How would you recommend I get started?

Doug M

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Currently I'm living at my parents place so I cant start my farm nor is the land zoned for commercial farming anyways. I'm a recent college graduate fortunate enough not to have any debt from school. However, I don't have any capital to start the farm.

How would you recommend I start my endeavor? My goal is to buy a few acres and start my farm. I would like to move out west (from Boston) because I don't like the cold and land is probably cheaper out there.

As I mentioned I don't have any capital or debt. I saw there is government loans for farmers. Should I avoid those?

What are some things you wish you knew when you first started raising animals/farming for a living?

If raising animals is your job, how do you keep it from becoming your hobby? For example I raise 8 chickens but I doubt I could turn a profit on them with my current feeding regime. How do you keep costs in line?

One thing I'm not really familiar with is culling animals. I only had one chicken die on me and we just buried it. My understanding is to make a maximum profit on cow for example eventually they would be sold. Same with pigs, chickens etc. Is it always true you need to sell them for butcher to maximize profit?

This last one if kind of a stretch but is there anyone that would let me see their cattle farm or if you have a large chicken operation going. I'm familiar with raising a few chickens but raising them for money and running a business is different.

thank you very much!
 

Baymule

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@luvmypets is in school, but she and her father raise Mangalitsa hogs and sell them to upscale restuarants in New York City. They started with pet sheep, alpacas and a few goats.

@farmerjan works in Agriculture, as a milk tester for dairys. She and her son lease land, raise cattle, cut hay and both work at jobs.

@High Desert Cowboy is in Utah and has a commercial sow and piglet raising operation, supplying piglets to the commercial growers.

@babsbag in California has a goat dairy and is in full swing kidding right now.

@homesteader Wife and her husband live on 20 acres in Alabama and have a sawmill. They built their own house, and do custom lumber for others.

Most of us are hobby farmers. Most don't keep up with expenses. We claim ours as a farm, but I would hate to rely on it for our income. We are retired.

There is a lot of land in our area that is leased for cattle, which means that the cattle raiser doesn't own land, but is a rancher none the less. But he still must have the cattle, horses and cow dogs to work the cows, truck and trailer to move them and pay his help.

@greybeard is a good one for laying out the facts and smashing the rose colored glasses. He raises cattle also and is on a cattle forum along with farmerjan.
 

farmerjan

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WOW. Admire that you want to learn to be a successful farmer. First thing, GET A JOB ON A FARM. If you don't want to stay there, then find where you want to go for now. Get in touch with your local extension service, ag dept at the high school or FFA/4H leader. Yes you are older than the high school kids. BUT you need some practical experience. Find someone that is willing to mentor/teach/employ you and get some real life practical get your hands dirty experience. We look for kids all the time when we need help on the hay wagons making hay in the summer. Unfortunately, my son and I both work off the farm full time jobs. We cannot afford to "just farm" with the low prices we are getting for our livestock, and pay rents/leases/mortgages and everything else. We certainly cannot afford to pay help except for the occasional ones when making hay.

One that comes to mind is Joel Salatin in Swope, Va. POLYFACE Farm. He does interns on the farm. Teaches you how he does things, and you live and work there. Maybe 6 months or a year? Get on the web and research Farm internships, and such like that. Get a few of the farming magazines they sell at TSC , like Acres USA, Stockman Small Farmer, and look in the help wanted sections.

I am not belittling your lack of experience. Understand that every farmer needs help but they need someone that has some know how. Like going into a job as a computer tech but you have never seen a computer before. It costs to teach someone. You will not get it in 6 months or a year, but you have to start somewhere. Besides your small flock of chickens, do you have any other "farming experience" ????

Do any of the colleges there offer any kind of ag classes? What did you specialize in, in college? Anything you can trade off for farming experience???? Like an accountant doing books for practical hands on experience on their farm?

If we had a place and some money to hire help, I would almost offer you a job, but we can barely keep it going now since cattle prices have fallen off. Then you take in this crappy wet double the normal rainfall, and all the problems with sickness/pneumonia in the calves, trying to keep them fed and healthy when the weather is working so hard against you. If we didn't BOTH have outside jobs right now, we would have a dozen cows and they would be a hobby. But we are trying to get a place paid for so that then we will have a home farm....

Kids today don't want the headaches, heartaches, and moneyaches that go along with farming. Even those that grew up in it are seeing how hard it is to try to keep it together. It is getting even harder with all the animal rights do-gooder idiots that don't get life and death.

