So you want to have livestock, but you don't have a lot of acreage. Not to worry. There are many options out there for you. Here is a brief list.
Wonderful eggs and meat animals. On average they are about 10 lbs so they are too heavy to fly which makes them ideal to free range. They are fast growers and at around 6-9 weeks are big enough to eat. They are fair layers and will lay an average of 140 eggs per year.
The quail is a small pretty bird. They get to be an average of 3.5 ounces. They lay small speckled eggs and are primarily table birds but you might also sell the fertilized eggs to hatch. You can have a fair amount of quail since they are so small. On one extension site I saw the recommendation of 500 quail to make a good profit.
Small and a great option for small spaces. There are many options to choose when deciding a breed. They give birth to multiple offspring and grow fast.
This is a pretty standard animal to put on this list. You can raise them for meat or eggs or both. They are very easy to care for just remember to protect them from predators.
There are many types of goats to chose from but if you don't have a lot of space you might want to consider Nigerian dwarf goats. They are small in stature, have a sweet disposition and are easy to milk. Just like all the others this is another breed that you will need to protect from predators.
There are many options for breeds of pigs. One breed in particular is Berkshire pigs. They are both small and versatile.
You can have multiple hives with the added bonus of having the help around the farm.
Cows- The miniature kind
Miniature cows might be a good option if you have about 2 acres or less. Because cows need at least 2 acres to utilize rotate grazing. Since they are smaller you can use them for breeding, meat or milk.
Animals by acreage:
As farmers and small businesses owners the bottom line is we want to have a successful business. To succeed in this competitive market we have to be creative and find and grow things that sell, pay the bills, and above all keep us doing what we love, farming!
Here is a list of 12 of the most profitable crops. They won't work for everyone but they are worth looking into for your small farm.
1.) Gourmet mushrooms:
If your climate accommodates mushrooms you could grow mushrooms outdoors and offer gourmet mushrooms to your list of items you sell. But even if you don't have the climate in your favor you can do this in a very small space indoors and control the humidity, temperature to get a profitable harvest. From gourmet food item to medicinal purposes mushrooms can get a great price at market. Oyster mushrooms, chanterelle, shiitake and reishi and all highly valued mushrooms you can produce. Not only can you sell the fresh "fruit" mushroom but you can pickle, make tea, make tinctures, dry, or make jerky out of the mushrooms (for vegetarians). Crop cycles are short at about $12 per pound you can make a profit quickly.
This one you do have to have the right climate. Lavender prefers a more mild winter and a warm sunny summer with low humidity. You can harvest 3 times a year. After cutting the flowers and stems you can sell lavender bundles for 6-15 dollars per bundle. You can dry the flowers and sell them all winter long along with teas, soaps and other smell good items.
If you are able to grow hemp in your state it may be a beneficial crop to add to your list. With the legalization of hemp in over 36 states in the US it may be time to give this crop a second look. Hemp grows very vigorously and doesn't require a lot of fertilizer, water or other amendments. It can be used as feed, bio fuel, paper, building material, textiles and the seeds and oil can be collected and used industrially and for culinary uses. The profits range from roughly $130-730 per acre.
Growing cut flowers for market can be a very profitable venture. It's almost unlimited in what you could sell. Perennial flowers from bushes like lilacs or roses or something more annual like sunflowers or cosmos. The greenery included in floral arrangements is also profitable. You could also chose to sell woody ornamental like willow, red twig dogwood, or pussy willows are also a great perennial crop that you harvest year after year.
5.) Trees and shrubs:
This is ideal for a part time or side business. Some highly sought after trees are maple trees, fruit trees, nut trees, Christmas trees, fruit bushes and roses. Just putting in a few hours per week after your initial investment you could find some reasonable profit here.
You can sell both mature roots and young shoots to other growers and make a substantial profit. Seed is selling for about $150-200 a lb and mature roots are selling for $400-500 a lb. Mature roots do take a while to cultivate - 6 years so the payoff here is an investment.
