June 12, 2024

From the Pastures: How big is too big?

Hello from Graze-N-Grow. The beautiful weather the second week in April saw a lot of field activity, not only planting and working ground for planting, but harvesting all the debris from the three storms preceding. We were spared from major damage at home, but a few miles in all directions lost buildings, power lines, irrigators and so forth. Thankfully, though, no one got hurt locally here, due in part to the good weather alert system. Had these storms occurred in the summer, the fields would be a nightmare to harvest. I hope we’ve seen the end of them for the year.

I’ve managed to get three small fields seeded with oats and pasture seed and the last 12 acres of row-crop ground seeded to oats prior to corn going in hopefully by June 1. All other fields have either wheat for harvest followed by beans or rye to work in before planting beans or red clover to be plowed under for corn. Along with all the pasture ground, we have 100% of our land with a living root in the ground to keep our subterranean livestock fed.

Lambing season has started, about two weeks earlier than I first planned. I thought I would risk inclement weather by crowding spring a little and initially it worked great. They started April 14, our anniversary, and they were coming 10 to 15 a day. Then cold, wet and windy made for a challenge. I pulled them from the rye field to a sod pasture with a building for shelter. Katahdin lambs are very hardy and get up and suck quickly and can take the elements well after their first milk. Our calf crop started about the same time, so life on the farm is renewing. The pleasures of seeing baby animals out on pasture beats any entertainment Hollywood or Disney could contrive.

The more tragic animal news, though, comes from Texas where a building blew up killing 18,000 cows. How could this be possible? The concept of housing that many permanently under one roof boggles my mind. In the not too distant past, those cows could have been on 200 individual farms supporting those families and one barn fire would affect 90 cows that would most likely be outside anyway. I know, the economy of scale makes mega facilities much more efficient with robotic milkers, robotic feeders and great technology, but at what cost? Do consumers want their food coming from this efficiency or would they pay a little more to support family dairy farms? Direct-to-consumer marketing is being done on a small scale by some creative producers, but the risks are many, I’m sure.

The other recent example is the poultry industry with the bird flu epidemic where millions of birds were killed because of single cases, but housed in close proximity. If these birds were in smaller — yes, less efficient — barns on individual farms those losses could have been minimized and eggs would not have been $6 per dozen. It’s easier for me to see a problem than a solution, but I know greater minds than mine are even now working on solutions that can provide our farmers with a good living while keeping the money in the community and the groceries on the shelf. What can we do, or are you comfortable with things as they are? Happy trails!

Jim Draper

Jim Draper

Sheffield, Ill.