Success, or sometimes just survival on the farm requires an ability to adjust. Especially is this true in times of large and frequent change, which is happening now largely because of the pandemic, the climate, and the war in Ukraine. For example, prices of hog feeds have skyrocketed over the last several years, due to the drought we are experiencing and the upset in the grain markets caused by the war in Ukraine.
The same drought caused our pastures to slow down early and severely cut into our hay supply, necessary to get the herd through the winter.
We are using two strategies to cope. With the hogs our markets are continuous and ongoing. Therefore we cannot shrink the size of the hog operation to compensate for the expensive feed because below a certain level of production we risk losing the market. So we focus upon moderating the cost of feed by leaner operations and by substitute feedstuffs. For the last several years we have been using product from our local pretzel factory, which is free, organic and also pretty readily available. This becomes available because at start up and shut down for the various production runs, the resulting product is not something the company wants to sell.
These are great hog feeds. On a traditional farm, hogs are always fed feeds that are similar to those for us humans, but that for one reason or another, we do not want to eat. But the labor and extra machine use required to deal with them is something we need to keep in mind. Labor is always in short supply in a livestock operation and diesel fuel has also been much impacted by the war and the pandemic. We cannot rest easy expecting to work extra hours and using extra fuel.
We will soon have to solve a problem that came with our solution to the current problem.
Now with the cattle, the situation is a bit different. Our cattle are a grazing and forage based operation that uses no grain and moderate amounts of fuel(for baling and wintertime feeding). Additionally we had spent the last several years building up the cattle numbers to run a small stocker development business alongside the grass feds. This plus our decision a year or so ago to sell the cowherd and buy in replacement feeder animals instead enabled us to destock which is the first need in responding to a drought situation.
We have marketed the cows-I am currently trying to adjust myself to the fact they are gone-sold a group of fat cattle at the sale barn and brought another group of feeder animals to the feeder cattle and bred cow sale. Cattle prices are good now, which is helpful to us in our need for destocking.
The second rule of a cattle business coping with a drought is to buy any needed hay early, which is what we are currently doing, as our cattle sales did not reduce the appetite here quite enough to get through without purchase. And hay is expensive.
Our marketing with the beef is a bit more flexible, as it is all frozen product. Thus the cattle processing can be a bit more seasonal and tends to be easier to adjust. We do not have the same weekly need for market animals we have with the pigs. The role of the cattle in the farm operation is to benefit from the need to grow hay in our organic cropping rotation and also to serve as a third crop opportunity as they can be used to harvest crops that are harder to sell but necessary in a good crop rotation, such as the small grains and various annual forages.
Implied in everything I have written here is the predominance of marketing in the operations. The late Allan Nation said it well when he wrote that the marketing locomotive must pull the production train. This can make coping with difficult weather and high input prices harder than it would otherwise be, but without marketing, farms do not succeed.