Monday, April 11, 2011

The Time/Money Conundrum

Yesterday as I was tackling the days chores and trying to get things ready for the summer growing season (getting the pigs in woods and cows in the pasture) I was thinking about the conundrum facing the beginning farmer. When you are beginning (even though I'm over three years in I still am very much a beginner) like I am without the benefit of family/shared land, facilities, or equipment everything has to come from somewhere. Many of the things I have acquired through extended family or borrowing, but there are other things that I have just needed to buy ... or at least felt the need to buy.

Let me give you an example ... If you are a regular reader of the blog you will know that I purchase my pig feed two tons at a time and it is bagged. This is a time consuming process which includes a stop at the feed store to load 80 bags of feed into my trailer and then a trip back to the farm where I either load each bag one-by-one in to the bulk feeder or feed by hand each day taking the feed to the pigs. I don't mind doing the manual labor ... even when I didn't have a working tractor and I filled the bulk feeder one bag time climbing up and down the ladder. The labor isn't a big deal, but the time can be an issue. If I only have a limited amount of time to get the work done I sometimes feel the need to use/purchase labor saving devices ... that is where the time/money conundrum comes into play.

In the ideal farming world I would have the feed store deliver to the farm in bulk purchasing about 5 tons at a time. I could have them fill up my bulk bin and then fill up the feeder. If I had the bulk bin filled the next obvious piece of equipment would be an auger wagon to use when refilling the feeder. This would be a huge time saving method of doing things, but it is also a little spendy and if I'm going to make the farm work I need to be able to cut every corner I can and substitute my labor for equipment.

I think the solution is to ... well, I guess I'm not sure what the solution is. But, what I'm going to do is continue to try and grow slow and use my labor as much as I can. From there I think I can just keep my eye open for the types of things that will help the farm now and in the future. What I really need to do is be able to go slow ... even though I just want to race ahead!


Yeoman said...

This is a stupid question on my part, but what does pig feed consist of?

BadVooDooDaddy said...

I hear you. Labor is a great way to save money but it gets to a point that you can no longer keep up with just the labor and have to break down and get a labor saving devise just to keep up with things. I is for sure a conundrum. Keep your head up and plod forward is all you can do.

Ethan Book said...

Yeoman ... it is a corn/soymeal mix. I feed a straight 14% ration although I would be better served if I had different rations for different sizes, I just don't have the capabilities for that. Off the top of my head I can't remember how much sow meal is used for my ration, but I'll look it up.

Rich said...

Sometimes by slightly adjusting or modifying your setup or methods you can save labor without buying something.

As an example, this year I added a bale spike to the back of the tractor so that I can haul two bales of hay instead of one. It sounds like a simple solution and one that any idiot would come up with, but for some reason I had this twice-modified $20 bale spike laying around for two years and never used it because I didn't think it would make that big of a difference.

But, I found out that getting single bales actually takes over three times as long (have to get out of the tractor and open the gate twice, etc.), uses twice as much fuel, and makes twice as much mud (when it actually rains).

Another example is filling a low spot with gravel near the gate to our hay storage area. It took about 6 buckets of gravel and less than an hour to fill that hole, but I didn't realize until it was filled how jarring and tiring it was to rock the tractor though that hole every time I went to feed hay. A bumpy, rough ride can tire you out more than you think and the work goes smoother if the ride is smoother.

Some of these same concepts could be applied to your farm. Hauling two bales at a time might be half the amount of work, but getting 80 bags of feed at a time might be more than twice the amount of work as getting 40-50 bags in two trips. (if you are getting a bulk discount, etc. this really wouldn't apply)

I'm not sure what kind of feeder you have, but some of the ones I have seen can be shortened or made taller by adding or removing a ring. If you shortened your feeder it would have less capacity, but would be much easier to fill. How often is it filled to full capacity anyway?

It is a continuing process, try to smooth out all the rough spots, reduce the number of steps you have to take, reduce the amount of bending and lifting you need to do, and try to lower the amount of stress.

Anonymous said...

Think about multi use tools. Could you use something for feed and something else, a grain auger would do the trick, but could you also rig something with a bale elevator, or get something like a "laddervator" or "safetyhoist" (search online)or an old roofer's shingle elevator to do bags of feed and bales of hay for instance.

MikedUpIN said...

This hits home on so many levels. We are in our second year of farming. We started tiny, just to test the water. Now we are reaching that place where we need to shave some time off the chores.
I suggested a big steel chicken fountain to replace the multiple plastic ones that are a pain to fill. Oops, just shot the egg profits for the month. :(

So, while my scale is MUCH smaller, I hear what you are saying.

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