Often used as a rotation grain it is also an ancient grain along side farro, quinoa, spelt, amaranth and millet. It boasts a high amount of vitamin C, protein and iron and has been a big hit with the health conscious and gluten free crowd. It takes the award for highest profit per acre. It averages about $1,600-1,700 a lb per acre.
Microgreens pack a tiny punch in the produce world. You don't need a lot of space and can make up to $50 per pound, and depending on your space and how you set things up you could produce 20-25 crops per year.
9.) Bonsai trees:
Small trees for small spaces. If you have a small space to spare you could start growing Bonsai trees. You can sell the starts that are untrained to Bonsai enthusiasts and the trained trees. The trained trees are usually 2-3 years old so do require some time commitment. The trained trees can go for around $30-hundreds of dollars depending on the amount of time and the specimen.
It doesn't take a large amount of money or a large space to get started in garlic. And with specialty garlic being purchased in local grocery stores, depending on your market, you can find a profitable crop to sell locally. Types of specialty garlic are Romanian Red or Carpathian. A lbs of garlic seed will produce 40-60 plants depending on the variety. Profiting about $16 per lb.
11.) Bamboo, ground covers and drought tolerant plants:
Droughts and fires and dry conditions are becoming the norm. Growing bamboo, ground covers and grasses in pots and selling all over your local area or distributing online. Growing drought tolerant plants and selling them to landscapers, nurseries, and homeowners is another way to generate a profit.
Wasabi is a highly sought after root that is more like a fine wine than a horseradish. Wasabi takes about 60-80 weeks to grow to a marketable size and has highly guarded secrets on how to grow it. Wasabi also gets the award for one of the hardest plants to grow on this list or even get a hold of. It does offer a nice prize for all that effort. Wasabi root goes for around $100 a lb in Japan and $45 a lb in North America.
There are many ways to grow your farm business. I hope that this list is useful and gives you a starting point to dig in and do your own research on what crops might be best for you.
In 2016, a ReFED report estimated that in the US, some 10.1 million tons of food remains unharvested at farms. That is almost 1/5 of the annual total food waste generated in the country. Those are profits you aren't making.
How do you eliminate food loss on your farm? Here are 9 ways to stop food loss and turn that into a profit.
1.) Repackage the product:
If you can't sell them, preserve them. It makes sense to take the fruit and vegetables that you have and make something with the excess; jam, jelly, salsa. You just need a little bit of elbow grease and time. Save the season and sell the products through the winter.
2.) Offer to deliver:
Deliver the unsold items to people who want them. Have a sign up on your website or have a list of customers that like specific items. Make this a VIP option! You are delivering it to their doorstep. If you have the produce already packaged up and ready to sell, why not spend some extra time and not let if go to waste.
3.) Host a farm to table dinner:
Have a farm dinner directly after your day at the market. Whatever doesn't sell, gets cooked up for dinner.
4.) Sell it online:
We've talkde about using your website to sell your products online but there are other ways as well. Companies like Full Harvest and Local Harvest are helping in this challenge. They have created a marketplace to take your unsold items and sell them online. Not a bad place to start. I'm not saying they are free market places, but they may give you options to sell to a large market.
5.) Work with local markets and restaurants:
Go to the local stores around you and ask if they would sell your items. Sometimes this can take some phone calls to get to the right person. It doesn't hurt to ask if they'll sell your items. The worst they will say is no, (probably).
6.) Sell ugly fruit, eggs and vegetables:
It doesn't have to be pretty to be delicious. Market this to your customers and give them a discount. You're still making a profit and they are getting the produce they want. Win, win!
7.) Sell expired or over-ripe items:
Hear me out here. The stores are selling expired items, maybe you can too. Bread that is hard can be used to make french toast, peaches that are overripe will make a delicious pie. If you're honest and upfront about the items being on the discount rack and your can still sell them.
8.) Animals like food too:
Sell the produce to another farmer who will use the produce to feed to their animals.
9.) Donate the items to charity:
There are many people that can't afford the produce you're throwing away, so be charitable. Rescue your food with a company like Hungry Harvest or your local food bank.
