How big a farmer am I?

I’ve often said, before I got involved in social media, my primary outside the farm information sources talked continually of the consolidation occurring in agriculture, the reality that you either need to “get big” or “get out.”  By their definitions, it would be easy to consider my small family farm too small to be sustainable.

Once I entered the social media world, I learned that I was too-big, that only local produce from “small” family farms is sustainable.

Well, somebody’s wrong, but it’s not the purpose of this post to decide who.  Barring excessive regulation and some self-appointed expert telling is what to do, the market will sort these things out.

But based on a conversation I just had, I wanted to talk about one aspect of our operation.  The cattle feeding.  We have a combined capacity on two farms of about 1000 cattle that we feed.  To many not involved in the cattle business, that sounds quite large.  However, it’s not.  The cattle feeding industry is comprised of mostly of very large operations 10,000, 50,000, eve n 100,000 cattle in one location.  It’s a very tight-margin business.  For any several year historical time period, average profit from a single animal will usually average around $10 per animal.  It takes a lot of animals to mater much.  As with most things, the government provides data (monthly in this case) on the number of cattle being fed.  Feedlots of less than 1000 head comprise such a small amount of the total today that they are no longer even counted.

In all reality, I’m fully aware we’re probably too small to be a long term player in the commodity cattle feeding business.  However, there’s numerous specialty markets many of which have experienced growth in recent years, that provide us potential opportunities to be involved with.  A large number of smaller cattle feeding operations I know of participate in these specialty programs.  We have no plans to quit feeding cattle, we’ve just made significant investments the last several years updating our facilities.

But “how” we feed cattle  might change, we’ll let the pundits, the industry analysts, the Twitter know-it-alls argue their case.  And we’ll respond to what people want, to what the marketplace asks for, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the way it should be

Update:  Apparently I need to acknowledge I was chatting with Kelly Rivard about her rabbit post when this blog idea occured!


2 responses to this post.

  1. Gee, the least you could do was offer a name and a link to the person you were talking to, Darin. 😉


  2. It seems to be that way across the board. It doesn’t matter if you are producing beef, milk or feed stocks…no one can seem to agree on what size is right.
    Here is an example: I did my homework before getting back into farming. I started out with just one steer, to raise for beef. Next thing you know I have chickens and turkeys…and oh, yeah, three new steers, a bull and a cow.
    I have expanded because of market demand. My neighboors wanted to buy beef, so we grew. The amish moved in, wanted milk for butter and cheese, so when I had the chance to rescue a jersey cow, I did. People wanted farm fresh eggs, so I got a dozen chickens, and with demand had to put on more (up to 30 now). Then people wanted turkey for thanksgiving and after having a hard time finding and buying heritage breed varieties, in came 32 turkeys.
    We earn keep, save on our grocery bills, eat healthy and there is plenty of fertilizer and compost material for the garden! And I love what I do…so it is a win-win for me and my neighborhood!


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