Eat your own cooking, drink your own Kool-Aid

Posted: August 31, 2009 by Thrivelearning in Grass Fed Beef Cattle
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Having some fun just living life. Things are starting to work out.

I was listening to an MP3 from Greg Habstritt at Finer Minds, who mentioned that phrase above, ” You have to eat your own cooking and drink your own Kool-Aid.” So I thought to share what I’ve accumulated and been practicing.

Just returned from an all-day farm tour yesterday, and this is a partial debrief from this. I was there to study grass fed beef in southern Missouri farms (although we also saw plenty of grain fed beef as well – just no organic stuff.)

First, my lifestyle choice has been to live on a farm and work it while I got my online business operating and producing income.

Let’s review that farm first. (Now, the below figures are based on my own experience on my own farm – your mileage may vary, go ahead and see if you make make yours more profitable…)

My Dad was ailing and my life in California under a corporate cult (most are, actually) was miserable. So I left everything I had established over 20+ years and moved back to Missouri. Call it a mid-life crisis resolution or whatever – it simply made sense, though I had no savings, retirement, insurance – anything people would call security.

The farm  was mixed row-crops and cow-calf finishing operation.  And it wasn’t really sustainable. The farm was supplemented by my Dad’s pension. When he passed, my Mother paid off the bills with his life insurance (which is what that is actually for) and then started running the farm based on her pension plus what we made the farm produce.

The grain crops, if we made anything, pretty much ate up any profits in equipment, fuel, seed, and fertilizer costs. The time I spent on the tractor was discounted (free) as the farm costs paid my room and board. Theoretically, anyway.

The cow-calf operation theoretically made about $4,000 per year, based on 20 calves being backgrounded. This was after the feed bill. Now I was able to increase that to $5K by selling them as feeders (right after they were weaned) and not having to grind, mix, or buy feed. Vet bills for the occasional sick steer also dropped. That feed lot started producing forage again.

But $4K for a 250 acre farm wasn’t really sustainable, since we had electricity, water, taxes, etc. Still basically running on my Mother’s pension and savings. (The government started making her take out certain amounts of her savings after she go so old… Thanks a lot.)

My own ideas were to make a living, home-based on my online business activities. So farming hours were slotted out, and the rest of the day was my own to invest. No wife or kids of my own, so I could simply throw everything at that. (But let’s not digress — back to the farm.)

Grain crops gave some profit, but it took all summer to produce. And was the most variable based on weather.

While this may seem non-sequitur, the two crops that are the easiest to raise on our land are grass and trees. Very little inputs, but harvesting eats up your profits. Usually, it costs more to bale hay than you can buy it for. And trees take longer to grow, such that you can only sell a tree after 50 years, usually.  Doesn’t pay enough in that one sale to pay someone to grow them.

The best harvester for grass and trees is a natural one: cows (or sheep and goats, or a combination or two or three of those.)

Reason being is that grass grows better in partial shade and cows will eat more grass in the shade than in the sun. Cows eat grass and turn it into meat. Meanwhile, they’ll trim the trees within reach and keep down the competition of new sprouts (mostly) by stripping off their leaves (it helps de-worm the cattle.)

Cows take about two years to grow on just grass.

And if you generally leave them alone to fatten on grass, they do fine. Better than fine, actually: beef which is pasture finished is lower fat, lower cholesterol, higher omega-3 & -6 – so is generally considered “heart-healthy”. So it’s better for you to eat.

Meanwhile, cows deposit their manure (and urine) on the grass and under the trees to fertilize them. The trick is to manage your herd so that they spread their wealth more widely – as they tend to rest under trees and deposit there when they get up, just before they go out to eat again.  You want trees in your pastures, spread out so that there is probably a 50/50 mix of sunny and shady grass at most times. And move your cows regularly so that they let the grass grow back.

(This author continues telling how he brilliantly rescues a small farm and returns it to sustainable profitability overnight – well, at least he sees the light after 8 years of hard work… See Part 2)

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