Please find someone or someplace that you can go to work and learn some of what you want to know so that you can make an informed decision on what farming is really like.
And I hope you "FALL A$$ OVER TEA KETTLE" in love with farming, and decide you are going to make it happen. There are far too few left coming up to carry on and one of these days, this country will be wishing that they had the "next generation" to continue farming.
 

Doug M

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WOW. Admire that you want to learn to be a successful farmer. First thing, GET A JOB ON A FARM. If you don't want to stay there, then find where you want to go for now. Get in touch with your local extension service, ag dept at the high school or FFA/4H leader. Yes you are older than the high school kids. BUT you need some practical experience. Find someone that is willing to mentor/teach/employ you and get some real life practical get your hands dirty experience. We look for kids all the time when we need help on the hay wagons making hay in the summer. Unfortunately, my son and I both work off the farm full time jobs. We cannot afford to "just farm" with the low prices we are getting for our livestock, and pay rents/leases/mortgages and everything else. We certainly cannot afford to pay help except for the occasional ones when making hay.

One that comes to mind is Joel Salatin in Swope, Va. POLYFACE Farm. He does interns on the farm. Teaches you how he does things, and you live and work there. Maybe 6 months or a year? Get on the web and research Farm internships, and such like that. Get a few of the farming magazines they sell at TSC , like Acres USA, Stockman Small Farmer, and look in the help wanted sections.

I am not belittling your lack of experience. Understand that every farmer needs help but they need someone that has some know how. Like going into a job as a computer tech but you have never seen a computer before. It costs to teach someone. You will not get it in 6 months or a year, but you have to start somewhere. Besides your small flock of chickens, do you have any other "farming experience" ????

Do any of the colleges there offer any kind of ag classes? What did you specialize in, in college? Anything you can trade off for farming experience???? Like an accountant doing books for practical hands on experience on their farm?

If we had a place and some money to hire help, I would almost offer you a job, but we can barely keep it going now since cattle prices have fallen off. Then you take in this crappy wet double the normal rainfall, and all the problems with sickness/pneumonia in the calves, trying to keep them fed and healthy when the weather is working so hard against you. If we didn't BOTH have outside jobs right now, we would have a dozen cows and they would be a hobby. But we are trying to get a place paid for so that then we will have a home farm....

Kids today don't want the headaches, heartaches, and moneyaches that go along with farming. Even those that grew up in it are seeing how hard it is to try to keep it together. It is getting even harder with all the animal rights do-gooder idiots that don't get life and death.

Please find someone or someplace that you can go to work and learn some of what you want to know so that you can make an informed decision on what farming is really like.
And I hope you "FALL A$$ OVER TEA KETTLE" in love with farming, and decide you are going to make it happen. There are far too few left coming up to carry on and one of these days, this country will be wishing that they had the "next generation" to continue farming.
My chicken farming experience is like someone who can cook dinner for them self but has never cooked in a restaurant. You know how to do it but not at a commercial level. I'll check out some farming jobs though, I visit tractor supply for my chickens so I'll check out those ads you mentioned. Do you mind me asking why you said cattle isn't very profitable for you besides the sickness? Is the margin kinda low so you need a lot to turn big profits?
 

farmerjan

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Yes, the margins are very low right now. The biggest problem here in this area, is that anything we raise has to be shipped either north to Pa or NY or south or west to go into feed lots or on wheat/small grain pastures ,or even for kill. Trucking is VERY expensive.

It costs in the neighborhood of 1.40 to 1.60 per day to keep a momma cow. So figure at least $500 per year to keep that cow. That is figuring in everything, feed, fuel, taxes, leases, you name it. There are some people on another forum, Cattle Today ( that you might want to go on and "lurk" a bit ) that have it figured out also for their operation. If you sell a feeder steer that weighs say 500 lbs., @ 1.50 lb that is $750. Heifer calves will bring less. But that is only $250 per head profit, PER YEAR. Takes 100 calves to make $25,000. That doesn't include in any extra expenses, unexpected breakdown, replacing equipment, etc. and so on. We run a cow/calf operation. Meaning that we have the momma cows, breed them, get a calf, wean the calf off at about 6-8 months, then the cow calves again. They carry 9 months. The calf "crop" is what we sell. At the 5-600 lb size they usually are (that's an average) they go to someone who will raise them up to 900-1100 lbs then they go to someone else that feeds them and finishes them out for butcher.
Then you add in losing a couple over the course of the year. Or just the drugs that you have to give them. A 100 ml bottle of DRAXXIN costs over $450. A couple of shots to keep a calf alive, and you've lost all profit off him.
The reason they often go west is that grain is cheaper to produce there, and so the feed lots don't have to truck in the feed so it is cheaper to feed them out. Lots of things go into figuring all this out.
A sick calf also does not gain weight as fast. Or goes "backward" for a few weeks til he gets back on his feet.... lost weight gain that you seldom make up.
This has been one of the worst years for rain and wet. Anyone on here, from here in Va., in the states south, NC SC, west into Texas will tell you. Then it costs more to try to keep them dry and bedded. Pastures are wet. Grass has been plentiful. But making hay has been a nightmare, let alone trying to make GOOD QUALITY hay. So if you are feeding a hay that doesn't meet their nutritional needs, you have to supplement so added feed/grain expense.....

