Our homestead spends three times the amount on raising our livestock than bigger, industrial farms. Most farmers in Wisconsin receive subsidies from the tax payers to grow corn and soy mono crops; which then allows them the luxury to feed their animals relatively inexpensively, if not for free. We are too small of an operation to grow enough of our own rations or to receive subsidies. We are also not “big” enough to receive any help in terms of grant money from the USDA. All the money we invested into our farm was ours personally. That, coupled with a lot of back-breaking work and faith that we will be able to just sustain. It is extremely difficult to find feed for our livestock that does not contain gmos or soy. If you do find it, it is at a premium price. I know a lot of smaller farmers struggle with this very dilemma.
We started to raise our food the most natural, cleanest way we could for our own health concerns. We are not willing to compromise. We believe that if we pay a little more now, that will save us a lot in doctor bills later. That being said, who is going to pay us $40 for a five pound pasture-raised chicken? Even the most health-conscious consumer could not justify that. Excel does not lie. Because we pasture-raise our livestock, they take a lot longer to reach slaughter size. For instance, a farmer that raises broilers on free choice grain can raise them in 9 weeks or less. Our birds take 20-24 weeks to reach the same size!! Excel (I finally started keeping track of costs this year, I will talk more about that in the future — best thing I could have done) tells me that we have invested, not including our time, electricity or infrastructure, $21.10 a bird that weighs 4 pounds! Realizing quickly from a business prospective, this is not working, we needed to be better without making sacrifices. Even if we mixed our own grain with no soy, or gmos, we were still over $1 a pound. Winter is coming — yes, the broilers and ducks will be in the freezer, but we still have pigs (again, most farmers only take 5 months to raise, our American Guinea Hogs are 13 months and not ready for the butcher), the egg layers and the cows to keep happy and healthy.
One would think, as I did, that if we are raising animals and growing fruits and vegetables in the most natural way, the costs would be minimal. But, then again, I don’t ever see any wild cattle and boars hanging around. Where exactly is their “natural” environment? Also, why is the United States so hung up on forcing water-hungry crops such as corn and beans to grow when there are much better alternatives such as sorghum that would grow much easier without the use of chemicals or harshness to the land?
Homesteaders face quite a conundrum. Just to try and make it, we continually need to be improving our practices and thinking of inventive techniques to reach complete sustainability, preserving and utilizing our natural resources to lessen the cost of real food and to replenish the earth.
Photo by Fotolia/andreaobzerova