My farm is a bit different than most. I look at everything on it through a gross margin looking glass. It has to make a profit. If it doesn’t then I need to change it, adjust it or dump it. We have limited equipment and enjoy keeping it simple. We do not have a whole lot in the way of assets and basically our whole operation is portable; much like most new young farmers starting out.
We manage 3,300 acres of land leased from private owners and don’t currently own any of the land that we operate on. Don’t get me wrong, I believe land is a great investment, but it needs to be purchased with after-tax dollars.
The risk that we run in operating in this manner is the possibility that we might lose land. It does happen, but at the same time we are regularly gaining new pieces of land. For this reason, we need to be portable.
I do not own any cattle. I am a custom grazier; so my job is to manage herds of cattle for my customers on the land that we lease. In most cases, I can graze my customer’s animals at a lower cost than the owner can. This is because I lease smaller pieces of land from multiple landowners and join them together as one large grazing pasture. I can then assemble larger herds to manage at one location.
Instead of finding smaller pieces of land all over the countryside and then managing multiple small herds, the cattle owner can send me one large herd and forget about them for the summer. With the high cost of labour and equipment, it is very expensive to manage a number of smaller herds all over the countryside.
My time and equipment costs divide out much better on a larger herd. With more small farmers jumping out of the industry, and bigger farms getting bigger, these services are in high demand.
I still have multiple pastures. Last season I managed five herds in four different locations on 21 different pieces of land. This is why I need to be portable. I have to effectively get around to all of these pastures as inexpensively as possible. My 1992 Geo Tracker is a very cost-effective way of travelling to, and between pastures. It also works as my ATV once I’m there.
With all of the different locations over 3,300 acres, it makes sense to have a portable corral. This includes a portable tub system for processing, along with heavy-duty panels so I can set up a corral anywhere. Not only does this give me the flexibility of one system for multiple locations, it also saves me from having to clean the manure out of the corrals afterwards. I just remove the corrals from the manure. With this system, I have to be able to load and transport these panels quickly and inexpensively which is one of the reasons that I own a bale truck and a flat deck trailer.
Oh, did I mention that I have never owned a tractor? My bale truck is much more portable than a tractor. Its main purpose, of course, is to feed cattle. I can load up two round hay bales at a time with my bale truck and transport them relatively quickly to any of my pastures. It is a lot faster to feed with a bale truck than with a tractor and with it I can easily unroll the bales. It can also haul my flat deck trailer with my corral panels or a water tank. It also pulls my stock trailer, hauls my garbage dumpster to the dump, moves water systems, operates my pellet feeder, and if need be, takes my family to town.
It is an all-around versatile piece of equipment. Those arms on the bale deck are like extensions of my body now. It can haul wood chips, deliver feed totes and carry my ATV along with about 91 other applications. (I’m going to write a book about the ‘101 Uses of a Bale Truck.’)
It is portable and versatile and I love it. However, my advice to you is that if you want a bale truck, don’t buy a bale truck. Buy a truck and put a deck on it. A bale truck has a very hard life bouncing over frozen cow dung all winter long. Used bale trucks are usually quite beat up.
I have also accumulated a number of other portable devices to work with on our farm. We have a portable hog cage. We raise all-natural pasture-raised pork using the same grazing concepts as we do with the cattle. With the use of the cage and some portable electric fencing, we rotate the hogs around to provide them fresh grass all summer long. Every year we can graze the pigs in a different location. The whole system is quite portable.
I also picked up a portable chicken barn a couple of years ago. With the help of some portable electric netting, we also rotate the chickens around on pasture. The barn is on skids so it is very easy to drag around. It is much easier to move the chickens with a barn by just closing the door at night (I do not enjoy herding chickens). The downside, the barn has a floor so it has to be scraped out once in a while. This I will rectify soon by getting a different barn.
I am quite proud of my fleet of portable solar-powered rock pickers. With my business I provide off-site watering systems at every pasture for the cattle. I purchased my first solar-powered watering system 15 years ago and quickly realized it required a lot of labour to move it around all of the time. I needed to find a trailer to mount it to. I had an old rock picker that I brought with me from Saskatchewan that was not used anymore but it had a solid tub that worked perfectly as a portable water trough that I could mount my solar system on. I now have three of these, all imported from Saskatchewan. I think every farm in Saskatchewan has one of these old-style rock pickers in the bush somewhere. These can be very inexpensive to set up.
As you can see, my business is very portable. If I lose a piece of land, I pick up, and move on to another. Mobility gives me the flexibility I need with my operation and it saves me a lot of time and money. I know we all love the lifestyle that farming gives us, but in the end, we still need to make a profit. How could you lower your costs to make your business more successful?