|Part of the land at the new farm; it was in corn last year, harvested for silage|
I've heard it from folks who feed their animals -- like chicken owners who want to grow their own grains -- and also from people who want to raise their own animals on forage. It's really the same thing, and I think it comes from the same place. there's an attractive quality to the idea of growing your own food.
Let me give you an example: If I buy hay from someone, I have to figure out first whether they know what they're doing, and then wonder about their quality control (because even people who know what they're doing make mistakes or lose a crop here or there) and I have to keep an eye on how their year is going. If my hay guy has a drought and her production gets decimated, or his tractor breaks during haying and the hay gets rained on or any number of other things happen, I may have to find someone else to buy hay from.
And hay is a particular problem, because around here the window to make hay is pretty small, and it's cheapest during that window, so I really have to be on it to get the best price and that usually means picking it out of the field. If I don't find out about the supplier problems soon enough I can get stuck having to buy hay at higher prices.
If it's hay that I'm producing I have much more information about it, and I know exactly what the quality is because I've been there the whole time.
Now I'm using hay here as an example because while it does cost something to produce, the majority of the cost of hay in this area isn't the cost of the hay, it's the transportation of the hay from where its made to your barn. So by producing my own hay on my own property I'm basically eliminating the road cost.
But to generalize this, everyone likes the idea of making your own feed. If it's so good, why don't more folks do it?
One of the biggest things about producing your own feed is that for most of us, actually harvesting a crop is really, and I mean hugely, labor intensive.
|Do you know how much work this is? picture courtesy of ylmb25|
What this means for most of us is that someone out there can do the harvesting for a very low labor cost. A harvest specialist (or planting specialist, actually you can hire both ends out) can do the job for less time and money than you can. It's not like I sit on my hands all day and look for things to do; my time is already consumed by all sorts of farming stuff that I have to do -- and that's one reason that even though there are good things about raising your own feed, there's a strong attraction to hiring it done.
There are things that I will do myself, by hand, like having the kitchen garden with its stand of sweet corn that I pick for dinner, but when it comes to feeding animals, I have to look at the overall cost, and when I figure my limited time into it, off-farm feed gets pretty competitive.
But there's another aspect to it, too. Buying feed off-farm means that I can have a larger number of animals on my land than it would otherwise support. Michelle, over at the collie farm blog, does a great job in caring for her sheep, but buys hay every year to tide her through the winter. She's effectively carrying more sheep than her land will support, which both allows her to specialize in sheep and to be able to avoid supporting the equipment and expertise required to make good hay. Since her primary occupation is an an engineer, she's not terribly sensitive about prices or profits, but that's ok. She likes sheep, enjoys working with them, and that's a return that's worth more than a profit to her. If she were to have the number of sheep that could live on her land without a hay supplement it would be a much smaller number than she has now, and she isn't raising all that many as it is.
I think that's a great approach, but I draw a harder line when it comes to the farming venture. I want the farm to be able to support itself and pay a good wage (not the $2.75/hour that Michelle says is her rate!) and that means that I either have to get a really good price for a small production, or I have to ramp up my production to produce the income required. So I do a little of both.
My goal is to raise the feed that is most cost-effective to raise, but carefully consider the off-farm feed to allow me to carry either more animals or to avoid having to invest in custom planting/harvesting equipment & expertise.