The price we receive from our cull cows, ones that are not productive, raise poor size calves due to various reasons, or didn't raise a calf, is so low now that it is more economical for a farmer to just take and have her ground up into hamburger. Used to be able to figure that a cull cow was worth $5-600 on average. Right now if you get $250 or 300 you are lucky. You can't raise a replacement heifer up for that, so how do you justify keeping a heifer to become a cow?.... and she won't put a calf on the ground for you to sell for nearly 3 years. Calving at 2 and 6-9 months later weaning off a calf.....So you have got $1500 in that cow before she gives you the first calf to sell. It takes at least 4 calves to pay for that cow before you can make a profit. Barring any unforeseen disasters....
If we had to buy all our hay, on a year like this when the quality is poor, then we would be spending more in grain costs. If we had to buy all our hay and it was a drought year, we couldn't afford to feed them.
So that's a crash course in SOME of the economics of a cow/calf operation. We do not have the facilities to get into feeders, and we do not get into showing and such; which have their own set of expenses, which would make a purebred operation have a different type of returns for breeding stock. There are so many around now, that I don't see or hear that they are doing all so great , unless they have been at it for a long time and have a good solid reputation. But you have to have some money, and LUCK, to get into it and favorable years to make it pay too. They are alot of work in the attention to the details. We couldn't do without them as we buy all our purebred bulls for breeding. But we could not do it and work other jobs.
 
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Doug M

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Yes, the margins are very low right now. The biggest problem here in this area, is that anything we raise has to be shipped either north to Pa or NY or south or west to go into feed lots or on wheat/small grain pastures ,or even for kill. Trucking is VERY expensive.

It costs in the neighborhood of 1.40 to 1.60 per day to keep a momma cow. So figure at least $500 per year to keep that cow. That is figuring in everything, feed, fuel, taxes, leases, you name it. There are some people on another forum, Cattle Today ( that you might want to go on and "lurk" a bit ) that have it figured out also for their operation. If you sell a feeder steer that weighs say 500 lbs., @ 1.50 lb that is $750. Heifer calves will bring less. But that is only $250 per head profit, PER YEAR. Takes 100 calves to make $25,000. That doesn't include in any extra expenses, unexpected breakdown, replacing equipment, etc. and so on. We run a cow/calf operation. Meaning that we have the momma cows, breed them, get a calf, wean the calf off at about 6-8 months, then the cow calves again. They carry 9 months. The calf "crop" is what we sell. At the 5-600 lb size they usually are (that's an average) they go to someone who will raise them up to 900-1100 lbs then they go to someone else that feeds them and finishes them out for butcher.
Then you add in losing a couple over the course of the year. Or just the drugs that you have to give them. A 100 ml bottle of DRAXXIN costs over $450. A couple of shots to keep a calf alive, and you've lost all profit off him.
The reason they often go west is that grain is cheaper to produce there, and so the feed lots don't have to truck in the feed so it is cheaper to feed them out. Lots of things go into figuring all this out.
A sick calf also does not gain weight as fast. Or goes "backward" for a few weeks til he gets back on his feet.... lost weight gain that you seldom make up.
This has been one of the worst years for rain and wet. Anyone on here, from here in Va., in the states south, NC SC, west into Texas will tell you. Then it costs more to try to keep them dry and bedded. Pastures are wet. Grass has been plentiful. But making hay has been a nightmare, let alone trying to make GOOD QUALITY hay. So if you are feeding a hay that doesn't meet their nutritional needs, you have to supplement so added feed/grain expense.....

