I received the below comment on Friday afternoon from a blog site visitor. Over the lifetime of Feed Yard Foodie, many people have issued advice/comments similar to this so I decided that perhaps it provided a good blog post topic. When I receive notes like this, all that I have to go on are the words written because most people do not chose to introduce themselves or give me much, if any, personal information in addition to their advice.
“i understand this is your way of farming, and that’s your prerogative. but consider this:
if you have 3000 acres, why not put the cattle out on grass instead? you could even do rotational grazing (which makes the forage super nutritious in a very short time) with half or 1/10th of labor costs compared to labor in a feedlot operation, no feed farming labor and seed costs, fertilizer automatically goes back into the ground while grazing, no medicines, or very little medicine necessary in a pasture operation; no overwhelming manure smell either! it just seems healthier, simpler, better for the environment, cows do and eat more what they would naturally do and eat outside: graze on grass and forbs; and healthier meat is produced which equals healthier humans. win-win all around.”
– JG, DVM
I believe that part of a farmer’s job is to consider all angles relative to natural resource availability. My favorite farmer and I have routine “brainstorming sessions” as we plan for the long term sustainability of our farm. While we have never chosen to go down the road that you suggest, it is not because of lack of consideration.
There are two main reasons that our farm remains diversified (with the production/growth of a variety of products instead of one grass/cattle product):
1. Farm use of natural resources is maximized under a diversified system, thereby allowing us to lower our total environmental footprint.
2. The long term economic sustainability of our farm is better protected under a marketing program that has a blend of products to be sold “off farm”.
The unique blend of traditional and organic alfalfa and corn production combined with a cattle feed yard allows a sustainable cycle of growth across the farm. The Platte River Valley provides us with a fertile silty loam soil that allows the growth of high quality feedstuffs that can be either used “on farm” or exported off the farm to feed a variety of animals. The animals in our feed yard produce both beef/beef products to be exported, and also manure which can be agronomically applied to our farm ground to ensure healthy soil maintenance. The bottom line is that we can grow more animal feed and human-use products in this manner than simply growing grass.
The sustainability of rural America is rooted in both social and economic factors. Matt and I are proud to employ local members of our town, and do our part to stimulate the economy of rural Nebraska. We also work hard to sustain the heart of our town by working as volunteers in the community. I encourage you to get to know us better by reading additional blog posts that detail our role as community members and mentors.
The diversity of our farm plays a key role in economic sustainability as it allows us to both use and produce more products that stimulate our local economy. As farmers and business owners, our primary job is to ensure that our farm can continue on into the future. When our farm sustains, then our community sustains — they are intrinsically blended.
Let’s look at a little bit of “cowboy” math to delve further into this…
Following your suggested model: Our farm currently consists of approximately 4000 acres. If our land was all planted to grass pastures, it would provide for approximately 800 head of cattle (in a year of average rainfall) in a 12 month cycle. Mother Nature only “provides” in Nebraska for about 5 months out of the year, so grazing nutrient dense grass pastures year round is impossible even using a rotational grazing plan. The winter in Nebraska requires feeding animals – whether they are fed a forage diet or a combination of forage/starch diet – they must receive supplemental feed in order to remain healthy.
Our diversified model produces 15,000 Tons of dehydrated alfalfa feed pellets, 600 tons of baled alfalfa, 120,000 bushels of corn, 400 tons of baled corn stalks, and grows 5500 animals for harvest each 12 month cycle. While we do purchase a portion of our cattle feedstuffs “off farm” from neighbors, and perhaps our method requires more labor, the output numbers still paint a very clear picture. Matt’s and my additional devotion to environmental protection allows us to produce this much animal feed and human protein while also being good stewards to the land.
Relative to animal welfare/ wellbeing: Our feed yard allows for the 5 Freedoms of Cattle just like a pasture operation. We offer large outdoor pens and consistent feed, water, and daily care. The established 5 Freedoms of Cattle are as follows:
- Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor
- Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
- Freedom to express normal bovine behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind (herd mates)
- Freedom from fear and distress — by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering
Additionally, I believe that my healthy farm produces high quality healthy meat, all while being a positive contributor to a healthy rural economy for my community. A win/win deal for all!
Thanks for reaching out to me.