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Starting a Small-Scale Livestock Venture: Understanding Market Considerations

Kelly Klober

Farmer sitting near pigsA number of years ago a neighbor called with questions about starting a purebred swine operation in our area. It was going to be based on a breed not already present in the area, but one that was well-regarded and had been used often to produce some good, rugged cornfield shoats across the Midwest.

I agreed that it was a good idea as the breed was one that we had once considered. I was about to advise a small, careful start when he told me that they had already purchased 30 gilts and two rather pricey breeding boars. Within two years they were out of the purebred swine business. It was a case of too much too soon.

MARKET RESEARCH
A livestock venture and the market for it tend to begin small, and it will take time for both of them to develop. Along with acquiring needed skills and experiences, the producer must determine to what level of production the venture can be grown and continue to garner good selling prices and returns.

Price is set by the quality of the output and the demand for it. The producer can certainly shape the quality and, to an extent, have control over the amount of output (at least from his or her farm into nearby markets where most direct sales are generated). Before selling a single boar of his chosen breed our neighbor had the numbers in place and the money spent to be producing them by the score.

It is a mistake that we have all made, and some of us have made it several times. A young man of our acquaintance once ordered 50 quail chicks, grew them out with comparative ease and sold them quickly for a tidy profit. He next placed an order for 1,000 quail chicks, and the results were disastrous.

Small creatures though they may be, 1,000 quail chicks taxed his facilities, almost immediately problems began to arise that were beyond his level of experience, and a market that bought 50 and wanted a few more had no need for them by the hundreds. His losses of birds and dollars were substantial.

Continue Reading →

A Passion for Quality Meat

This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

by Samm Simpson

Alice and Simon Carter (front) with Lucy, Amanda, Matilda and Will Carter on their farm in North Carolina.

Alice and Simon Carter (front) with Lucy, Amanda, Matilda and Will Carter on their farm in North Carolina.

In 2007 Amanda Carter discovered the underbelly of the industrial food system after she and her husband, Will, drove from North Carolina to Washington state in their newly converted grease-powered panel truck.

Carter wrote a research paper on yellow grease, replete with details on roadkill, chicken carcasses and scraps being recycled into animal feed. She decided her family would never eat commercially fed animal protein again.

“We’d already eliminated trans fats, HFCS, hydrogenated oils, Red #40 and artificial flavors, so we decided we’d raise our own meat.”

The Carters experimented with broilers and rabbits and practiced humane backyard processing while introducing Simon and Alice, their first two children, to farm life. Carter developed a feed business, driving 800-mile round-trips to buy and supply non-GMO feed for her 150 customers. She crafted a newsletter with an eye to animal handling, health and ever-changing government regulations. Continue Reading →

Joel Salatin: Communicating Ecological Eating

This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Six Key Messages for Consumer Outreach


by Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin believes ecological farmers must constantly teach consumers ecological eating.As farmers, we enjoy conversations about soil, water, animal husbandry, horticulture and every other kind of production nuance. That’s as it should be. But all of this production is meaningless without someone to use it.

Obviously the industrial food system has a lot of users. Whether those users are lazy, ignorant, evil or just plain unconscious is anybody’s guess. But if we’re ever going to get ecological farming more widely practiced, we obviously need more ecological eaters.

How do we move ecological farming forward fastest? Is it by converting farmers, or converting people who buy our stuff? Certainly both need attention, but I’ll submit that we don’t put enough responsibility on customers. While we farmers shoulder the brunt of accusations regarding depleted soils, tasteless food, animal abuse and pathogen-laden fare, by and large consumers escape with excuses. Continue Reading →

Hedgerows Aid in Pest Control

hedgerows

Research has shown that hedgerows of native California flowering shrubs planted along the edge of a crop field help keep crop pests under control by increasing the activity of natural enemies. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Berkeley researchers analyzing hedgerows in Yolo County have found that not only are farmers diversifying their land by planting hedgerows, but those plantings are attracting natural enemies that provide economic benefits. The two-year study of hedgerows planted adjacent to processing tomatoes showed higher numbers of natural enemies such as lady beetles (aka lady bugs) and fewer crop pests compared with conventionally managed field crops edged with residual weeds.

