Cota Farms' Blog

September 12, 2017

Small Farm Profits (sheep & goats)

mom&lambsMaking money on a small farm is difficult.  You can do this or that and sell a few dozen eggs or tomatoes but when you count the dollars very often you will find that you have spent more than you made.  And that is if you are already on a farm.  It is not practical in 2017 to purchase farm land, live there, and try to earn enough to pay for it.  But if you are already on a farm and don’t have it over mortgaged, then maybe you can keep it going long enough to make it to the coming time of all things local.  When that happens a small farm will have to invest more in security.

I have looked at livestock for several years now and am still convinced that a farmer with a couple dozen acres will not make money raising cattle.  And sometimes the price of milk at the store is so low I can’t believe they will still have milk the next week.  With what goes in to bringing a gallon of milk to the store, and it sells for less than fancy bottled water… better cut this rant off now!  Pork, well I really don’t understand that.  Around here though, I have seen a few Amish farms where they actually pasture pigs, will look into that some more.  There are more obstacles to poultry than a small bird deserves but if you can develop a market there is still some little opportunity there.

Some thought the influx of immigrants that eat more sheep and goat would bolster that retail market, I haven’t seen much of that.  The Muslims that visit our farm, for example, won’t or can’t pay a reasonable price and then want you to allow them to slaughter there at the farm. From what I can tell, they are buying less expensive imported lamb in many cases.

But still, pound for pound, sheep (and goats) have done best for us.  We finally turned to the stockyards as a fairly consistent and predictable outlet for our lambs.  The profit is not like that of retailing, but we have seen a big decline in that market here in Central Ohio.  Stockyard sales must be understood like anything else though, and not all sheep or goats are valued equally.  Primarily, they want meat animals, commercial breeds bringing the highest prices. I have found though, that while our Jacob crosses bring the lower bids, we have to put far less money and labor into them.  I don’t even know what foot rot looks like.  I have treated a handful of sheep for parasites over the years and never worry about lambing.  I just go out to our humble shelters in the morning and count the lambs.  I rely on our dogs to make sure nothing else is counting them as well.  And best of all, we get two crops a year for the most part, something not generally seen for the commercial sheep producers.

 

 

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June 23, 2013

We Like Sheep

Since I have become a shepherd, I have become oh so aware of what it means to be a sheep and it is quite disturbing.  There are too many references in literature liking people to sheep and it is not just a metaphor.  Among the most disturbing references is the idea that the very small group of men that control the world justify what they do because we are just sheep and therefore they have the right and duty to control, care for (whatever word you can stomach) us.  These people have been called various things for hundreds (thousands) of years and it is these very names that help to obscure their existence because these titles have been discredited, relegated to conspiracy theorists so I will not further help their cause by discrediting my own writing by using them.

It is true that we have greater intellect than sheep, and one would think that would be enough to protect us from their fate but I see that it is not true. Intelligence is a relative term and is not synonymous with thought, or the ability to reason or imagine possible future events.

We have been farming for a decade or more now and once again we are making changes to our operation.  This time the changes are more difficult and eerily consistent with what I see in the world around me.  You see we had a period when our flock grew, multiplied even faster than I had worked toward.  We didn’t have enough pasture to support them all but hay prices were such that we were able to supplement what we had.  Last winter changed all of that.  We lost what we thought we had gained because there were too many sheep and the price of hay increased so much we could no longer buy it.  And of course, not being alone in this predicament meant that the price we could get for our sheep dropped very low at the same time.

We are now culling our flock.  That is an interesting word, cull.  It is not used much in the cities but history teaches us that there will come a time when that word will have greater meaning to the population at large.  I remember when the Chinese government implemented its one child rule and other self-righteous countries like ours said what a terrible thing it was.  As a shepherd I very well understand the importance of controlling population, now more so than ever.

I know that most of us do not accept the idea of controlling the growth of the population unless we are controlling the growth of a certain group of people that don’t look like us.  This is often just dismissed as racism but I believe it is even more than that.  So then is it true that if we do not take responsibility for our own population growth we are just sheep and then it is left to others to deal with the situation?

Of course the powers that be have a way of dealing with this type of thought as well, once again relegating these ideas to the realm of conspiracy theorists.  They are very cleaver in how they go about it, using the classical argument of reducing these ideas to the absurd.  For example, these unnamed powers will harvest human beings for replacement organs maybe even bring aliens from outer space into the story.   Once you get people to laugh at the pure ridiculousness of the idea then the small amount of truth in the story is dismissed along with the rest of it.  Brilliant!

