk sells for $8 gallon. I know some states its not legal, so it won't apply to everyone.

Its sold at farmers markets and an honesty stand, where you put the money in an envelope and grab your gallons the stand takes little time to manage once a clientel is established
.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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For under 100 acres of land, I would raise goats instead of cows, that way I can produce enough milk on as little as 20 acres without a lot of feed cost (this is actually less land than our hogs would need).

Here, raw goat milk is cheaper to produce and sell because of the raw milk requirement differences. Raw Goat Milk here sells for 5 dollars per half gallon making it a viable money maker.

Currently we buy our goat milk from a licensed farm, we go and pick it up  since it is nearby and we may even be able to buy some kids from our milk supplier when we are ready to start our own herd.

 
Deb Rebel
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Have you ever had a milking herd? They need milking daily and usually on schedule (cows especially). They get to be pains if you are even five minutes late, and they get used to order, and if you do one out of order, make her wait, she will probably be dropping her milk already and be making a mess. You are tied to that herd. Life can be had between milking times (dairy we usually did at 6 am and 6 pm, twice a day. Any longer and the cow would drop her milk). IF you want to take a vacation you have to trade with a milking neighbor and they have to juggle two herds. Then comes paying them back by doing the same.

I have not kept goats but I assume they are also a regular milking time or else. Are you willing to be tied to your herd?

Despite near coronaries with orb spiders with a body an inch or so long, doing 'find the hornworm' and such, I like tomatoes better. I'm just too rural to be able to truck farm and haul to a farmer's market where people will buy my produce (1-2 hours each way, 2 hours might be the market that actually is worth it, but then I have issues with crossing state line)

Artisinial eggs, good well raised dark yolk ones, can fetch a good price to a large enough market. Again, I'm in an area with 'depressed' egg prices. See 2 hours to haul them far enough to have a possible chance to sell them. The real lucrative markets are 5-8 hours away... which isn't worth the fuel or time.

So it depends on where you are living, the climate, the carrying capacity of your land (some places 20-80 acre farms do well, some they talk multi sections of land-section=640 acres, and ranching)

For dairy cattle to produce $100k you will need a LARGE set up with enough rotational pasturage, space to grow forage for off season, and have the barns and equipment to run the operation. 20 acres with the best land and good climate isn't going to do it, even with good placement to customer base and going to making your own fancy cheese you can market....

IF you find ways to reduce your income needs yet provide a reasonable comfort level of living, you can get by with less. Smaller scale. Also picking your location so you have market...
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Indeed Deb, most of the folks here that ask me about what it takes to start up a farm VRS a homestead, decide to do neither. They all think it will be fun, give them loads of free time and they will make a nice income.
Once they ask folks doing it, they change their minds quickly.

It is a great lifestyle, but you have to know what you are getting into.
 
Deb Rebel
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Indeed Deb, most of the folks here that ask me about what it takes to start up a farm VRS a homestead, decide to do neither. They all think it will be fun, give them loads of free time and they will make a nice income.
Once they ask folks doing it, they change their minds quickly.

It is a great lifestyle, but you have to know what you are getting into.


Whenever you're self employed, it seems you work harder and longer than you have ever done before. Nobody else but you to do it.

Living things need regular care. Right now I just have a large market garden (that is finally getting to producing) and with our hot season (average 95f, single digit humidity, blazing sun, and sustained winds usually around 25mph) it takes regular maintenance just to keep things cared for. Miss one day and you can lose the plants and the crop. And the work is 'until you get it done' and usually 'needs to be done NOW, right now'.

Fish or mammals, even moreso. With planning to make sure that feed is provided, health is maintained, fence that needs tending, and all the other things. Another thing that takes 'needs to be done NOW, right now'.

Where I grew up about half the local were farmers and half 'city'. Senior year one of the city girls got engaged to a farmer (beef and wheat). She didn't know about the life of a farmwife. She didn't want to know (he put a whole carat solitare on her hand, in the days before Cubic Zirconia so this was quite something) and was all wound up in the wedding. Calving season had ended, as had spring's work; haying season hadn't started yet, and harvest was a ways off; they had the wedding (her poor father had to take out a second mortgage but nothing was too good for his little girl (she had two brothers)...)  The marriage lasted into Spring's work the following year. She told me she finally understood my farmgirl tan, the calloused hands, and my being dead in school during calving season... she had NO clue that that was going to be her life. Oh, and the fight in March during calving season, her solitare had been an investment and he wanted it to help pay for putting in the crop--then they found out what it was really worth when he tried to use it as loan collateral. But the marriage was already on the way out...

You have to know what you are getting into if you weren't raised farm. Go work for someone that's farming if you think you want to do it. Find out what you're really getting into. THEN decide.

I reiterate you can support yourself on as small as one acre, depending on what you're doing with it, and if you've readjusted your life to live with less income need. A commercially viable farm is possible at 10 acres depending on what you choose. 20 will fly in some areas. If you have woods and grow ginseng you might be able to get that much if you can stand to let them go five years or so then harvest; if you are able to grow truffles; etc. Or go to artisanal type foods such as making cheeses.

In the early 1970s where I grew up, we had a strange year and one family came up with a field of rye that was just loaded with ergot (a fungus). They were barely making it at farming and didn't need this, but. They binned it and spent the winter picking the ergot out of the rye. Every evening all of the family (five kids) picked through the grain, a 5 quart ice cream pail at a time. One ergot filled ice cream pail netted them $1500 from a pharmaceutical place. By spring they had gone through the rye, and made enough to pay off debt, buy new equipment, and otherwise improve their life. I don't know what the ratio was for the rye to ergot, or how many pails they gleaned but it was pretty substantial. So bad luck turned around by HARD WORK. (and a lot of serendipity to this one, by memory they probably did top $100k in those era dollars that year...)