It takes all season to work the soil, plant the seeds, water and care for and harvest the produce you sell. As it turns out you don't have to throw it away, compost it or till it in. There are plenty of other options to try. As it turns out food waste can be reduced in our own fields.
Cricket granola, cricket ice cream, silkworm chips, meal worm burgers these are things that we never thought we would be eating let alone thinking of these things being gourmet and highly sought after items. Humans have been using insects for protein for a very long time. It may have been a matter of survival before but maybe it still is, but as we look for more sustainable sources of protein insects are getting high marks. It turns out farming insects is a lucrative business model as well. For any sized farm this might be a great investment to look into.
But, it's a bug. To that I say...
The chef makes the meal
One person will turn up their nose to what you find to be your favorite meal. The perfectly cooked steak could be deemed by some to be disgusting and so it really depends on who is cooking the meal and who is eating the food. Or possibly it all comes down to marketing.
Grasshoppers, termites, hornets, ants, crickets, weevil grubs, meal worms, all of these are prized in other countries for their taste. Ants are small but powerful and are actually among the highest sources of protein in the world. One type of leaf cutter ant from South America has been described as having a bacon like taste. I think we are only limited by our imaginations in coming up with delicious ways to make insects more palatable and delicious.
We already package up meal worms for our chickens but what about our other omnivorous livestock? Pigs and fish; here is an article from Agweb that talks about innovative farming opportunities.
Still can't get over the fact that it's a bug?
Bugs are nutritious and delicious too.
There is a cookbook, "On Eating Insects" by Josh Evans that describes the taste of Danish forest ants like this, "Like lemon rinds seared on the grill, with a hint of brown sugar." I don't know about you, but to me that sounds delicious and something I'd like to try.
It's estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States that 2 billion people eat bugs. That's not a bad percentage of people to market to. Athletes, health enthusiast and environmentally conscious individuals are always looking for environmentally friendly sources of lean protein, essential amino acids, and omega 3 fatty acids. For some people the thing they can't get around is that it's an insect. Maybe they should be marketed more like shrimp, clams, or other crustaceans; the insects under the sea. Just reverse it and call them, the lobsters of the land.
Bottom line; they're profitable
It takes way less to raise these little guys. In north America it's also considered a gourmet item and is imported from other countries that have been perfecting their insect recipes for hundreds of years. In Seattle at Safeco field they serve crunchy Chapulines otherwise known as Grasshoppers.
According to the research firm Global Market Insights, The American market for edible insects exceeded $55 million in 2017 and is projected to increase more than 43 percent by 2024.
Using less and getting more
Insects need 6 times less feed than cattle, 4 times less than sheep, and 2 times less than pigs to produce the same amount of protein. They also need less space and produce less waste. For that reason you can get into this business with very little overhead.
They're not going away. Bugs have been on the plant for 400 million years (way before us), represent 80% of the species on the plant, and out number us, by...a lot. There are 2,100 known types of edible insects, it might be time to look into this as a viable business model for your farm.
Here's one farm that's leading the way into this market but there is plenty of room for others there as well. Any takers?
Farmbrite releases a Free version of their software
Contact: Janine Russell President & Co-Founder
Company email: email@example.com
Longmont, CO, 9/4/2018- The makers of Farmbrite are now offering a free version of their software. This version comes with many of the high level offerings that their full version of the software provides but without the cost. Farmbrite provides farm management and record keeping software for all sized farms.
“We’re offering the free version so that the software can be available to new farmers or farms that might not otherwise be able to afford the software.” Ian Russell, Founder & CTO
The free version will provide users with the ability to gain insight into their farms’ overall activities and better understand how to make their farm more efficient and profitable.
All these features are available immediately. The company hopes that this change will help new farmers or others that cannot afford the expense be able to afford their software and be more successful. You can find out more on their website. http://www.farmbrite.com/pricing/
Farming is noble, honorable and very hard work but there's a lot to think about before you start digging in the soil or buying livestock. Let's look and see if this profession is for you.
