Cota Farms' Blog

December 15, 2013

Micro Trout Farm (3)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Cota Farms @ 4:44 pm
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I’m thrilled to report that the experiment is on track and functioning as intended.  This crude set up performs well even when air temperatures fall into the single digits.  My only concern at this point is that I do not have enough fish in the tanks.  That is not a result of my setup but just plain poverty.  The early winter weather forced us to focus our efforts on caring for the other livestock and we couldn’t continue stocking the tanks.  We should have had several hundred fingerlings by now. Hopefully we can start stocking again after the holidays.

I have noticed that while the water flow is not impeded by the low air temperatures, the air pumps are very much affected by the cold.  In commercial operations aeration is accomplished by means of mechanical agitation of some sort, impellers at the water surface, paddle wheels.  Tank culture is usually done indoors or if outdoors then in warmer climates.  Fortunately as the air temp falls the air density increases making up for at least some of the diminished air flow.  I have a couple ideas on how to fix this problem but the best one is to put a hoop structure over the water conditioner and main tank.  It would be impractical to try and cover all of the tanks because of the fairly steep slope of the ground. It should not be necessary though as most of the air injection is done before the water flows to the downhill tanks.

Another important aspect of air pumps is that they require much less energy to operate than rotating motors.  If larger fish are relocated to the pond though, it would be necessary to add one of these motors there. This is an important point I may have failed to mention.  Once the limits of the system are reach, it would still be possible to increase production rates by using the pond.  The pond also serves as an emergency relief point should all else fail.

While pond culture is common,  for us it is not the best option because harvesting there is a whole other process and is very labor intensive.  We prefer to net the fish from the tanks as needed.  Once the next phase begins this spring, I will be able to determine the actual number or pounds of fish that can be raised with the given water flow rate.IMG_20131210_163301

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November 6, 2013

Micro Trout Farm (2)

Once we secured the water source we had to determine how much water we had, the flow rate.  For large scale commercial trout facilities the flow rate is very large, even thousands of gallons per minute.  There are few places in America where that much clean, cold water is available for private use.

Many of us however can have access to smaller volumes of water, perhaps enough to produce fish in sufficient quantities for it to be self-supporting.  A simplified analysis may look like this:  $150 per month for electric to pump water and air; $100 per month for feed; $400 per month replacement stock.  This simplified analysis assumes a up and running project and does not account for any capital investment like the cost of the well and raceway.

So $650 is the monthly cost to produce 400 fish for market.  Another assumption is that the project has been running long enough to produce a marketable item, a 1.5 pound fish.  If we sell 400 fish each month for $7.50 per pound then we net $3850 per month.  More than enough to service any capital investment with some pocket change left over.  OK let’s say my figures are suspect even though they are not that bad and we double our input costs to $1300 per month, still not too bad.  At any rate, it seems to be self-supporting.

This project has brought together all my favorite sciences and opens up a lot of potential new avenues for any other agricultural engineering fans out there.  A few came out to see my prototype; its already had an important modification and is growing trout.  You will notice I am using a variation of the common raceway and tank culture systems.  Both methods have advantages so why not bring them together.  I am also experimenting with different off the shelf tank designs that are readily available for far less than those tanks sold specifically for aquaculture.  Oct27 011

August 29, 2012

Summer Lambs

I love summer lambs!  Even though we have never lost a lamb to the weather, I still worry when it is very cold and the wind howls terribly.  In the summer it is so easy on the new lambs and their mothers.  I look at nature and think it is not natural to have young in the dead of winter; perhaps I am wrong but I think the demand for spring lamb has led to the practice of farmers lambing in winter.  We don’t do things that way, yes we do have most of our lambs in the winter but our lambs are generally not big enough by Easter for sale.  That is one of the disadvantages of using Jacob Sheep but I believe the advantages prevail.

One reason we are able to have summer lambs is we don’t take our rams out of the pasture, when a ewe is ready the ram will be there to service her.  This is something else we do differently.  We also don’t have to worm our sheep or stay up at night to help with lambing.  I wonder if anyone has run the numbers to see if the larger commercial lambs are worth the added labor and expense.  I have noticed that the non-commercial breeds don’t bring as much at the livestock auctions so their advantage is greatly diminished when it comes time for sale.

The advantage may still yet come back to the heritage breed producer.  If the meat is in fact better, an important reason why we use them, and we don’t have to depend on the stockyards to move our sheep to market, then we can overcome some impediments to selling our lamb.

Ohio produces a lot of lamb but most of it is consumed in other states, this is why we are so dependent on the brokers.  Because of government laws we are not able to sell our processed lamb across state lines.  This seems very strange to me as China is able to sell whatever they want to every state but I don’t want to go there just so I can sell my lamb to New York.

This has changed.  State processing facilities can now apply for a new label that would allow farmers like me to sell our lamb directly to buyers in states that consume a lot of lamb.  I plan to investigate this further and see if it will help me or merely discover that once again those with the power and the money have already found a way to keep the advantage.

August 3, 2012

The Price of Chicken

Filed under: Uncategorized — Cota Farms @ 12:12 pm
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We use to buy the poultry from our county fair after the children were through showing them. We did this for a few years then stopped and told a friend that we would not be bidding on these birds anymore and that they needed someone else to buy them. This friend has now told me that he can no longer sell these birds and won’t be buying them this year.

I did a few quick calculations and discovered that even if we simply took the birds and gave the fair board no money at all, the end product would still cost us more than if we just went to the grocery and purchased them one at time. Let me say that again. If a small farmer is fortunate enough to have someone give him free of charge a few dozen birds, by the time he has transported the birds to the slaughter house and paid to have them dressed and packaged, he would have spent more money than if he just went to the local grocery store and bought them. How can that be! This doesn’t even account for other factors such as having an inspected poultry processing plant within 100 miles driving distance, owning a vehicle capable of transporting a few dozen birds to the plant and fuel costs. Then there is the cost of the refrigeration required to store the birds and so on.

I should note that I am comparing prices of chicken and turkey that is on “sale”, without regard to brand or perceived quality. At any given time I have see one package of chicken at one half the price of a similar package of chicken right next to it. The only visible difference is the brand or which brand is on sale at a discounted price that week. I have noted that it is not necessary to ever buy chicken at the higher price as someone’s chicken is always on sale. I have noted this pattern over several years.

We are told that the cost of chicken will increase soon because of the anticipated poor harvest this year. Even so, the price of this chicken will no doubt still be less than the cost to produce it. I of course do need to qualify that statement. The cost to produce a conceivable amount of chicken is apparently very different than the cost to produce enough chicken to fill the store shelves in America everyday, an unimaginable amount of chicken.

It is this truth that has shaped the way our farm has progressed. We can not compete with the factory farms on price no one can; it is difficult even for them to compete with each other. We don’t even try to sell chicken! We also do not vilify the factory farms, at least not intentionally. If the goal is to feed as many people as possible, as cheaply as possible, then they win. We try to offer something else.

What really bothers me is that even if I compare the cost of the most expensive chicken in the store with what it would cost me to produce that same bird, I still show a loss. Economies of scale can only account for some of the advantage the large corporations have, as for the rest, I am still at a loss.

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