Boar, Boy, Dog

September 21, 2012

I’m kind of sad.  I sold Bewilder today, (pictured).  He was one of the first two herdboars used on my new farm, (Able, the other boar, died).  He weighed 680 lbs. and I received 14 cents per pound for a grand total of 95 dollars.

If he would have been doing his job better I would have kept him longer, but he was no longer consistently settling sows.  It’s amazing how much he grew.  Look at him in this post from last year.  He gained over a pound per day since then, and I’m feeding less grain than I ever have.

Alas, I run a business and I can’t keep any dead weight around even though I would like to.  This is something that is giving Shepherd some distress.  He just can’t continue to butcher his showpigs.  I thought we had reached a fine compromise by designating some species as pets, (goats, alpacas), and other species as business, (cattle, hogs), but this doesn’t work for him.  He gave it a fair shake, showing and butchering hogs at the fair twice, but he doesn’t want to anymore and I’m not going to push him.

We want him to stay in 4-H because we think it’s valuable and he likes it.  I asked him what he thought he could show at the fair.  He said crops, so I’m going to help him grow and sell sweet corn next year.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

New Truck, New Haybine

May 6, 2012

I made a couple of new purchases recently.  The truck is a 98 Dodge with 4-wheel drive.  I bought it specifically for hauling my animals to the butcher.  It does have a cassette player though, so I found my old cassette tapes and have been rerocking the 90’s.

The haybine is a New Holland 488, made in the 80’s.  A friend found it for me on Craig’s List.  It’s in great shape.

I paid $8000 for the truck and $2400 for the haybine.  The truck gets terrible mileage, less than ten miles per gallon when pulling the stock trailer.

Sixty miles round-trip to the butcher with about one load per week equals 3,000 miles, and maybe another 1,000 miles picking up supplies, means I may only drive it 4,000 miles per year.  If I get eight miles per gallon, I’ll use 500 gallons of gas.  At $4 per gallon I’ll spend $2000 annually on gas.

As much as I think grazing animals are part of the solution to global-warming, using this much fuel to get my animals to the butcher leads me to believe I’m not part of the solution.  But alas, I’m part of a system.

I would love to keep all my animals in one herd, schedule a kill date at my butcher, then sort all the animals I want to cull and walk them to the butcher once per year.  This isn’t the world I live in, though.

March 2012, Fertilizer Prices

March 14, 2012

We priced fertilizers with our local dealer.  Most prices have increased from last year.  I referred back to last year’s post to compare prices.  All prices are per ton.

Product:     2012 Price  2011 Price  % Change

Urea            $650           $462           +41

Am. Sulfate $418           $343           +22

Potash        $620           $537           +16

MAP            $640           $673           -5

Commodities, Food, Inflation

November 20, 2011

The office of Lynch Livestock, Iowa.  We sold cull sows last week.  Leroy always treats us well, but I was shocked with our price.  He paid $.61 per pound for the heaviest sows weighing over 600 pounds.  It was about $370 per sow.  I can remember when I was pleased with $200 per sow.

Hog, cattle, corn, and other commodity prices are at or near historic highs.  I’ve been trying to understand why this is happening and if it’s going to continue.  Our direct-market meat used to be priced at a premium, paying us for the extra costs involved with hoop-house pork and grass-finished beef.  But the commodity markets have narrowed that premium, and I’m rethinking it.  Maybe grass-finished beef should be cheaper, since the cattle aren’t being fed high-priced corn?

A buddy turned me on to Chris Martenson.  Chris says there is unprecedented levels of money and debt.  Inflation is just more money chasing after the same amount of resources.  The USA and world carry so much debt, there are only two ways out; default, or print more money.  If more money continues to enter circulation, inflation will ensue.  Inflation erodes wealth, because a dollar today buys less in the future.

Is this what’s happening in agriculture?  We are certainly handling more money.  But the costs of our inputs: fertilizer, corn, soybean meal, metal, wood, machinery, have all risen.  Should we save for a rainy day or buy now?

Toasted Tofu sent me a link about how Goldman Sachs created the food crisis.  It said that these huge hedge funds have been buying commodities, and only buying, and this has driven up the price of commodities.  An error in the article says that corn prices just kept going up.  Actually, in the last few years, corn went up to $7 per bushel, dropped back under $4, and then went back up over $7.  There is definitely more volatility.  My grandfather remembers when corn was $1 per bushel, only moving a few cents up or down for years and years.

