James L posed this question to me, and I think it's worth talking about
" Hey Bruce,
You mentioned that you're thinking of attempting to grow much of your own animal feed. I guess you're talking about not just the cows, but also your pigs?
In your earlier posts however, I recall that you generally haven't been particularly fond of this approach for your farm. I think the rationale was that it simply wouldn't be worth the immense additional effort to plant, cultivate, harvest & maintain the pastures/crops required to feed the pigs....especially when compared to how cheaply grain can be purchased. Besides the huge amount of labour involved, there is also the costs of buying (or hiring) the appropriate machinery that would be needed. "
My thinking hasn't changed, but my circumstances have. I've been farming on a very small number of acres with a large number of animals per acre. That system worked fine with the supplemental food I was able to get through basically industrial foraging: Discarded food, mostly produce, provided the bulk of the calories.
I did that for two reasons; one, I could get the food for a lower cost than equivalent feed, and two, it allowed me to carry more animals than I had acres. It worked well for 7 years, and then my food supply got disrupted. The fellow running the recycling center that I drew most of my food from moved 60 miles further away, and then got weird about parceling out the food -- he liked having multiple farms picking up his food, but he really didn't' have the volume to support all of the farms that he attracted.
So my feed situation got unstable. I dealt with it a while by basically calling the guy every morning, but it soon became clear that he either didn't have the volume I wanted any more, or just plain wasn't able or wasn't willing to give me that volume because he was sending it to other farms. Either way it was a problem.
Over the last 3 months I've found other sources, and we're back up to about half the volume we used to get, but in the meantime I've had to purchase feed, and feed isn't cheap around here. $540 a ton, and we go through a ton a week if I'm feeding complete ration feed only.
My circumstances have changed: I used to be in a situation where I had plenty of food that was relatively cheap, and not many acres. Now I'm at a place where I have a lot of acres, and food is relatively expensive. And the acres I do have are pretty darned good ground.
My long-term goal is to find a type of farming that I enjoy, is profitable, and fits with this area -- both in terms of soil, weather, crops and so on. I want to grow things on my farm that fit well with where I am.
What you said is correct: it is more effort to plant, cultivate, harvest and maintain pastures/crops to feed the pigs -- due to limited acres, I couldn't raise near enough feed to make it worth while. But now, with 94 acres available, I have enough land for the economies of scale to start making producing my own feed possible. And I've also found a farmer in this area who does custom work (cultivating, planting, harvesting) for a reasonable hourly rate -- so for those speculative crops I don't have to buy the equipment, I can hire him in, try it out, and if it works out and pencils out, THEN buy the equipment.
The first thing that I've been exploring this year is growing corn without spraying down the weeds; I'd say that the sweet corn crop was pretty much a mess, but it provided a good learning opportunity, and i'm going to try it again next year with what I learned this year.
With respect to what i'm looking at growing, here's the list:
Alfalfa and Orchard grass mix
Winter Wheat (both as harvest and cover crop)
Oats (cover crop and graze)
Sweet corn (version 2, hopefully better next year)
These are the things that i'll try in larger plots; from a few acres to 20 acres each. They are mostly aimed at ruminants (beef and dairy cows) but also serve a dual purpose for the pigs, providing forage to supplement their offered feed. I'll also have a kitchen garden, but you wont' see farm scale production out of it. Talking about
Some of this I'll be planting this fall; some will be next spring and some won't be until may of next year (sweet corn, for instance).
3 weeks ago