1.) Find a mentor
Find a farmer you respect and one that farms the way you want to farm. Get a job with them. Learn all you can. Be reliable, show up and give all you can, be loyal to them for helping you and teaching you what they know. There are going to be jobs you don't want to do, but do them anyway. This is starting from the bottom and learning as you go. Learn from both his knowledge and his mistakes. If you start early you get about 30 or so seasons to succeed at farming. That seems like a lot but that is a whole year that I'm talking about. Learn early and maybe even find a better/smarter way.
2.) Have a plan
First of all you need to have a map on a high level to understand what you want to do and what you want to sell. Then you can go in and reverse engineer who you need to talk to, what you need to acquire, what steps you need to take to get there and what you need to achieve you goals.
Spend your money wisely. Try to find deals on the things you need. Maybe use Craigslist, maybe your mentor has a friend selling something you need. Try to buy things that are of the highest quality but are on sale.
A word of advice: If you can at all swing it, don't start out owing money. This puts you at an extreme disadvantage and you will start out coming from a place of want instead of being smart and steady. Make good business choices from the start and run this as a business.
3.) Know the economics of Farming - Turning a new page
In the past farmers have used a very capitalistic view of resources. Air, water, and soil have been plentiful and so used to a capitalistic benefit of the farmer. As those resources are becoming more scarce farming will become harder. As new farmers you need to be aware of what has been done in the past and what is no longer working. Maximizing profits and industrializing farming has been detrimental to the farmers way of life. They may have maximized profit but there was a cost to the land. You can learn and change and be a better farmer and steward of the land. Do this by diversifying your farm. The industrialized farmer has one crop that they sell. This seems like a good idea to specialize but to use a farming expression, you're putting all your eggs in one basket. It can be detrimental if there is a dip in sale prices, in foreign trade talks or politics and the like. Smart business people diversify and scale. Find what works, do it as quickly as you can and do keep doing more of that same thing.
3.) Farmers wanted
As a farmer you need to be quick to learn new things, be right on top of what is working in your business and what is not. It can't be said enough, this is a small business and you need to treat is as such. Don't fall into the traps that others have fallen into. As a farmer you are an artist, plumber, electrician, landscaper, entrepreneur, grower, inventor, salesperson and whatever else needs to be done. Get your hands dirty, don't throw away anything (as soon as you do you'll need it again), repair things that are old instead of getting a new one.
What are you going to sell? This is where you get to be creative and put the "you" into your farm. It's important that you know the why behind your product so that you can tell that story to your customers. This is what will keep them loyal, that and customer service. Get the word out about your farm and products through all the social sites and web commerce that is available to you. Just because you're a farmer doesn't mean you need to do away with technology. Let technology work for you. Tell your story, get your story out the the world through all the social channels and then you can go on being a farmer.
Be the expert on this product. You need to know everything there is about this market. Knowing what you're up against will help you before you have a problem.
Where are you going to raise your product?
This can be unconventional. You can rent land, or find a warehouse, it could be on top of a building in the city, it can be aquaponics, livestock, row crops, bees and so many other things. This goes back to # 3 on this list. Think outside of the box. This is what is going to make you stand out and it will end up being your brand.
Finding your niche. Who are you going to sell to? CSA, local community, other things to sell, staying on top of the market. You are going to need to really know your market and what they want to buy so you can succeed.
7.) Getting help
You need some know-how before you jump into this. The USDA is going to be a great resource for new farmers. As I said before having the mentor will help you so much. There are places out there that can help. Seek them out and find what you need to succeed.
Keep costs in line with your revenue. This can't be stressed enough.
I'm not going to sugar coat this. Most new businesses fail in the first 2 years. Be smart about this process. Do everything as a business and take the emotion out of it. If you want to drive a tractor around a field but can't afford it, buying that tractor might be the end of your dream as a farmer. Don't let pride get the best of you.
Here are some other resources to help you get your start. Best of luck!
Keys to succeeding on the farm
Top 10 reasons new business fail
Online shopping isn't anything new but it is the modern place where commerce happens. Sure, people still go out to the store to shop for certain things but they also want the option to find unique, fun, and local (when possible) products online. Why not your products?