Maybe some of use will get a reprieve, much like this ewe that was a bottle baby and now enjoys a hands off status as beloved petrrr

March 10, 2013

Komondor Puppies

PUPPIES!  We have puppies, roly poly, cute and cuddly, adorable and precious.  And not just any puppies but Komondor puppies!  For many years I had watched the dog shows and marveled at the Komondorok as they floated around the ring.  How many times did I remark, “I want one of those”?  Well much has changed since I saw my first Kom on TV, changes that allowed for me to actually have one of these magnificent dogs.  The biggest change is I now live on a farm that uses working dogs, the perfect place for such a dog.

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These are not your average dog and don’t thrive in the cities.  They were breed to endure some of the worst weather that nature has to offer and defend their charge against fearsome predators I love these dogs!  I can put them in the pastures in the midst of a blizzard to fight off packs of coyotes and then turn in for the night without fear of what I will find in the morning.  Nothing can do that except a LGD, not a llama or donkey or other such animal I have read about that some have claimed guard their livestock.  A U.S. Marine could do it but otherwise, no.

We have Great Pyrenees that handle most of the work now as we are just developing our Komondor training program so I will say something about them.  They set a very high bar for our new Kom puppies to reach.  Our dam is Paige, of the Montgomery Kennel as is the sire, Zenta, a Hungarian import.  Paige is the fourth Kom to live at Cota Farms and her litter is the first born here.

In addition to offering our puppies for sale, I hope to have sales of trained pups.  Ideally these pups would be purchased along with the rest but remain here for an additional period for training.  In this way we hope to develop a more modern training approach to livestock guard dogs.  Most of the present training methods are focused on a type of sheepherding that is used less today and far less here in America.  Much of the sheep production that goes on here is done on small farms or on limited acreage.  There is also the likely hood of some other livestock on the premises, like chickens or geese.  In the old countries the dogs may prey on these birds in an attempt to feed themselves but today dog food is abundant and so the dogs can be expected to protect everything in their domain.

We have had rather good success so far.  I can say that our losses under all circumstances are much less than when we did not have the dogs.  I have noted the drive to attack waterfowl seems to be greater than with chickens or turkeys.  This is something I will keep track of.  The smaller predators that like to prey on chickens or ducks are also deterred by the presence of the dogs as we seldom find their carcasses anymore and the dogs don’t usually consume the whole animal even if they do take a bite out of it.

March 21, 2012

Why we feed our sheep grain

Filed under: Uncategorized — Cota Farms @ 1:26 pm
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Extremes get our attention.  Images and statistics of extreme behaviors, practices and ideology is often the subject of news stories, movies and books.  This is logical when you think about it as at least one goal of all these media is to get people to look at it and somehow convey money back to those involved.  People respond to the outrageous and in a world constantly vying for our attention we have to expect that much of the information directed at us is adulterated.

Specifically, when we see and hear stories of how animals are treated it is generally those stories of not only extremely bad care but abuse that is there for us to consume.  When you can take an animal abuse story and tie it to an aspect that directly affects people, like what the animals we eat are fed, you have a story that is important to even more people.

The problem with this is not so much that we are being told something that is untrue, although sometimes it is just a lie, but what we take away from these stories is skewed and we form opinions based on this incomplete information.  We assume that this or that story represents what is routinely done in the industry and therefore we should not eat any meat because all animals are tortured so that we can eat them.

It is true, for example, that many animals in the industry, ruminants, animals that eat grasses, are fed large quantities of grains which are not their natural diet.  Because of this these animals must also be given medication to counteract the deleterious effects of too much grain.  It has also been argued that this diet makes the meat less healthful to we who eat it.  This has in turn led to the grass fed meat movement where grass and nothing else is fed to the animals.  Yes, you will find wild ruminants who subsist primarily on grasses and other plants, deer for example.  But these animals are not expected to feed millions of people nor do they represent the kind of meat that we have become accustom to.   Some people think it tastes “wild” and it is certainly not as tender or succulent as domesticated cattle.

I have had grass fed beef and I was unimpressed.  I find that some people like the idea of grass fed meat far more than they like the actual product.  Because some livestock producers feed their animals too much grain does not mean that livestock should be fed no grain at all or that purely grass fed meat is superior.

People ask me do I feed grain and I tell them yes, absolutely!  We do feed a small amount of grain and this is why.  A certain amount is not harmful to them.  Grain is a more concentrated food source and I think of it like fertilizer, it helps them grow.  Unless you have an exceptional pasture, grass alone is just not sufficient for good production.  Even good pasture may be lacking in needed minerals.  Feed is a wonderful training aid.  A little grain will greatly improve the quality and taste of the meat.  And most importantly, they like it!  We don’t just care for our animals, we care about them.

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