Monday, March 17, 2008

Making Your Small Farm Profitable :: Chapter 9 Book Report

Chapter nine of Ron Macher's book "Making Your Small Farm Profitable" deals with machinery, in fact that is the title of the chapter! The thought of machinery is one of the many things on the front of my mind right now because of our hopefully impending land purchase and the work that will need to be done (house, septic, electric, water, fence, hay shed, etc.). We are going to need to decide what we will need, when we will need it, or even if we need anything at all.

I like the principle that Mr. Macher begins the chapter with. "Machinery and tools should save time or reduce the need for additional labor. Otherwise, they are a waste of money." This is a good basic principle to take into account when you are thinking about the machinery you are going to need. I would also throw in something about whether or not it would be more economical to hire someone or rent the machinery to do certain jobs that don't happen that often. At least until the money or the need is really there.

For example, I can think of lots of uses for a tractor with a loader for the farm. It would be helpful in building our house and hay shed, putting in the fence, and maintaining our pasture and woodlot. If we are able to swing it somehow I think that will be one of the things first on my list. On the other hand, I have been thinking about hay equipment (small square baler, mower, rake, and wagons). Is this a "need" or something that we should hold off on in the beginning. Of course we are going to need to bale hay (probably on 23 or 24 acres) for our livestock, but would we be better off renting or paying someone to do it. There are downsides to both having and renting/hiring and I will have to put a lot of thought into both sides of thinking.

In another section of this chapter Mr. Macher points out that hand tools should also be considered a piece of machinery (remember they can also reduce labor). Hand tools should be the first things we look at he writes and points out the importance of having quality tools that will last and really help make the work easier. Of course you can't do it all by hand, but you would be surprised by what is possible.

There are also sections on fencing, processing equipment, and even computers in this chapter. All of those things can be an integral part of the farm and need to be looked at in terms of cost, maintenance, and productivity. Mr. Macher has also included some charts (that are slightly out-dated) at the end of this chapter that give some variable machinery/equipment costs per hour, per acre, and so on.

And of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention his small section on using draft powered implements. I know that there are a few that read this blog that are doing this or hope to do it and it does offer many benefits for the small farm. I'm just not sure if I'm ready to take that step yet!


sugarcreekfarm said...

For hay we hire the cutting, Matt does the raking, and we hire the baling. We can't do small squares because we don't have a place to store them. So we have large net-wrapped rounds done so that they can be stored outside.

Iowa State's Custom Rate Survey is a great tool to see what you might pay to hire various farm jobs done:

2008 Farm Custom Rate Survey [PDF].

Rich said...

If you decide to buy your machinery, have you considered buying something like a 75-120hp tractor from the '70's as your tractor? There are a number of advantages to a tractor like this, tractors of this size and era are starting to become collectible (so they might increase in value), they are big enough that you will almost never overwork them (so less broken parts), and they can be relatively affordable (because they are too big for an acreage and too small for a bigger farming operation).

Don't forget, that farming with something like a nicely restored (or well cared for) Minneapolis-Moline tractor and implements could even be used to attract customers to your farm (M-M collectors, former M-M owners, or M-M tractor drive participants, etc).

By the way, a tractor with a front end loader is an indispensable tool.

Ethan Book said...

Sugar Creek - Thanks for that great link. Hopefully we will be able to get a tractor on the place in the beginning so at least we could do what you do. There is also the possibility of borrowing the baler that is 20 or so miles away. We will just have to see.

Rich - We are all about buying an older tractor ... maybe something from the 60's or 70's and if we are lucky it will be a Minneapolis Moline. Our family has a history of M-M's and if I can continue the tradition I would love to. We will probably be looking for something in the 50 to 90 HP range depending on what is available.

I agree with you 100% ... a front end loader is at the top of the list!

Yeoman said...

One thing about tools that's handy to remember is that the value of a things is what it capably and efficiently accomplishes.

That would seem self-evident, but very few people seem to look at things that way. People tend to look at what is new.

However, just because it is new, doesn't mean it accomplishes the work more efficiently.

Other things factor in. The value of your time, for example, may, or may not, factor in. Safety may factor in. And so on.

But, again, old isn't necessarily worse, nor new necessarily better.

Blair H. said...

Have you considered how much you would save by developing that 25 acres into a high density grazing pasture? You could also stockpile grass for winter grazing. We paid $160 (delivered) a ton for our alfalfa last summer, and because we stockpile forage, we only have to feed 3lbs per day to the stockers and 12lbs per day to cows that are calving or have calves. 25 acres seems like such a small area to be spending all that money for machinery on!

Ethan Book said...

Blair H - High Density Grazing is on the horizon, but I don't think I can go from nothing to high density over night. I need to learn more about my pastures, forages, and so much more before I throw all my eggs in that basket. Also, stockpiled forages are something that we will do, but again it is a process. This year we tried to stockpile some grass forage that was pretty tall, but with the snow/ice we had this year the cows couldn't get to it most of the winter. There are other options, but hay will be needed.

Besides, just because I make hay doesn't mean I have to buy the stuff. And, I need to look at the costs of buying/owing compared to renting/hiring. A tractor would be helpful on so many levels rather than just hay ... after that used hay equipment in this area could cost around $1,000 for a mower, baler, rake, and a rack. We will have to figure out of that is too much or okay for what we will do (also if we can move equipment between farms we could be making hay on about 40 acres of land).

Lots of things to consider ...

Blair H said...

I agree with your idea of getting a loader, that's a great idea. Since we stopped haying on our ranch 25 years ago, we have 2 tractors. One is a Case 590 backhoe, the other a 1967 JD 4020 with a front end loader. The backhoe is indespensable, it gets used a LOT. The 4020 is used with a bucket attachment for loading the 1300-1800lb bales we feed from February to April.

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