The price we receive from our cull cows, ones that are not productive, raise poor size calves due to various reasons, or didn't raise a calf, is so low now that it is more economical for a farmer to just take and have her ground up into hamburger. Used to be able to figure that a cull cow was worth $5-600 on average. Right now if you get $250 or 300 you are lucky. You can't raise a replacement heifer up for that, so how do you justify keeping a heifer to become a cow?.... and she won't put a calf on the ground for you to sell for nearly 3 years. Calving at 2 and 6-9 months later weaning off a calf.....So you have got $1500 in that cow before she gives you the first calf to sell. It takes at least 4 calves to pay for that cow before you can make a profit. Barring any unforeseen disasters....
If we had to buy all our hay, on a year like this when the quality is poor, then we would be spending more in grain costs. If we had to buy all our hay and it was a drought year, we couldn't afford to feed them.
So that's a crash course in SOME of the economics of a cow/calf operation. We do not have the facilities to get into feeders, and we do not get into showing and such; which have their own set of expenses, which would make a purebred operation have a different type of returns for breeding stock. There are so many around now, that I don't see or hear that they are doing all so great , unless they have been at it for a long time and have a good solid reputation. But you have to have some money, and LUCK, to get into it and favorable years to make it pay too. They are alot of work in the attention to the details. We couldn't do without them as we buy all our purebred bulls for breeding. But we could not do it and work other jobs.
wow that was really detailed thank you. Sounds like there's a trade off of getting cheaper food but then you pay down the road with transportation.
 

babsbag

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I wish you were in CA, I would offer you all the experience you could ask for working in a goat dairy. Unfortunately mine is only a year old I haven't made enough money yet to pay for help.

The gov't loans for beginning a farm are a little misleading as you have to have three years of experience on a farm before they will give you a loan. Once you get past that the loans are good, I have one for my dairy.
 

farmerjan

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This country is dedicated to "cheap food" and the only one that pays the price is the farmer. If you raise it yourself, you will find that it isn't really "cheaper". What you are doing is trading food that is raised in commercial confinement operations, for food that you are raising in a more "natural type environment, that makes you feel more comfortable about the life the animal has, and that has more flavor and taste than store bought. It will also usually have more healthy trace vitamins and minerals, etc, because it is fed a more varied diet and there will be more taste because it was usually fed on pasture and such. You will be getting the "top quality" of meat at the "lower supermarket" price because you are not figuring in your labor as part of the cost of the meat.

Most everyone will tell you that you will not be saving much money on the meat you raise. It is just the quality, and variety will be greater if you get the whole animal, say a beef, put in your freezer. You won't see the cost all at once, as you have fed that animal for 2 years, a bag of feed and a bale of hay and a days' grazing, at a time, and all you will see is the upfront cost of the butchering. But if you took and kept a very detailed record of every single thing you put into that animal, you would not see cheap meat. But once you eat your own meat, you will have a hard time going back to store bought. Try buying some at a farmers market that is farm raised. If it is good, it is the best there is....
 

farmerjan

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I wish you were in CA, I would offer you all the experience you could ask for working in a goat dairy. Unfortunately mine is only a year old I haven't made enough money yet to pay for help.

The gov't loans for beginning a farm are a little misleading as you have to have three years of experience on a farm before they will give you a loan. Once you get past that the loans are good, I have one for my dairy.
@Doug M you ought to go back and read all that @babsbag went through to get her dairy up and running... It is quite the eye opener..... Don't you know anyone from CA that you could go visit and go see her? Offer for some work for experience? She is in desperate need of some help feeding baby goats as they all come fresh for her to go back into production for this year....
 

greybeard

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What Jan said.
It costs in the neighborhood of 1.40 to 1.60 per day to keep a momma cow.
I'll add, that the cost/day/animal usually does not include land payments. Those figures are from established cattlemen where the land has already been paid off and hopefully paid for itself years beforehand. If you have to rent or lease land, or are newly into a land loan, that cost per day goes up significantly.

DO take advantage of any govt program that you qualify for IF it is economically viable for you and to your advantage in the long run.

As Jan said; you can make $$ on small acreage and with just a few head of cattle, but make a living from it? No. Not going to happen.
I cannot make a living (up to my standard of living) from my cattle. I make $$ on them, they pay for themselves, they pay the property taxes, and put some $$ in my pocket at the end of the year, but they do not fully fund my lifestyle. If I had not invested some of my farm proceeds in stock equities, I would have great difficulty living as I do. Otherwise, I would have to lease a lot of pasture and increase my stocking rate considerably and at my age, I'm not going to, tho I really believe the current price cycle is the right time to do so.

Develop a vision of what you want, then research the he// out of how to make it happen and don't veer from it. Become, a successful grass farmer first, then.. you can become a cattleman.

Do NOT raise 'pet' cattle! It's a recipe for failure.

Do you think you will like getting up early, fighting the elements, the price volatility, the animals themselves, the predators, the "neighbors" and their stupid idiosyncrasies? Going to bed late, then tomorrow, do it all again? Getting a day off once or twice a year? A vacation once every 3rd odd numbered blue moon?
Not enough. You have to love it, live for it, it's what you are..what you do. It's WHO you are.
 
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