Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Conflict of Interests

Sitting here (procrastinating) patiently waiting for my little Squeaky Man to fall DEEP asleep before I make too many weird noises cleaning, and putting away dishes & laundry.

These thoughts have been weighing on my mind very heavily for the past few days and in Honey’s mind for years. Literally, he has been talking about a FeedLot seriously for at least 7 or 8 years.

So here it is….My EXTREME conflict! We want/need to expand our operation to bring in more income so that Honey will not have to work in town. This means 2 different things will have to happen. (I am so conflicted, that I am tearing up talking about this)

Scenario 1 - We expand our old-school feeding operation and raise more beef in a natural setting, and sell more breeding stock (heifers, show calves or bulls). The main question is how do we really expand our beef sales.
Scenario 2 – We expand in a different way and build a cattle confinement feedlot for ~500 head. A completely enclosed, covered, confinement feedlot. We would bed the pens with corn-stalks and have a dry bedding mound for the calves to lay on. We would also probably try to allow double the "animal space" per actual head of calves. Thus giving them more room to move about.

I am very conflicted. You see, I am an “educated” rancher. What I mean is that I have an Animal Science BS degree from Iowa State (honey has an Ag Studies degree too). I have been taught all of the benefits of confinement feeding. This is a small list of benefits
1- Increased feed efficiencies (thus decreased feed costs)
2- Less chance of manure (nitrates) leaching into streams and contaminating them
3 - Increased “comfort” of the animal (THIS ONE I CAN ARGUE BOTH WAYS!!)

The list may go on and on. (I will expand and update later today as I think of them, but I have to get this blog out of my head, and out there for y’all to comment on, please)

Here is a small list of the benefits from continuing in a very “Old Fashioned” way of growing our operation slowly. Meaning that we will continue to grow slowly and increase our beef sales, bred heifer, show calf, and bull sales. Scenario 1
1 - Less impact on the environment (I can argue this both ways, this benefit is just from reduced numbers in one location ON the ground not tearing up the sod)
2- More direct relationship with the customer that has our beef on their table.
3 - A more natural environment for the cattle (pasture when we have grass, and more room to grow)

Well, these are my thoughts for now, and I’m sure that I will have tons more to come, as we really delve into this more and figure out what details we will decide upon, and what path we will take to pursue expansion of our operation.

I will prepare you that I do not mind talking dollars, and I WILL share some of our financial details.


  1. FINALLY - someone who is in the same boat as me. At least sort of. We wouldn't be doing anything on a grand scale but my husband and I have this discussion all the time. He is all about buying deacon calves, raising them on milk replacer (which is hard on them and equals a high mortality rate), and raising them in basically a small pen like a feedlot. He does like them to have access to "pasture" although that usually equals a dirt pen, and then he puts them in the lot again to finish. I on the other hand would like to try pasture finished, grass fed beef. For now we have a small amount of pasture that I can use to raise my sheep and poultry, and we sell freezer beef from the cattle. I think he may be right that people our area won't pay more for pasture raised meat and we would lose money by taking land away from of crop farming.

    I guess all I can give for advice is to look at your market. Can you sell more beef locally? Do you advertise? How? Do your customers care how their beef is raised. If not, it is hard to justify the extra work and land involved in the old way. If they do care, you might just have to work harder to get more people to buy and stick with the old way.

  2. We fortunately have room here for 300 pair plus our horses. We raise our calves to a weaning weight of around 500 and then sell them where they usually go into a feed lot. But we keep back one of two usually to eat, let them eat grass and finish them on corn. I have to say that eating grass fed beef is so wonderfully yummy. I am also a naturalist and by that I mean, I really think that cows (and horses) do better out in the open range as long as there's good grass and fresh water. I am sure I didn't help you one bit. :-)

  3. I would say, with a growing concern over how our food is raised, what it is eating and where it comes from, to try to push the old fashioned method. I think a lot of us are in the "I wish we made enough for the hubby to stay home" boat. If you keep on doing things the way you are, the cutomers will come. More people just need to learn about you. I, actually, am lining up more customers everyday. I am also going to post links to our favorite "local" providers on my blog and the farm website, as well, so hopefully that will help. Hang in there, and know, that the grass makes all the difference. He'll get to be home soon.

  4. well i hope whatever you want happens and it all runs smoothly...

  5. Hi Shanen, I'm your neighbor and dropped you a email. I hope we can chat soon.

  6. I really don't know enough about how you are equipped at the moment, but I'd sure worry about recouping the equipment costs a feedlot requires. If you don't have a mill, grain and feed ingredient storage, some sort of roughage with useful feed value (chopped alfalfa, silage, cottonseed hulls, grain alcohol tailings, whatever), and the equipment to handle it - wow, that is gonna hurt.

    If you own all the cattle the risk is so very high - most of the 'lots out here are custom feeders. My Dad always said as long as the feedlots had water, they'd make money. He was referring to steam flaking grains and selling the feed by weight. I kinda doubt that a steam flaker would gain y'all much in corn country - it wouldn't convert much protein compared to milo. But, at any rate, you would be competing in an arena with a lot of big players who know economies of scale.

    You seem to be more comfortable with the idea of taking smaller steps and staying within your comfort zone of raising cattle according to your ethics. Of course, y'all will always have to get a higher price for your beef, which means building a loyal customer base - something it appears you are doing already.

    In today's economy, either choice will be risky. But, they say, the Chinese character for crisis is also the same one for opportunity! And, I'm quite sure I'm not saying anything y'all haven't figured out already....