As you can probably tell by this disjointed post, I don’t really understand what’s happening, or what’s going to happen.  I guess I’ll continue to use this blog to post what is actually happening to me, and the prices I incur and receive.  History always becomes a clear, concise, obvious story, but the future is always uncertain, with only fools and experts making obvious predictions.

March 2011, Fertilizer Prices

March 24, 2011

We priced fertilizers with our local dealer.  Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) are the macro elements we are usually most concerned with.  I’ll list the fertilizer, the percent of each nutrient, and the price per ton.  The percent of each nutrient is listed in this order: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Sulfur.

Urea 46-0-0-0 $462/ton

Ammonium sulfate 21-0-0-24 $343/ton

Monoammonium phosphate (MAP) 11-52-0-0 $673/ton

Potassium chloride (Potash) 0-0-60-0 $537/ton

Which source of nitrogen, Urea or Ammonium sulfate, is a better deal.  We need to calculate the nitrogen cost per pound.

What is 46% of a ton?  Multiply .46 times 2000 equals 920 lbs. nitrogen per ton of Urea.  Divide $462 by 920 lbs. equals $.50 per lb. of nitrogen.

Ammonium sulfate is 21% nitrogen.  .21 times 2000 equals 420 lbs. nitrogen per ton.  Divide $343 by 420 lbs. equals $.82 per lb. of nitrogen.

The Ammonium sulfate is higher priced per lb. of nitrogen.  Ammonium sulfate also contains sulfur, which is needed by plants, and it is more stable, releasing its nitrogen more slowly than Urea.  Urea will volatilize, turn into a gas, in hot, dry, conditions.  Urea is best spread before a rain, or when the ground is cool and moist.  So someone may want to use Ammonium sulfate even though it is more expensive.

I realized when I started writing, this is part of a much larger post about the philosophy of fertilizer.  For our farm, animal manure is our preferred fertilizer.  We just purchased a new manure spreader which I’m excited to use, and will show in a post soon.

Farmer Genius

April 12, 2010

This is a guest post from my good friend, James Miller.  James grew up on a hog and dairy farm near Wiota, Wisconsin.

James authors the blog Quantum Devices Inc.

Comment and let James know what you think of his Dad’s ingenuity.

“How much do you want for the radiator out of the old Chevelle?”

This was my Dad, so I’d like to be able to say that I told him he could just have it.  After all, he was the man who milked cows twice a day, every day, to feed and raise us. He was also the man who paid the $326 for the speeding ticket when I was pulled over for doing 96 miles and hour in the family Bonneville.

I’d like to tell you that I just gave it to him, but I was a kid and went more like:

“How’s twenty bucks sound?”

I never even bothered to ask why he wanted it.

The next day I noticed that there was a section of garden hose strung from the old well to somewhere down in the basement of the house.  Another long section of hose ran back out of the basement into a dry dusty field.

I walked out into the field and saw the hose had been punctured so that, instead of water gushing out the threaded brass end of the hose, it trickled out evenly all along it’s length.

Dad was using the water from the old well to irrigate the field.

I walked back to where the hoses entered the basement and flipped on the cobweb covered ceramic light switch.  I followed the two hoses down the steep and narrow concrete steps. They led to the furnace where they both connected to the old radiator.  The radiator was temporarily fastened to the air intake of the furnace.  The furnace’s blower was running, drawing air in past the fins of the radiator and distributing the cold air though the house.

Dad had made a poor man’s version of air conditioning.

Here were the problems Dad had faced:

It was a particularly hot, dry summer, and it was difficult for mom to cook large “meat and potatoes” meals for the field help in the sweltering kitchen.

There was the even larger problem of no rain, which besides making it difficult to grow the crops, could also lead to wind erosion of the top soil.

Some people may have spent some money on a window air conditioner, or even converted the furnace over to central air.  Some may have even paid someone to come in and irrigate the field.

But Dad, like most good farmers, was both thrifty and clever.  I think that all those who tend to land and cattle have to have a certain level of farmer ingenuity that, in its higher moments, borders on genius.

So what is Farmer Genius?

Farmer Genius doesn’t check out a library book, know how to play an instrument, or the difference between Shakespeare and Voltaire. Since animals can’t read, Farmer Genius doesn’t really concern itself with spelling. I remember mom pointing out an ice cream bucket in the machine shed, saying “Look at that bucket of ‘NIALS’” over there.

