Any discussion about farming or starting a farm should also have some sort of detail about how much land is being talked about, so even though I'm a little superstitious about talking about how many acres I'm farming or how many cattle I own, I'll go ahead and give some details about how much land I'm talking about (although I'll probably be a little less open about the numbers of cattle).
Right now, I'm farming 400 acres of family-owned land and I also rent another 160 acres about 4 miles down the road. When I started out, I just had the 400 acres, so that's what I'll mainly be talking about.
On the 400 acres, there's about 140 acres of cropland, about 20 acres is a railroad right-of-way, about 10 acres has always been a hay meadow, and the remaining 230 acres is pasture (about 185 acres of grass and 45 acres of wooded areas).
In this area and on this farm, winter wheat is usually grown and the typical livestock is a beef cow-calf operation. Calves are weaned in early-October and are either sold or are kept through the stocker phase to graze wheat pasture and then sold in the spring as feeders. Most of the time (in a good year), cattle are grazed on the wheat fields until about late February and then the wheat is harvested for grain in the summer.
Combining cattle and wheat makes it a relatively flexible system. Depending on the growing conditions and the markets, wheat can be grown for grain only, grazing and grain, or grazing only. Cattle can be sold as weaned calves, or at any point between a weaning weight (~500 lb.) and a feeder weight (~900 lb.). Only part of the typical farm is suitable for cropland, so you use cattle to utilize the rest of the farm to produce calves to graze your wheat to add more value to your cropland. There can be a lot of options when you grow wheat in combination with cattle.
It is a type of farming that produces products for the 'commodity' market, which is looked down on by a lot of the local-food, direct-marketing, 'Joel Salatin' wannabe, 'Food, Inc.' documentary types, but it's a way of farming that works in this area. I started thinking about farming, and was actually farming before any of that type of thinking really started moving into the mainstream, so sometimes I don't agree with everything that is advocated in that part of the world of agriculture (although I do agree with some of it).
When I was thinking about farming that's basically the model of farming I was planning to follow. It was a relatively simple plan, I was going to grow wheat for both grazing stockers and a grain crop, and I planned to do things like trying to graze year-round as much as possible to cut my hay expenses and increase the profit potential of the cattle. I was going to be grass-fed because I thought it would cut my input costs, not for the healthier beef reasons.
It was so simple and almost the same exact thing that everyone else was doing in this area that I'm actually surprised that it worked. Sometimes with a little luck, not trying to re-invent the wheel pays off.
As a hopefully entertaining addition, I thought I'd share some of the outlandish ideas I also had in that time period when I was thinking seriously about farming and trying to come up with a plan.
I had a pair of bird dogs (Brittany Spaniels) in that period of my life, and I had a grand plan to raise gamebirds like bobwhite quail, pheasants, and chukars. I planned to sell live birds to game preserves for shooting and bird dog trainers for training, I could release some on the farm for my personal hunting, and I'd also direct market the meat (adding a pair of pheasants to the Thanksgiving turkey dinner would make a memorable meal). I'm not sure if I could make a living doing that, but once in a while, I still think about raising a handful of gamebirds (I like the idea of jumping a covey of chukars once in a while while walking around the farm).
As a tangent to that idea, I also had the idea that I could raise and train bird dogs. Since I had my hands full trying to train the two that I already owned, and there didn't seem to be that many quail or quail hunters around anymore, that idea would have been a colossal failure.
Raising buffalo also sounded like a great idea at one time. There was even a big buffalo farm/ranch (it's still there) about 30 minutes away that I used to drive by once in a while when I was thinking on the subject. They supposedly took care of themselves, and only needed a pasture full of dormant native grasses to survive the winter. All I needed to do was strengthen all the perimeter fences, turn them loose on the farm, then round some up once in a while to make a pile of money (the meat, hides, mounted heads, skulls, etc. were supposedly all worth a bunch). What could be cooler than going out to your farm and watching some buffalo roam all over?
|Scimitar Horned Oryx (I think that's what they are?) on the local deer farm|
There's a farm about 10 miles away (I even had a friend that was friends with the owner's son) that raised various exotics like fallow deer, mouflon sheep, corsican sheep, etc. They'd sell live animals to exotic game ranches down in TX and they also direct marketed the meat. At the time that sounded like a cool way to make a living (almost like my buffalo raising plans). All it would have taken to get into the business would be a high-fence (8-10' tall woven wire fences) all the way around the farm, a bunch of connections to a bunch of people in the exotic game business down in TX, and a few head of really expensive breeding stock. Since that time, I think the exotic game ranch business has slowed down (not exactly sure why, it might be due to Chronic Wasting Disease?), but the deer farm is still there. The last time I drove by I happened to see a small herd of what I think were blackbuck right next to the high-fence. Having a herd of blackbuck or fallow deer on the arm would be a little interesting, but I'll bet they taste about the same as my whitetails and aren't as profitable as my cattle.
The get-rich-quick schemes of raising ostriches and emus had already crashed and burned by the time I was trying to come up with ideas, so that idea never really entered my mind.
Like I said before, sometimes it's better to forget about trying to re-invent the wheel.