Creating an online store does not have to be hard. There are many options out there for shops. Farmbrite has one as well. After you find one that works for your budget now it's time to get set up and get your products online.
Establishing a web presence:
Offer your services and products online with your own web page. More people will be able to find out about your farm and buy your products. Hopefully you've found a software that makes it easy to not only set up but edit and keep your cart updated. Things sell out, change and you want to keep your shop fresh and not make it too complicated. gives your customers access to your unique products, and keeps your business growing. You can use the cart to track your orders and make notes about pick ups. When you have a customer purchase something you get a notification and it is recorded automatically as profit in the accounting section of your Farmbrite account. Easy-peasy.
Setting up a website where customers can find your store is just one part of the equation. The next part is getting people to the page. We've gathered a few ideas of how to reach more customers as well as giving the old ones incentive to stay with you.
To keep your shop updated and fresh make posts as you make items available on your shop page. Post updates on social media, Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc. to advertise and let your customers know about your new offerings. Add photos and descriptions (with dimensions if available) so that the customers know what to expect. You could also put what customers have said about the same products.
Marketing your shop: Make your name
- Post your website on local coffee shop boards, sign up with neighborhoods and as a business online with NextDoor
- Email your customer base and tell them about your new shop or new offereings
- Post on social media. I've said it a few times here because it's okay to do this more than once.
- Post customer quotes about your farm or shop on social media.
- Post Vlogs about your farm, about how you solved a problem, made something, or other interesting things about you on a YouTube channel.
- Put your shop URL in your email signature.
- Write a blog about things happening on the farm. When you have new offerings talk about them here. For instance,"We just hatched 100 chicks", "Now offering farm fresh eggs with your CSA share"
- Build your "social proof" in your store by offering a discount to past shoppers for a review. Online customers can't touch and feel the object they're buying. They want to know that they are getting what they're paying for. Good reviews reassure them that they are.
- Make up a loyalty program where the more they purchase the more loyalty bucks (to be redeemed later) they receive.
- Offer a discount if they purchase over a certain amount.
- Send a follow up email with a discount for their next purchase.
- Follow up at a later time with an email talking about similar products that they bought from you. For example: If they bought seeds, send a targeted email the following month talking about your live plants.
Use shopping cart feature on your website to offer your products online to your customers. Make it easy for them to purchase from you anytime.
- Offer seasonal produce as it becomes available
- Sell items you've made
- Sell CSA shares
- Sell original season items (pumpkin spice it up.)
- Offer add on's; baskets, gift wrapping, your farm branded items, chicken/goat/cow branded items, cute things that are a little bit of an impulse buy.
Tips to sell your product:
Here are some different marketing and pricing strategies to think about as your setting up your online shop.
- Get creative. Put in nice photos and be descriptive with your products don't just say, a dozen eggs. Why are they different, delicious, and only available for a short time. Tell the story of why this product is awesome or different. Making it compelling and you'll sell more.
- Offer a coupon, contest, or promotion. It could be a gift with purchase, a t-shirt, or something you have a lot of.
- Have a product of the week and discount that item...I bet you sell other things as well.
- Pricing matters. There are lots of studies out there about purchasing. Many of these have shown that customers often feel loss after a purchase but when the item is an odd number they feel like you're getting a bargain. Here is the study that talks about pricing strategies. Putting the $_.99 price tag on things will help your customers have a happier buying experience.
A few other ideas:
Bring the people to you:
You can offer events on your shop page. It could be renting camping space, farm to table dinners, bike to farm dinners, renting out space for weddings, or even goat yoga (yep, I said it.) You might even have summer camps for kids or DIY classes that help others learn about gardening, cheese making, wood turning, basket weaving, knitting, or whatever skills you're able to teach.
- Hold the events at times when your other business is slow.
- You pick field: Do you have a field that isn't doing much? Create a "you pick it" space. They could be sunflowers, blackberries, raspberries, pumpkins or something else that your customers would like. Think of the selfie possibilities.
Keep them coming back with your outstanding customer service:
It could be a smile or remembering their name but it really is the small details that make a customer return over and over again. It's also the small details that will keep people talking about your products and services. Go the extra mile for your customers. Here are a few ideas.