Benefits from Hedgerows Extend into Field

The researchers discovered that the increase in natural enemy activity in the hedgerows extended 600 feet into adjacent tomato crops and resulted in a reduction of aphid pests and an increase in stink bug egg predation by parasitoid wasps. Tomato fields adjacent to a hedgerow required fewer pesticide treatments than the tomato fields without hedgerows.

This report appears in the November 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Large-Scale Community Farming — PrairiErth Shares Strategy, Lessons on Organic Transition

Large-Scale Community Farming

The team at PrairiErth Farm includes (from left): Annette McKeown (apprentice), Jon Clayschute (crew leader), Cassidy A. Dellorto-Blackwell (apprentice), Carly Ambrose (apprentice), Leslie Gravitt (harvesthand), Craig Tepen (farmhand and wholesale coordinator), Katie Bishop (farmer/owner) Hans Bishop (farmer/owner), Graham Bishop (“pig guy;” helps Dave with chores and manages the pigs) and farmer/owner Dave Bishop.

by Tamara Scully

PrairiErth Farm’s 400 acres of Illinois fields are home to corn, soybeans, oats, wheat and alfalfa. They are also home to a diversity of livestock, 10 acres of vegetable crops, 10,000 square feet of hoop house growing areas and beehives. And they are certified organic. The farm, nestled within the Big Ag world of the Midwest, promotes a globally local food system. Their stated mission of “working to develop sustainable life systems on the farm,” extends well beyond the farm. Not only do owner Dave Bishop and his family promote sustainable agriculture to local politicians, the family regularly advocates in Washington, D.C. They continually work to develop a food system in which organic agriculture, independent farmers, regional processors and local agricultural systems work together to grow food transparently, fostering lasting connections between farmer and eater.

“I believe a diverse mix of plants and animals is the foundation of a sustainable farm, and the emerging globally local food systems offer the best — and perhaps ultimately the only — real path into a food secure future,” said Dave Bishop. Continue Reading →

Pollinators: Bees and Other Insects Will Increase Farm Production

Farmers can play an important role in creating monarch feeding areas and managing migration corridors.

Farmers can play an important role in creating monarch feeding areas and managing migration corridors.

Supporting resident and migrating pollinators, including bees, not only aids a critical link in the natural ecosystem cycle, but a farm’s production can increase substantially with the presence of ample pollinators.

By giving pollinators safe shelter, water and a supplemental food supply in addition to nectar supplied by crops, their activity on the farm can increase. It’s helpful to remember that while pollinators include the more familiar honeybees and mason bees, they also include various other animals. The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that there are more than 100,000 different animal species (they say the numbers may be as many as 200,000) which play roles in pollinating the 250,000 kinds of flowering plants on the planet. The most common ones are the insects which include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies and beetles. But they report that as many as 1,500 species of vertebrates, including birds and mammals such as hummingbirds and fruit and nectar-eating bats, also serve as pollinators.

Though butterflies and moths pollinate somewhat differently than honeybees, the more familiar pollinators, they’re still a vital link in nature’s overall pollination plan even though a few of their caterpillars can become pests to farmers growing certain crops.

Butterflies, in general, have very good vision and can also see the color red, which bees cannot, according to the USDA Forest Service. They’re also able to detect ultraviolet light which further helps them find nectar. Butterflies taste with their feet and prefer bright colored flowers that are open during the day and that have wide landing platforms whether the flowers are in close clusters or larger singles. While perching on the flowers, pollen collects on their legs and wings as they hunt around for nectar. Not as much pollen is touched and stuck to their long legs and wings as does pollen on bees, but their flight range is often further, allowing them to spread the pollen they do collect throughout a larger region.

Monarchs, specifically, are known to seek out milkweed to lay their eggs. Their caterpillars feed only on milkweed (meaning they leave farmed crops alone) and milkweed also offers nectar to other important pollinators. But as adults, monarch butterflies need a steady supply of other nectar plants. And with monarchs being migratory, the Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) points out that the timing of the blooming plants needs to correspond with the timing of the monarchs’ arrival. Therefore, even if a list of favored monarch nectar plants is planted and nurtured on the farm, climate change and other variables could mean those plants’ blossoms open too soon or too late to feed the butterflies when they are passing through. The MJV website, monarchjointventure.org, has articles and links for rural landowners interested in aiding both the western and eastern monarch populations.

