Saturday, June 6, 2015

Growing your own feed

One of the ideas that I had in my early farming dreams was raising the feed for my animals on my own ground.  In industry they call it vertical integration.  Not a new idea by any stretch, but one that seems to be particularly attractive to farmers.  

The livestock that I have is primarily pigs, but I'm transitioning to cows and I expect I'll have more pounds of cows (animal units of cows) by 2017... but pigs and cows eat different things, so to pursue the dream of producing my own feed I have to go two different directions.  

The last of the corn going in.  If you look carefully in the distance you'll see the tractor
 For forage production, and I'm talking about hay and alfalfa here, the basic strategy is to provide enough grazing space that during the growing season the animals can feed themselves, and to have enough non or minimally grazed space so that you can put away enough hay to feed the animals through the winter.  right now that looks like 1 acre per cow for grazing, and one acre for haying.   So for 25 cows, which is where I'm at now, I need about 50 acres of forage crops.

I call them crops because they're planted; you use a different device to get the crop in, but it takes some time and effort to do it right.   One established there's the time and effort to bring the crop into the barn, and even the grazed areas need some care and attention.  Mowing, to keep the weeds from developing seedheads, observation to avoid bare spots (and replant any that appear) and moving the cows from place to place to make sure that the pasture gets rest periods for regrowth.
only two more rows to go
This is my third year of raising corn, and I'm getting better at it.  I spent 30 hours of wrench-time to get the john deere 7000 4-row planter into perfect shape this year; purchased new seed meters, replaced a couple of opening disks and went over it carefully and replaced all of the nuts and bolts that were worn or stripped, and greased the whole thing prior to planting.  The result of it is that it worked perfectly, and I have to admit some satisfaction when somehting just works without a hitch.   Well, the hitch was the 30 hours of labor, but this year it was at a time and place of my choosing, which beats the heck out of having it happen in the middle of a field or in the middle of a planting.  I'm learning to schedule my "emergencies", and I'm learning not to put off maintenance; or at the very least, to make a list of things so that I can do it during non-peak seasons.

the 20 or so acres of corn I've put in this year in theory will produce 87 or so tons of corn at the end of the season -- not silage, but the grain corn itself.  That's calculated to be enough to feed the pigs through an entire year with the carbohydrate portion of their diet.   So far so good.  I'm hoping that I can get it in, and store it, in good enough shape that I can substantially reduce my feed order starting this fall.

With the forage I'm about 33% done with that already.  I'll take another hay cutting around june 20th, weather permitting, and if that works out that'll put me well over 50% on the forage side.

So it's a little like managing two different projects.  

Pictures taken where the orange, yellow and red lines intersect, facing north towards the river


Bill Gauch said...

I'm interested to see this from your PNW perspective. Here in New England, I've always read that it's pointless to grow your own hay and your own corn. The savings after the cost (labor, land, seed) to grow far exceeds what you could make as profit growing alternate crops and buying feed.

George said...

Congrats on getting the 7000 in fine working order, they are a great, affordable piece of planting equipment. If for some reason you have issues w/ the corn not drying down enough come harvest time, we have brought in a grain roaster to roast the corn and cool it. It then gets put directly into the grain bin for storage.

I'm eager to one day be on my own farm (currently managing 165ac of someone else's) and try out that grid planting method for corn I've read about. It's not so important for no till, chemical farmers, but for the organic or tillage type farm it looks to be an interesting method to save on labor (no time cultivating), without drastically reducing yields.

Bruce King said...

George: I agree with you on the 7000. It's a simple and effective machine that actually works to plant my pumpkins/squash as well, so I'll have straight rows of them this year (read: cultivatable, machine-weedable), too. Happy about that.
A grain roaster may be the next thing; I can feed high-moisture corn to the pigs directly, even a little fermented, out of my silage pit if need be. I'd rather store it dry in a bin (easier access to the feed), but it depends on how well I can get it to dry down in the field.

Grid planting - have a reference I can look at to see what you're talking about? I purchased some cultivators that people have been using on sweet corn, 8 row / 30" rows that match the planter, so I'll be weeding the corn with them this year, but only between the rows, not in the row.

Bruce King said...

Bill: regarding what you can and cannot grow, I can't tell you the number of people that have told me point-blank that I can't grow alfalfa here in western washington. That I shouldn't even try. Now I cheated a bit -- the local agricultural extension did a field study with a bunch of varieties of alfalfa and found 5 or 6 strains that did well, and I chose to plant one of those strains, so I had good reason to think it would grow, and it did. Happy with it.

regarding "it's pointless to grown your own hay or grain" -- that deserves a longer response