Keeping the customers happy to keep them coming back and also get the word out about your products to new customers is a full time job. By using best practices for customer service, marketing and creating unique products you can make your farm stand out from all the other farms. Creating an easy to use online store where your products are available will get the word out about your farm and keep the business flowing.
I hope you have some fun with these ideas and expand your customers base by using an online shop.
If there is one thing my farmer/gardener friends know about, it's soil. And my non-farmer friends, well, they want and need that black gold/nutrient rich soil. I propose a way to bring a little bit of revenue to your farm by bringing that product straight to the people who want it. We propose selling compost. It's both good for the farm and good for the environment. In some areas it a high demand item. With a little research into your local market you might be able to bring in extra cash into your farming revenue stream.
A large issue world-wide is waste. Food waste is an item that makes up to 20-30% of what we throw away. According to the Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations 1.3 billion tons of food (worldwide) is lost or wasted each year. Much of this can be composted back into the soil. Starting small, you might find some solutions locally that make financial sense. Instead of throwing it away, put it to use for the farm.
Here are a few ideas and considerations:
Picking a spot:
Finding a location for your compost might sound like the easiest part of this operation but there are some things to consider. You could find an out of the way spot for your compost and keep it your pile in the same spot all the time. Alternatively, you could put the compost pile on a portion of your growing area and move it every year. The soil underneath will be perfect for planting the following year.
Make sure your space will be able to heat up, has access to water so you can add water easily, and make sure it's in a spot that's manageable to turn. Another thing to consider is having outside waste brought to your farm. The Rodale Farm found off-farm sources using municipal leaves and grass clippings as well as horse manure to add to their on farm compost. You can read about how they incorporated a compost revenue source here.
Add it up:
All plants have different needs when they're growing and so when they break down they give off different nitrogen and carbon levels. Be sure to incorporate both green (nitrogen) and brown (carbon) items as you add to your pile. At the bottom of this post is a list of things to add and not to add.
Just like the plants you grow, the ingredients you add to your pile are important. The nitrogen and carbon in your compost pile should be balanced as well as the temperature and moisture level. Composting bacteria works best under neutral acidic conditions with the pH ranging from 5.5-8. Compost decomposes fastest between 120-160˚F. Decomposition happens at lower temperatures but it happens much faster at these temperatures. Keep your pile moist but not wet. A good practice is to water as you add things and turn regularly.
Use it if you've got it:
To cut down on smell of your pile aerate your pile regularly and make sure it's not too wet. You can use an aerator or front loader if you have one to turn your pile.
Add a variety of things to your compost. By mixing in items like hedge clippings, shredded newspaper and larger items you will improve airflow and help break down the compact items like grass clippings. Make sure to smash cornstalks and other large items so that they can be broken down more easily.
When it's done:
After all the dumping and turning and watering it's time to check your product. Finished compost breaks down to about half the volume of the original pile but it's much denser. Compost should look and smell like rich dark soil. You shouldn't see any of the items you've put in the pile. They should have broken down.
In your research you might find information on hot and cool piles. The hot pile will take less time to break down but a cool pile will also break down, but will take longer. Possibly about a year to complete. Which type you have depends on the area and the items you have in your pile.
When you think you're all composted and ready it's time to screen your compost. You can do this by running your compost through a wire screen with about 1/2 inch mesh. Screening can be done to sort out the larger pieces that haven't broken down all the way. Separate theses larger pieces from the smaller ones and add the larger pieces back to compost a little longer.
Bag it up:
You may wonder how you're going to easily bag up this new form of revenue. You have many options.You can sell this to customers by having your own measuring device like a 5 gallon bucket or sell it by the cubic yard. Alternatively you could have the customers bring something to transport it or put it into old feed bags (reuse). If you have the resources you might also give the option to deliver to individuals for an additional fee.
As you're bagging up your black gold you'll need to determine your price for your compost. You'll want to do some further research to see what other compost is going for in your area so that you can be competitive. Screened compost can go for roughly $50 a cubic yard and potting soil will go for $150 per cubic yard. If you're organic or bio-dynamic you can charge more. These prices vary though so do your own research to find your price.
