January on the Farm

I manage to stay busy most days, but I still have long dark evenings to sit back and read. Each day the evening is getting shorter as day length grows. We are only gaining about a minute a day here in early January, most of that in the evening, but by February we will be gaining a couple minutes a day and by March 21, when the sun is directly over the equator, we will max out with a gain of nearly 3 minutes a day. After that we slow down our gains before going the other way at the Summer solstice, around June 21st.
During the month I will set down several days and figure out if I can afford to keep doing what I do. I build spreadsheets with projected costs, income, and cash flow. I look at the last few years, and try to decipher if I’m mining equity, or actually covering costs. Is my cattle raising model viable on my scale of about 100 head, moving them to a new piece of fresh grass grass everyday through 9 months, affording the twine, fuel, maintenance, and land cost to put up 5 ton of hay for each critter to feed them through two winters, and the multitude of other things…. A hundred head might seem a lot, and it is enough work that even if I had the money to get bigger I wouldn’t. This is as big an economy of scale as I’m willing to go. Bigger and I couldn’t give them the care I do, and I would be moving toward the industrial model that you as a customer are trying to get away from. The industrial model does things the way it does because of price, and I have to find the fine line where the extra care becomes to costly for the people that are buying my meat. I know that I produce deep down satisfying nutritious beef, but I know that my customers do not see “price as no object”.
It is interesting that the PhD’s at the state universities here in the Dakota’s dismissed my methods as financially unsustainable when they devised a test research demonstration farm called Ecosun. They leased 640 acres of mostly cropland, and set out to see how financially viable it would be to produce hay, grassfed beef, and native grass seed. They were hoping to prove the model as economical, compared to today’s extractive corn and soy farming. On the grassfed beef, they decided that the farm would have to sell them at 18 months old, as taking them through the second winter, like I do, was to costly. They wanted a better chance for the grassfed beef coming out showing a profit. To get by with only 18 months and still produce a product that didn’t turn buyers away, they hoped to get by with buying in heifers instead of steers because heifers matured faster, plus they would have to speed up their weight gains by feeding them grain in a feed lot situation the winter before they put them on grass for the summer. I can see the motivation, but I can’t bring myself to cut those corners. Grassfed should be grainfree, no ifs, buts or maybes about it. And if I can’t produce the extra quality that comes from taking them to two years old, and sell it for at least what it costs me to produce it, I will go do something else.