When do I become a farmer?
Like any good business, it takes time to get rolling. We heard a word from our pastor last year and it was "Despise not small beginnings." We grabbed onto that for all its worth.
We both have full time jobs - without them we wouldnt have been able to buy this land, buy animals, buy feed, make tractor payments.... we are blessed. But sometimes you wonder.. When am I actually a farmer? We have been at it for 4 years now. The first year we came up with a farm plan, bought the land, bought some stocker cattle and I would go to auctions. If I saw some babies that I thought looked fairly healthy Id buy them and bottle feed them (not the most economically sound venture unless you have a source where you don't have to buy milk replacer).
I would buy heifers and some young cows if I saw some that looked healthy and especially if they were black or white (Gary has a thing for Charolais - The white cows)
I learned how to doctor scours and bloat and pneumonia and I had a few baby calves die on the laundry room floor. I had the vet on speed dial (They were crazy enough to give me their cell phone number)
We would go to the farm from our house in town a few times a day and slowly we built a herd - a somewhat motley herd but its a herd.
We sold the stockers for less than we thought they were worth and bought some registered heifers and a bull. We bought more land and are up to about 80 now but I still dont "feel" like a farmer...
The first year we had calves of our own I got to see how God intended baby cows to live- with their moms! - it was pretty easy! They stayed healthy! Hardly any coughing or scours. - this was the way to go! We learned the value of colostrum - We bought a doublehandfull of calves from a feedlot that had mycoplasma - we didnt know it at the time - and woah that was bad - I think all but 3 out of 20 died - We were buying $150 dollar bottles of medicine - trying everything but we just counted it as a lesson. a very expensive lesson - when you dont have money to buy calves and you have to borrow some from your mom because they are such a great deal.... dont. Feedlot babies many times don't get to stay with their moms long enough to get colostrum - that yellow beneficial first milk that a cow gives her baby - and they are more prone to bloat, scour and illness.
One of the best experience builders for me was going to the local livestock aucton houses. I would sit with an older gentleman and his friend who loved to tell me what he was seeing - why that
calf didnt go well - what to look for - drooping ears, sway backs, stubby legs - skinny cows are fine as long at they look bright and alert because they will have room to add weight - dont buy a cow with a catfish mouth - she probably is too old to chew - leave those for the packers . He taught me about the different bidders and what kind of operations they have - The guy who only buys heavy bred cows (the ones within a few months of caving) then he lets them calve and weans them and sells the weaned calf and mom again. The families with ranches that bring weaned calves to market - the guys who farm wheat and buy stocker cattle at 300 lbs in October and sell them in June at 700 lbs. Then they do it all over again. The buyers from the processors who buy "fat cows" (over 850 lbs) for the feed lots. They usually have some pretty nice hats and boots.
Its pretty hard to jump into any of those arenas. The animals sell best when there is a full pen or pot load (The trucks that haul the calves to the sale and to the ranch) and we were only selling about 5 or 8 at a time - A cattle trailer can hold like 50 depending on how big they are. They would sell 20 - 50 - even 90 at a time and those prices were much higher than the "jackpot calves" that they would sell one or two at a time. - so The smart thing to do would have been to pick a niche and do it well- but I would buy calves, and cows, and bred cows and stockers and even a few goats, lol. Buyers like matched sets - where they have 20 identical calves that sell together in a pen and that was not what we had at first.
Anyway - skip forward a few years and we now have what they call a small "cow/calf" operation. But our end goal is still differ from the norm. We have about 40 young cows most have only had 2 or 3 babies so far and a bull and they have a calf every year - We keep the heifers and band the bulls (castrate with a bander) and we are trying to get where we can keep those steers 2 years on grass so that we can take them to the processor and sell grass raised and grass finished beef. We research a lot on animal welfare and soil health and know that the animal / soil combination is better for the land. This coming March we have 4 steers planned to process, and 6 months after that we will have about 10 more - we are actually doing this. Id love to take a freezer of grass fed / finished beef to the farmers market.
Yes, we would make more money if we didn't keep our own calves for 2 years till they marble on their own without being fed corn and grains and it sure would be faster. We should buy into the system and fill a slot - but no we decided to do it the hard way and keep our full time jobs supporting this growing enterprise. I applied for a grant from the New Mexico Farmer's Marketing association and was awarded $1000. I had told a friend about the program and she was awarded as well. She sent me the newspaper clipping.... Field of Dreams Market Farm is buying a new greenhouse, D4 Magic gardens is purchasing seeds and fertilizer for her hydroponic tomatoes, My friend is installing aquaponics, and mine says .... Katharine Fly, Kingdom Cattle, for land payment and cover crop seed.....lol the day I got the check for $1000 I wrote a check for $2200 for hay because its been a dry Spring and the cows gotta eat.....
Anyway, If you made it this far you must really be interested. So thank you for caring about the cows and the land and the farmers. Our goal is to make the cows happy, and healthy, to make the soil rich and fertile, to make the meat tastier and sustainable for our local area. I dont want to supply freezer packs to Vermont - there are plenty of Vermont farmers to do that. I guess I might become a farmer next March when I can finally sell the beef from the calves that were born from the cows that I bred with the bull that I bought when he was 1. Be blessed.