I hope you find that incorporating compost into your agricultural operation can be beneficial to your bottom line as well as helping building back up the soil and reducing the amount of waste that goes into the landfills. Composting seems like a win-win-win for you, the environment, and your community.
Compost is an item you can sell year round as well. Bag up that black gold for the time when the ground is frozen and tuck them away for the winter when clients have smaller projects. A steady stream of income is just good for business. A few ideas that you could help you capitalize on compost are offering compost to your clients that garden, adding it to your own starts, or finding local businesses that need compost - like landscapers. If you're Organic you could sell to local organic gardening groups.
Note: Check with your local Department of Agriculture. There are some areas that are more regulated than others. http://www.recycle.cc/compostregs.htm
- Coffee grounds & filters (greens-N)
- Fruit & vegetable scraps (greens-N)
- Shredded newspaper (browns-C)
- Ash in small amounts (browns-C)
- Garden trimmings (greens-N)
- Eggshells (greens-N)
- Manure (plant eaters only) (greens-N)
- Leaves (browns-C)
- Grass trimmings (browns-C)
- Sawdust, hay or straw (browns-C)
- Finely copped wood or bark (browns-C)
- Old potting soil (browns-C)
- Animal bi-products, grease, fat & bones
- Meat, poultry, fish
- Seeds and weeds
- Plants that have been treated with pesticides
- Charcoal or Duraflame® ashes
- Treated wood products
- Cat litter or other pet waste
There is a discussion going on in the farming community about tilling vs no tilling. Based on that conversation it might be time to rethink the way you're planting your crop.
What is no-till farming?
No till farming is a way of planting fields or beds without the use of a plow or at least drastically reducing the amount of disturbing the land during planting.
This is not a new technology. No-till farming has been around for a long time, and was first documented in Egypt. In the past we used no till practices and contrary to our modern ideals it may not have been because we didn't have tractors. These farmers had a higher crop yield using this method of farming. Here is an article about the history of no till practices.
How do you do it?
Just like any new thing you learn, there is a bit of a learning curve. There are a lot of components and things to think about in the no till method; you may leave fields fallow for a few months, cover crops and planting specific cover crops for the season, and possibly herbicides, and pesticides.
Usually special machinery is used, specifically a no-till drill. It drills a hole for the seeds and then covers it over with soil. There are some alternatives to adding this machinery, broad fork, flail mower, slicer-mower, rotary powered harrow to name a few. If you're interested in learning more contact your local extension office for more specific information.
Heating up the debate
One thing to consider with the till method of farming is you stir up a large amount of carbon. This ends up as greenhouse gas, something that many researchers have been watching for climate change. According to this article by US news the effects of traditional till farming have been heating up the planet. By no means is it the only thing causing that but it is something people are paying attention to.
How does that work? By tilling the ground in the spring organic matter and animal matter, in various forms of decomposition, are released from the ground. When that carbon makes it's way into the atmosphere it is turned to carbon dioxide which acts like a blanket heating up the atmosphere.
So, who isn't tilling?
According to this Washington Post Article no-till farming operations are growing at a rate of 1.5% in the US. While not everyone is switching there are more farmers working this into their farming practices for a number of reasons. In a USDA blog post they talk about how the practice of traditional till method you'll find labor, time, fuel usage, equipment maintenance all take their toll on the farmers pocket.
"No-till has significant economic benefits beyond reduced fuel usage.
A farmer who plows 15 acres per hour, for instance, would save roughly 67 hours of work with each eliminated pass over a 1,000 acre field by adopting no-till. Depending on labor costs and equipment maintenance, that’s an additional several thousand dollars saved each year." USDA
It is all or nothing?
The good news is you don't have change all at once. If you're interested in using the no till method on your farm you can test out on one field or bed and see how it works before you make the full switch. If you slowly move to the no-till strategy you could see which practices produce more profit yields for your farm. Change is hard and sometimes needs more research and knowledge before put it into production. Taking the slower route might let you see a benefit without the large risk of failing.
