When my husband and I moved back to the family farm in 1997, one of the big things that we looked at and discussed at length was “how to ensure that our farm was sustainable”, year after year. This is a common subject of debate amongst the agricultural community because we all know that we must take care of the land so that it can take care of us, year after year, generation after generation.
Our farm (like many in Nebraska) is comprised of a crop farm and a livestock (cattle) farm. We raise alfalfa, corn, and a little bit of soy beans and wheat. My husband also owns and operates an alfalfa dehydration plant. This allows him to harvest the alfalfa, dehydrate it, and then form it into feed pellets. These feed pellets make the alfalfa easier to store and ship. Alfalfa dehy pellets are a high quality and high protein animal feed and is fed to chickens, dairy cows, zoo animals, gerbils/hamsters, and horses. Our land in the Platte River Valley is very conducive for growing crops—more conducive for growing crops than for grass pasture. The soil is rich in nutrients and we have an abundance of ground water.
Because of this, our livestock operation is a cattle feedyard (as opposed to a cow-calf/ranch operation). It is a more efficient use of our resources to grow crops to feed to animals and then to finish animals in a cattle feedyard. The weather in Nebraska plays a huge role in this reasoning. Our growing season is only 5-6 months long, so we need to grow as much animal feed as possible during that time so that we have something to feed to our livestock during the sometimes ENDLESS winter months (at least they sometimes seem endless to this Florida girl!).
Our farm makes a sustainable circle: our soil grows crops—the crops are fed to livestock—the livestock makes both a high quality
human protein food, and natural fertilizer to put back on the soil to keep the soil healthy. In this way, we can optimize the use of our natural resources. With a growing world population and a limited amount of natural resources, this is an exceptionally important concept.
Nebraska does have a large number of cow-calf operations in the areas of the state that do not have as fertile a soil as we have in the Platte River Valley. Those folks rely on us to grow extra livestock feed for them to use in the winter months when the grass does not grow. You see, we are able to grow more feed than our own animals need so we have extra to provide to the parts of our state and our country where animal feed is needed. If we were only to grow grass pasture, and not to grow crops; this would not be the case.
Did you know…. cattle out number people 4 to 1 in the state of Nebraska!