Sunday, January 26, 2014

Making the Farm Pay!

Page from the 1916 Butler County Farm Directory. Click to Enlarge. HH Grossman was my Great Grandfather. My family has been breeding like rats in Western Pennsylvania for 200 years! We probably had to farm to feed all the kids! 
If you have not read the excellent recent Series on Family Economies by Herrick Kimball, you really should. I touched on a similar subject a few years ago here. DRAT! I linked the wrong post. THIS ONE is more to the point.

My family has been on the same farm for a long time, and I have direct connection to a pile of multi-generational farmers among friends and family.  In 1916, our farm was part of an agrarian nation and provided a relatively prosperous full time living for two adult men and their families. A short 40 years later, it was a hardscrabble place that only stayed in the family because my father and uncle wanted to keep a place to run our hunting dogs.  They paid the (then much lower) taxes by living poor, as they had been taught by their father.

I grew up here, with some knowledge of land capability and the demographics of the local food and farm markets.  We have made a bit of money in some years, and in others nearly lost our thrift shop shirts. I cannot emphasize how difficult it is to wring a cash profit out of farming without some pretty deep pockets and patience. Livestock is harder than fruits or vegetables in this regard. We mostly keep livestock these days for nutritional self defense (I ate at a supposed decent restaurant  last week and ended up sick for five days!).

If you are new at farming, you need to be spending most of your time competing with the grocery store, by growing produce and raising stock for your family. If you raise stock, you need to have a keen understanding of how to minimize feed costs. I have seen many small livestock farms by  exurbanites that have too many animals for the pasture available. There is nothing wrong with buying a bit of feed if you are

1. using the manure for the garden.
2. maximizing pasture for the full season in your respective climate.
3. have a rough idea about your feed costs versus grocery store meat of comparable quality and are willing to live with that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Competing with the grocery store is to fail from the start. Don't; it would be like a small sawmill competing with Boise Cascade or some such.

Find an area they do poorly in, or better yet not at all.

And, why focus on competing for FRNs (ie, "cash")? A swap/trade avoids middlemen aka societal parasites