To till or not to till, that is the debate.
Here's your Pros and Cons:
Getting started with no-till farming:
There are many resources, information, and guides available to help you if you're interested in the no till approach. I've listed a few but talk to your local agriculture or extension office.
Finding a middle ground
Through history we've had a hand in over-tilling and over farming our soil with devastating consequences. Take the dust bowl in the 1930's. There are also areas in the world that have been deforested, over farmed, and then abandoned. We've learned a lot from our mistakes but mostly go back to our old ways.
Can we find a compromise or middle ground? An alternative to no-till vs till may be in strip-tilling or zone tilling. These practices only disturb a portion of the soil needed to plant the seed. This this a less damaging process which puts both methods into practice. There is even a strip-tilling conference coming to Iowa this year if you're interested in finding out more.
Here's to farming smarter not harder.
Good grazing habits and pasture management goes hand in hand with maintaining healthy and productive livestock. Implementing good pasture management principles and grazing practices increases forage yield and quality, ensuring your livestock remain healthy and feed on nutritious pasture all year round.
How to maintain quality pasture meal for your cattle
Livestock health plays a major role in the quality of products they provide. Luckily, there are a few things every farmer can do to ensure the maximum nutrition quality of their cattle's pasture as well as their overall health.
Such measures include:
Monitoring your pasture and land condition
It is crucial for every farmer to monitor their pasture land and test the soil for fertility. Healthy soil contributes to yielding high-quality grasses and legumes, hence promoting healthier livestock and their overall productivity. Do not assume your soil's health. Send it in for testing to the relevant organizations and receive accurate results from certified professionals.
Once you receive the results, you may opt to use lime, fertilizers or implement any other measures as you see fit. For instance, if you are growing grass for your livestock, it is best to maintain lower soil pH levels. However, if you are growing both grass and legumes, it is advisable to keep off fertilizers with a nitrogen base as they promote grass growth, making the legumes struggle.
Similarly, ensuring your soil stays moisturized at all times by keeping it covered promotes healthy soil and overall good quality yield. Avoid bare ground areas at all costs.
Managing grazing frequency and intensity
As a cattle farmer, you need to implement good planning and grazing management habits. You need to plan in advance what seeds you will grow and how the cattle graze in certain parts of the land. A good organizational system and some advanced planning ensure your pasture land remains viable all year round, regardless of dry periods.
Ensure you balance the pasture biomass with the stock number of livestock you have. Overstocking contributes to damaged soils which lead to poor productivity of your cattle. Therefore it is essential to monitor the cattle's grazing habits to prevent soil and pasture degradation.
Pay attention to the climate and rainfall
Climate and observing rainfall have played a major role in farming, ever since the first farmers planted the first seeds in the soil. It is best to plant in late winter and use a rotational grazing system to keep your cattle fed and control the vegetation cover during the growing season.
For legumes, it is advisable to keep them at 3-4 inches at first and then give them a few weeks to get established. Once established, keep the rotations going to maintain healthy growth.
Reduce cover and control weeds
We have already established bare soil is bad. However, excessive vegetative cover prevents seeds from getting to the soil, hence preventing growth, especially of legumes. Similarly, weeds drain nutrients from other plants and block out the sun when they shoot up. They compete with your grasses and legumes, hence reducing their quality.
There are solutions out there for all types of weeds under the sun. Identify the plant pests present in your grazing fields and act quickly to get rid of them.
Importance of good pasture management practices
Cattle farmers need to equip themselves with the tools and practices to ensure high-quality pastures and grazing land. Maintaining emerald-green fields, like those shown in the advertisements on TV is neither easy nor impossible. Good grazing management organizes livestock to make the best use of pasture and ascertaining your livestock remains healthy throughout.
Pasture management and grazing will ultimately help you maintain healthy and productive livestock. By implementing some of these pasture management principles and grazing practices you will increase your forage yield and quality, ensuring your livestock feed on nutritious pasture while keeping your pasture weed free.
Comment below and share some of your best practices.