Farmers can play an important role in creating monarch (larva and butterfly) feeding areas as well as helping to manage their migratory corridors. According to MJV, agricultural fields used to be an important source of milkweed for monarch caterpillars because historically, native milkweed grew alongside crop plants. The widespread use of herbicides and herbicide- tolerant crops diminished much of the milkweed growing on farmlands. Though milkweed can tolerate light tilling, it can’t survive herbicides. MJV suggests that farmers plant native flowers in fallow fields, hedgerows and farm field margins which combine early, middle and late blooming species with blossoming times that overlap. If possible, they suggest allowing native milkweed to either grow in unused portions of the farm, or to use either no-till or low-till farming techniques and allow more milkweed to grow alongside crops.

Though the cost of the initial native milkweed and flower planting, including the time itself to plant the pollinator habitat, can be an obstacle for some farmers, others may be able to synergize their monarch (or other butterfly and moth pollination projects) with agritourism to at least indirectly benefit the farm’s bottom line. CSA farmers, for example, can request help, donations and feedback from their members regarding the farm becoming a monarch or butterfly habitat. Farms that benefit financially from positive public exposure can use the project to attract media attention. The MJV also offers information on Citizen Science projects CSA members can take part in. Farmers involved in farm-to-school programs may be able to coordinate farm tours with area teachers and classrooms. The tours can be fee-based at cost-per-head, or can be used as a method to sell other on-farm products directly as a result of visitors coming to the farm to see the monarch habitat. And of course, a native nectar garden also feeds other pollinators which can directly enhance the production of many farm crops.

Various moth species contribute to butterflies’ pollination for daytime bloomers as well as for plants with flowers that open at night. In one extreme case, the crop cannot survive without its partnership with a specific moth. The yucca plant which is grown and sold far from its original native habitat depends on the yucca moth for survival. The adult yucca moth doesn’t seek nectar because its lifespan is so short. But after mating, the female moth carefully scrapes off pollen from yucca flowers, holds the pollen in a lump under her “chin,” then purposefully and carefully deposits pollen into the stamen of a flower.

Not only that, she makes sure the pollen is deposited in a different flower from the one she collected it from to ensure cross pollination. She eventually lays her eggs in the flower, and though some of her young will consume a few seeds, the number of yucca seeds eaten in general does not put a dent in the number of seeds that will be formed because of her pollination. She can even detect if a flower already has eggs laid in it and if so, she moves on to another flower, which makes sure no flower will have too many of its seeds eaten because of too many larvae. Though yucca plants are grown and sold far beyond their area of origin, even into Canada, the moths have managed to follow them and adapt to the newer climates.

This report appears in the July 2015 issue of Acres U.S.A.

RESOURCES


For those interested in adding habitats or gardens specifically for pollinators, the following sources offer free or low cost guides.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers basic overviews for planting pollinator gardens and building bee nesting blocks. From there, it offers links to more in depth information and instructions; www.fws.gov/ pollinators/pollinatorpages/yourhelp.html.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology offers a low-cost publication on attracting native pollinators. It provides information and resources on how to plan for, protect and create habitat for native bees in agricultural settings. The full-color digital version is currently $4.95. The black and white print edition is currently $7.95; attra.ncat.org/ attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=75.

When planting for pollinators, native plants are usually encouraged. Landowners can contact their local or state Native Plant Society for names of and resources for appropriate species.

The Pollinator Partnership of the NAPPC offers free eco-regional pollinator planting guides and resources for pollinator gardens and lists the types of blossoms the various pollinator species groups (bees, bats, etc.) prefer; www.pollinator.org.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service offers a number of documents and leaflets on conserving pollinators; plants.usda.gov/ pollinators/NRCSdocuments.html.

Some state’s cooperative extension services offer guidance on planting for local resident and migrating pollinators. To find extension services in any given state, visit the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s extension page; www.extension.org.