Saturday, May 21, 2011

All paths lead to cattle?

In the last month I've heard two different farms talk about the products they started with, and what they ended up with after a few years, and it seems like all paths lead to cattle. 

The Meat Chicken
  If you'd like to get into farming with the smallest possible investment, meat chickens are pretty much the way to go.  For about $150 you can buy all of the equipment  you need to raise them.  Here's the total list: 

  1 250 watt red heat bulb.  $15
  1 Clamp-style bulb socket (with ceramic socket) $10
  1 roll chicken wire, 50' x 24"  $25
  10 8' 2x4   $22
  1 plastic bin (for brooding chicks) $13

  The chicks and feed will cost you more, but you can easily do chicken tractor chickens for under $300 total investment, and on an average-sized residential lawn, even.  You don't need acres.   And you turn out a new batch of finished chickens every 8 weeks. 

...And that's really the basic problem.  Anyone with a couple of hundred dollars can be your competitor.  And the birds require daily care and feeding, and they're labor-intensive to process.  You don't have to have much in the way of equipment; a pot on the stove and a paring knife, and voila!  you're a pastured poultry producer!

Lets contrast that to Cattle.

The Beef cow
You go to the spring feeder auction and buy some yearly calves; probably $600-800 each.  You put each calf out on acreage, hopefully with some sort of water.  You provide salt block.  If your fences are tight and in good shape, well...

  That's it.  Until October. 

  ...yes, I know that beef guys are gonna give me some grief, but honestly, there's no way that a cow is as much work over the 7 months you feed it out as 4 batches of chickens would be, and considering that a cow produces the better part of a thousand pounds of hanging weight at the end of the year... 

It's all a matter of what you spend your time doing.  Cattle are popular if you're a big landowner because they're much much easier than most other livestock.  I raise both cattle and pigs, and I spend a lot more time looking after my pigs.  It's pretty amazing to me how little time I spend on my cattle.  Turn them out, look at their trough and fence every week or 10 days, and that's about it.  Yep, I could spend more time on them... but I don't have to.

I raise pigs as my primary crop because I like, enjoy pigs.  I think that they're neat animals, and I like the fact that the commitment to produce pigs is pretty big -- I don't need as many acres as beef producers do, but I do require more equipment to handle the tons of food and the collection of the tons of food. 


Urbancowgrrl said...

When we had a few chickens (in the city - so not even a full flock) I found the labor intensive stuff relaxing (cleaning the coop, feeding, watering, collecting eggs) but what I found the most labor intensive was what to do with all the poop! We opted for composting but that also became an art of making sure it had the right mix of greens and browns and was the right temperature to compost correctly.

It was amazing how many urban chicken keepers just piled their poop in a corner of the yard and left it there forever. It's probably a lot different in the country, but when that pile is sitting on the other side of your fence on a 4k square foot lot it's pretty unpleasant.

I wish we had enough room to have a full flock of chickens at our new place. I'm one of those weird people that really enjoys chicken! Although I would like to have cattle too someday I just have a huuuuuge learning curve for them since I have no experience with them!

Anonymous said...

All paths may lead to cattle, but homemade bacon is hard to beat. And pigs are a great seasonal crop. Its hard to have cattle if you have that perspective. said...

Are you talking about farming Bruce or just homesteading stuff? Cattle also need much more infrastructure and expense than water and grass if you are trying to do it as an enterprise. How do you get your steer home from the auction? How do you get it to the butcher? Also, Raising more than 100 chickens on pasture is an exercise that will leave you never wanting to see a chicken again. Been there done that. Best farming ventures profit wise: Mushrooms, Veggies, Honey, Grains then maybe livestock.