My chapter book report
from Ron Macher's book, "Making Your Small Farm Profitable", combined with the link
provided by Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm
(and the other comments in the post) led me to the question of ... "Buy, Rent, or Hire?" In fact it almost sounds like a game show, maybe I should look into the possibilities! But, back to the question at hand. I really started thinking about what to buy, what to rent, or what I should hire done. And to be perfectly honest I was mostly thinking about hay.
I know that no winter will ever be the same, but if next winter is anything like this winter I will need about six or seven small square bales of hay each day to feed our Dexter herd at it's expected size. That does not take into consideration any other livestock we add. Let's just say that we need to feed that much hay for 3.5 months ... we are looking at roughly 683 bales for our cattle alone. I bought some $2 a bale hay this year and it was okay, not great for lactating cows, but good enough for the steers and dry cows. If I wanted some quality hay I know that I would have to pay more than that. Let's just say I can find some for $3.50 per bale ... we are looking at $2,390.50 for small squares, and we hope that is enough. Of course I could go with some big round bales, but there are plenty of things to consider when going that route.
One question brought up in the comments was that 20 acres or so of pasture/hay ground didn't seem like enough to have a baler/rake/mower. I think that is a very valid question and one that I think I need to examine. So, let me just throw out some numbers.
If I were to assume that I am going to have a tractor (at least at some point) of 50 hp or more I would have enough power to bale hay. So, I could go the buying route, but not include the cost of the tractor because I would have it anyways. In my neck of the woods where big rounds are king I have seen plenty of nice working New Holland or John Deere balers selling for the $500 range in classifieds and at auction. A used side-delivery rake will cost less than that as will a pull behind sickle bar mower. None of this equipment is top of the line, but it is usable on a small amount of land, relatively inexpensive, and our family knows how to work on this kind of stuff. I'm thinking I could buy the stuff for $1,500 give or take. That is lower than the cost of the hay for one year and I could use it multiple years. Of course I need to factor in maintenance costs and the fact that I would have to do the work. On the flip side if I was going to have extra hay I could sell it.
On the subject of renting ... I am clueless of the costs. But, I would probably have to rent from a local farmer who may also be planning on using the baler and equipment. That would mean that I would have to work around their schedule and that doesn't always work when we are talking about hay.
Finally, I could hire the hay done. According to this great chart
that Kelli pointed me to the average mowing per acre price is $10.70, the average raking per acre price is $5.65, and the average per bale cost is $0.48. It wouldn't take all 20 acres to get the 683 bales I needed, but just by taking the per bale cost we can see that it would cost at least $327.84 for the hay plus the other expenses. I believe Kelli mentioned that they cut and rake their hay so this does look like a good possibility if you can do that. One downside of course would be the timing, but they may be more likely to get it done if there is money involved instead of just shares or if they were renting you equipment.
There are lots of things to consider in this. But, I think one thing is for sure ... it would be silly for me to buy in hay when we could make it on our own. Grazing our 19 head of Dexter cattle won't allow us to bale the entire amount, but when we have some good spring growth we should be able to bale a nice chunk of it (and maybe get a second cutting if we are lucky).