Growing some spices and herbs, still couldn't get near $100k off 20 acres a year.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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My wife was farm raised, I worked summers on my grandfathers dairy and produce farm.
We knew exactly what it takes, and she did tell me I was crazy, and she still tells me I am crazy to want this life style for my retirement years (which starts next year).
Currently we raise American Guinea Hogs for sale but we may cut back to one boar and one sow for next year since the market has fallen into the abyss here.
We almost have enough gardens to provide all our vegetables and we have a nice orchard for fruit.
Chickens provide our eggs.

Our end goal is to be food independent of grocery stores and we are getting close.
This is a before daylight to after dark work day, seven days a week.
Vacation means get up and get early morning done, load up for fishing and be back around noon to do the afternoon work. We live close enough to the Little Red River that we can do two runs a month for fishing.
We have 4 dogs to guard the farm, 1 Boxer, 1 Catahoula leopard dog, 1 Pit Bull Terrier, 1 Chihuahua, a weird mixed pack but they do what they are supposed to do for us.
We also have a guard Donkey.

My advice to those who are thinking about doing this is "you will be working 16 hour days, everyday of the year, if that isn't your idea of fun then pass". Then I add, there will never be a time you will say "Wow, I finished all the work", that never happens.
All of Murphy's Laws were written by a farmer, I'm sure of it.
One of my favorite sayings was by Otto Kilcher, "There is always something that has to be done right now because it is the most important thing on the list, until something else breaks and becomes the most important thing on the list".

Deb and I along with others here live the lifestyle and love it. It is not, however, for most people.

Redhawk                                                             
 
Deb Rebel
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And the time honored, supper is over, dishes are done, evening chores are done, it's still daylight and you take a nice deep breather breath and go 'oh my, what am I going to do...' then the phone rings. A neighbor was driving along and seen your cows out. Ditch grass always looked 85 times better to them than pasture grass they just got turned into today... Always.

The "Perchance you were wondering what you were going to be doing this evening?" call... don't miss those. Even regretted having to make those calls if you seen the neighbor's stuff out.

Nope, there isn't anything turnkey about going back to the land. Or simple, or easy.

Guard donkeys are vastly underrated.

Thinking of what you can do with 20 acres to pull $100k... I have a friend in the UK that hothouse grows poinsettas for the holiday retail market, he and his brother are major suppliers to one of the serious super-urban cities. So they have market. IF you can afford to build and maintain the greenhouses, it might turn that much. But it will take you time and money and a lot of work to build up. So not a permie solution.

Maybe if you are close enough to big urban, have enough neighbors running small goat herds, buy their milk, and make cheeses to sell. And/or other products that use goat milk. (goatmilk and oatmeal soap, etc). Set up your food forest and garden to provide your groceries, keep a few animals for yourself and your own freezer, and make cheese and market it. Still don't think you can hit six figures profit though a year. And you'll be working hard.
 
Wes Hunter
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Just for kicks.

Let's say you've got 20 acres of good grass in a good-grass-growing area, fenced and cross-fenced.  You've got a herd of 10 small-frame cows in good health.  You've got a small barn with milking stanchions.  You borrow a bull for breeding in summer, and calve in the spring.  You leave the calves on the cows 24/7 for the first few weeks.  You feed just enough supplement to keep the cows busy while you milk.  You milk by hand, twice a day.  You get 2 gallons per cow per day.  You sell raw fluid milk by the gallon direct to the customer.  You use reusable half-gallon mason jars.

I won't bother with up-front costs, because they're so wildly variable and dependent on so many factors.  As for other costs, maybe $100 or so for bull rental, $1000 give or take for hay, the hopefully rare vet bill.

But you get 20 gallons per day.  Let's say you sell it for $6/gallon, and net $4/gallon after direct costs (feed, milk filters, replacing the occasional broken jar).  That's $80 per day, $560 per week, or $24,640 per year (44 weeks).  Plus 10 calves at, say, $300 each, which is another $3000.  Then you run a few ewes and their lambs for ruminant diversity, and a flock of small free-ranging hens who debug your pastures and whose eggs cost you nothing.

It's not $100,000, but then I'd suggest $100,000 isn't a worthwhile goal.
 
William Bronson
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I the biggest profits from small farms and homesteads seems to come from selling the lifestyle.
This can be via classes,youtube, books,speeches, or via the storey behind the physical products.

It's not unlike being a successful  painter. The painted canvas on it's own is worth nothing:they are manufactured wholesale to order,painted by cheap overseas labor.
And you can only sell it once.
It's the prints, the books, shows,getting paid to travel with and show your work,out right patronage,grants, teaching,etc,that pays the bills.
Those who sell their work at conventions,art shows, etc,  get sales more from clients who KNOW them,who like them. The transaction is not all about the artwork.

I think smallholders are better off being fine artists than sign painters.
We just can't make it off of volume.
 
Su Ba
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Bryant and Deb are right up front and spot on. Soooo, is there profit from a 20 acre dairy farm? My own opinion is that it depends upon ...
...your location
...how good one is at marketing
...if one is willing to work all day 365 days a year
...if you're flexible about how to generate some income, even if it's only $20
...by profitable you mean the farm paid all its bills, by juggling you got all your basic personal bills paid, and you have enough to surprise the spouse/partner with a dinner out on your anniversary (maybe)
...it doesn't drive you over the cliff when the farm equipment breaks, the livestock get out, your main buyer backs out, the officials come to inspect, etc.
...you're an eternal optimist
...you so passionate about what you're doing that you are are still content even if this year didn't make the profit you hoped for.
 
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