Farmer Genius doesn’t know what happens when two vowels go walking.

Instead, Farmer Genius tends to be one of physicality and inherent understanding of math and physics, where one can mentally work out the right answer but not be able to prove with paper and pencil. Farmer Genius understands how a discarded shopping bag blowing across a field can frighten cattle into running through fences.  Farmer genius knows whether an engine is running rich or lean by the smell of the exhaust.  Farmer Genius doesn’t pay too much attention to the labels given to “screwdriver” and “hammer”; but instead sees everything and anything can be part of his toolbox.

During calving, Farmer Genius knows the moment when you need to tie the twine to the calf’s front legs to assist in pulling it from the mother; and do it in a manner that causes no harm to the calf or the cow.

The Farmer has a strict sense of right and wrong, but Genius is the part that always chooses to do right.

Dad’s Farmer Genius solved the problems a hot summer presented by using only what was on hand; an old well, some garden hoses, and a kid who would give up a radiator for twenty bucks.

Reputation Selling Heifers

March 26, 2010

“Would you take 650 a head for the entire group?” Greg said.

“We would,” Dad said.  “But we’ve got guys coming to the sale. And I told Kevin I’m bringing them.  And Bloomington advertised already.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I wished we could have talked a week ago.  We’ll definitely call you next year.  I didn’t realize you bought cattle in the spring.”

“Whenever.  Whenever there are good cattle to be bought,” John said.

“Do you think we made the right decision,” Dad said.

“Yeah, it’s our reputation,” I said.  “It’s probably going to cost us about 2,000 dollars, though.”

“How do you figure?”

“I figure they’ll bring about 600 dollars net at the sale barn.  So 50 dollars a head times 40 head equals 2,000 dollars.”

“I guess that sounds about right,” Dad said.  “Would could we do?  We’ve made a commitment.”

“And we’re in this business for the long haul.  So even if it costs us a couple thousand short-term, we can make it up long-term by having consistently good cattle that people want to buy.  Let’s call it an investment in our future.”

As our hay supply dwindled and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we thought about selling our yearling heifers.  We planned to select the heifers we wanted to breed and keep for cows and then offer the rest privately for farmers to add to their cowherd.  Whatever was left would be sold at the local livestock auction.  We have been doing this ever since we improved our genetics using Red Angus bulls and have always had a positive response from farmers.

We placed an ad in the local Shopping News.  It read, “Yearling Red Angus replacement heifers for sale.  Matthew Walter, phone number.”

We ran the ad for three weeks and I received no calls the first week, two calls the second week, and four calls the third week.  Nibbles, but no bites.

It appeared that our price was a little high.  We were asking $700 a head.  The feeder calf market was soft in January and the first half of February.  Our best estimate was that we would get $500 to $550 a head at the sale barn.

One guy stopped in a couple of times and told us we were $100 too high.  We thanked him for his interest and told him we would tell him when we took them to the sale barn.

Dale stopped in and walked through them.  We could tell he was impressed when 978 walked up and licked his arm.  People are impressed by quiet cattle.

Dale was interested, but in the whole group.  He wanted us to call him when we took them to the sale barn.

We called Kevin at Bloomington a week in advance of the sale so he could advertise them.  We contacted a trucker to help us haul them.  Everything was lined up for the March 12th sale.  And then John and Greg stopped in and made us a great offer.

The very night after we declined Greg’s offer, Kevin called us to make sure we were bringing our heifers.  He said they had received calls and there was definitely some interest in them.  Dad and I were glad we weren’t going back on our word.

We sat and watched cattle sell.  There is always tremendous variation in the prices.  Four red heifers averaging 666 lbs., brought 95 cents per lb.  Five black heifers averaging 632 lbs., brought only 88 cents per lb.

Thirteen red heifers averaging 656 lbs., brought 99.5 cents per lb.  I hoped ours would bring that much.

Our heifers came in the ring.  They looked good.  Thirty-eight heifers averaging 666 lbs., brought 102.5 cents per lb.  Two small heifers averaging 420 lbs. , brought 112.5 cents per lb.  Dale was the winning bidder for all of them.

They averaged $672 each.  Even after commission and trucking was paid, we still made well over $650 each.

We were happy.  We made some money.  And more importantly, we stuck to our word and kept our reputation intact.