Friday, November 17, 2017

Checking in with a long overdue farm update

Hello, folks, it’s been a while. I apologize for not posting to this blog over the past few months...sometimes I forget that not everyone follows along with the daily goings-on via Twitter. But now I'm back and happy to share a bit about what's been happening on the farm and where we see it going in the future.

The happiest news coming out of the summer is that we had a very good corn silage crop. We only planted corn on three-quarters of our available acreage this year, yet we harvested enough to fill all three of our silage pits. Without a doubt it was one of the best silage crops I can remember. We also rolled up over 550 bales (roughly 220 tons) of bermuda and crabgrass hay. That's a little short of our normal yield but should be more than enough to see us through the winter and early spring. 

Weather permitting, we will finally begin drilling oats into fields and pastures over the next few weeks. Some of the planted acreage will be used for spring grazing, but most will be harvested as baleage. It doesn't provide quite the kick of corn silage, but it's proven to be a better option on some of our marginal ground. Other farm chores on the docket include clipping pastures, seemingly endless equipment repairs, keeping hay rings filled, and of course milking cows twice a day.

Speaking of the cows, we currently have 167 in the active milking herd. That number should climb steadily over the next few months as more cows freshen than are dried off. The same could also be said of our cows’ milk production. It’s been slowly improving since the summer, but our nutritionist expects next week’s ration change to boost milk 4-6 pounds per cow. Let’s hope so!

And now…the bad news.

The dairy business is not very good right now, particularly in our part of the country. We've seen worse prices and margins a couple of times in the past ten years, but it appears we are now in a period of what could be called "persistent mediocrity."  The price we are receiving for our milk lets us pay the bills, but that’s about the best I can say about it. The dairy industry’s long-term outlook is bright, but I don’t know how many dairies in this part of the country will be around to see those better days. In Alabama alone we’ve lost nearly 100 dairies over the last fifteen years, and we have barely more than 30 operating today. There are many factors that have led us to this point, but at the end of the day it’s a matter of supply and demand: too many cows in this country producing more milk than we can sell for a good price in the marketplace.

I regularly pray that God will give us wisdom to make good choices about the direction of our farm, and recently we have made a big one: we are taking the first steps to transition from dairy to beef. Breeding our way into owning a commercial beef herd will take time, so there will be several million more pounds of milk produced on our farm over the next few years. And don't worry...I’ll continue to promote dairy just as hard as I possibly can until the last Holstein leaves our farm!

Over the past 65 some-odd years, dairy farming has provided a good living for my grandparents, my parents, and my own family. Breaking away from that legacy is scary, but I’m at peace with our decision. As much as I love what I do every day, I’ve come to believe this change gives our farm a better opportunity to be productive and profitable in the years to come. I’ll continue to pray for wisdom as we make decisions along the way, and I would certainly appreciate any prayers you could spare on our behalf every now and then.

No comments: