Draft Animal Power – Draft animals and sustainable land stewardship › Forums › Sustainable Living and Land use › Draft Animals and Land-Use in the Future › The future of farming/work ?@#!@?
- March 10, 2014 at 9:25 am #82793
Just putting some thoughts out here. I was watching the morning News on RFDTV this morn and they had a little blurb on the future of tractors and are they going to continue to get bigger etc. There thoughts, and correct me if you think I got this wrong, where yes and no: yes because bigger is supposedly better, but no smaller because we are getting to a point that to get the HP to the ground it requires so much weight and that in turn causes compaction. The “Big” thing they where so excited about was driver-less tractors, this is where the ?!#@$%? comes in, why is it that we are so intent on inventing ourselves out of jobs/work???? We want “robots” to milk our cow,clean our barns, feed our animals, and work out fields…..whats the point of becoming a farmer or anything besides a computer programmer anymore. I know this is not going to happen over night, but am I wrong to think we need more people on the land working it with their hand and hearts. Thanks for listening and please forgive the rant.March 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm #82796WamooParticipant
Just because technology is available, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate.
In my efforts to build my own small producer-handler dairy, I spend as much time as possible on other people’s dairies, learning whatever I can. Every time I transfer in the Coast Guard, I seek out dairies to volunteer on. As such, I’ve worked on little 3 cows dairies that produce farmstead cheese to sell at local farmers markets, to 1,000 cow dairies selling bulk to a cooperative.
The farm I work on now is a 100 cow organic dairy. I’ve been helping them milk and do chores for the past couple of years. In January, they bought two robotic milkers. It was interesting to be part of this process, and learn more about them. According to the dealer, they usually do installs of 2 to 4 robots. Each robot can handle 60 cows, so in most installations, it’s usually for 240 cows or less. In todays world, that is considered a fairly small dairy in the U.S.
I would rather see a small family farm with a couple robots than a 6,000 cow dairy with all hired milkers. Either way, the owner probably isn’t actually milking the cows. Besides actually milking the cows, the robots provide a wealth of health information, which can be used for early detection of health issues. While an owner milking cows might be attuned to this, it’s less likely with a hired milker. Some might argue why did we even go to milking machines if hand milking worked just fine?
I think robotic milkers have their place. On a small family dairy, it frees up time to do calf care, field work, or other chores. Admittedly, robots take more management than I realized, but it does open up some extra time. Also it allows for a small family dairy to operate without hired help. This is a huge advantage if you’ve ever dealt with all the paperwork and cost of employees. For the dairy I’m specifically talking about it also seated the possibility of passing the dairy to their son.
For my wife and I, we want to milk our own cows. I want the cow/human interface. We only plan on having twelve, and processing the milk ourselves. We want the small scale, but to someone selling milk simply as a commodity, 12 cows simply wouldn’t pencil out. Processing our own, will allow that small scale.March 10, 2014 at 7:41 pm #82803Donn HewesKeymaster
Interestingly, my wife and I were having the same conversation recently. She was explaining to me all the possible positive effects of robotic milkers. While we milk 45 sheep with a small compressor and vacuum milkers, I don’t think I have to worry about robots here anytime soon. In my opinion it is industrialization pure and simple. Now, we must all admit that many jobs no one thinks they want to do have been replaced by industrialization, but in my view it has also led to the break down of local economies and communities.
While I personally would love to see this process reversed for the sake of the environment and communities, I don’t expect it to happen in anything less than a economic collapse scenario. As long as there is money to be made someone will be figuring out the cheapest, fastest way to make the most of it.
I am standing ready with my pitch fork to replace my tractor bucket, I just have to figure out who the three other people are that will take the other forks out of my hands so we can all start loading. DonnMarch 12, 2014 at 8:17 am #82817
This has become an interesting conversation. I just want put a few things out there so folks know where I come from, you can go to http://www.walkerfarmscsa.info to get a bit of an idea. I am a coming 34 years old, we farm 90%+ with horses (still bale with a Allis WD and use a small skid loader to load the spreader) on about 100 acres half owned half rented. Just to clarify, I am not anti-tractor or anti-technology, I just believe in the use of appropriate technology and the point that “just because we can do something does not mean we should” I do not think everyone should farm using horses, though I believe more can then can’t (more should and more are). I believe we need way more perennials and less annuals (currently in the US it is about 20% perennial to 80% annual, that needs to be flipped to 80% perennial to 20% annual). I could go on, but most of you understand what I am saying here. Thanks for the great posts.March 12, 2014 at 3:56 pm #82822JeroenParticipant
And the money part was not even mentioned… Over here farmers all have big loans to be able to buy these big automated machinery and therefore not even making any money while polluting, compacting, growing fuel not food and still taking out hedgerows, etc.
Just my litte ?@#!@? moment.March 14, 2014 at 10:56 am #82828dominiquer60Moderator
Jeroen, The money situation here is similar. The large farm in the next town milks 1,000 cows and keeps borrowing money for newer bigger machines. The bank keeps lending money to him because he can’t fail or they will be out a ridiculous amount of money. He is a bad farmer and takes land from every little guy around, but the bank just keeps giving him money and he keeps polluting the land.March 14, 2014 at 4:08 pm #82829PeytonMParticipant
same thing with this. Its a joke. I think the feds have things to do with all this ” bigger” stuff. When my mom and dad first got their farm a guy stopped out and asked if he ever thought about adding on, he said well it would be nice to have a little calf barn on the one side he was thinking like 10 by 15, lean too. they said ok, left made a drawing of it came back, it wasn’t just an addition, it was a WHOLE new barn. They would gave him all the money he wanted to build a whole new barn, but wouldn’t do anything for a 10×15 addition on the on end of it. it would been 2 pens splitting it in half.
The farm/trucking outfit I work for now I would say have at least 6 million in their buildings for cattle. they just spend 500K on a new calf barn and I don’t really think its that great. As long as the bank knows they have your debt they are happy cause they will jerk you around like no tomorrow.March 14, 2014 at 6:58 pm #82830dominiquer60Moderator
The article that you posted is full of misinformation. The FDA getting involved with farming is insanity, this is a bill to worry about, here is the source, http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm. It is a bit more of a read than the article, but is has the facts.March 14, 2014 at 9:08 pm #82833JayParticipant
I have long maintained that increased “efficiency”(read less human labor) is for the birds. If one follows the reasoning out (one person working more and more land) what I am supposed to do is put all my neighbors out of business so I can buy their land and work it. I DON’T WANT TO PUT ANY OF MY NEIGHBORS OUT OF BUSINESS! I want you all of you there to help me when I need it and so I can help when needed and visit with friends who understand what I’m talking about without having to describe it all.
We need more farmers farming modest sized farms feeding their neighbors, putting more people to work, not so called “efficiency” making more people unemployed and putting more power in the hands of a very few. JayMarch 15, 2014 at 5:00 am #82834Carl RussellModerator
Management of our personal time, and the health of animals, land, and crops are the underpinning of the art of farming. As our culture has shifted away from the land the emphasis has shifted to the product and away from process. In so doing the principles of capitalism (not a snipe, just the title) and economy of scale have driven the practice of farming toward investment in equipment and infrastructure (capitalized investments) to increase production.
The problem with this scenario is that while there are (have been) always upfront investments, when managing biological communities (livestock and plants included) those investments must be within natural parameters related to the sustainability of health, soil productivity, weather, etc. As the economic investments increase those variables become mathematical complications that must be overcome for the formula to be effective.
For some reason, probably related to a few powerful people wanting to get richer, we have not understood that one solution is to unload the debt, and adhere to the basic ecological principles that inherently sustain those biological systems. That was (WAS) supposed to be the foundation of Organic practices…. and for many it still is…. but we keep looking for capitalistic solutions to the economic complications even within Organic.
There are a few of us… many on here… who can see the genius of downsizing to low investment, low input, low impact biological systems even for motive power. I don’t care ( I actually really do care, that’s why I have invested nearly 30 years in this way of life) how robotic we get, eventually the same economic truth will come crashing down on us….. we have to work within the parameters of the Earth’s ecological/biological systems if we intend to survive.
Now that is not to say that if you can find a way to afford technology, you shouldn’t use it. After all we are only victims of time and space, and truthfully none of us can live as islands. I worked for 25 years without a piece of equipment, but recently paid cash for an old crawler that I now use for road building, rolling compost piles, pushing logs, and some other minor things. We also have a 4Whlr that compliments the animal power for quick light errands and work…..
So I am not insisting on purism myself, which leads to complicate the discussion even more. It is very hard for most people to see a continuum. Most people see either/or, black/white. We are conditioned to see extremes, so in some ways the 4Whlr on a horse farm blows holes in the argument. However it still comes down to the economics. I have, and continue to, adhere to strict principles of protecting the sustainability and productivity of the biological systems I depend on, and measure all capital investments against those.
If the debt is going to force me to change my intensive biological investment strategies, then it won’t happen. (Which is why we farm at a scale that still allows us to earn off-farm income to pay for off-farm expenses, rather than looking to our land and animals to mine resources from our ecosystem to pay for unrelated expenses)
In our culture we have reveled in the cosmopolitan educational opportunities that modern culture has provided. One side effect is that we have produced entire industries of scientists, engineers, economists, and other specialists that have absolutely no connection to the land…. no understanding of Earth-systems….. who use their amazing knowledge to develop strategies and modernizations that just perpetuate the disconnection…. it is a virus.
There is immense genius in farming by horse and hand…… blood, sweat, tears, and horse manure.
Hang on, I think we are in for a wild ride…. 😯
CarlMarch 15, 2014 at 8:25 am #82835Livewater FarmParticipant
this question of farm work is a real tricky one here we operate a small grade A dairy milking 20 cows making enough hay to feed our stock is a constant game we play we use both horse power and tractors rake and mow and ted with horses when we can and use machinery to bale and move big bales
when we feel we need to up date equipment we plan ahead and save so we pay cash for any purchases
we need to mow more hay than horses can handle in order to conserve dairy quality and in the past it has been just myself and wife haying
my son has graduated college and plan s to farm with us so I will be able to do more with the horses while he does tractor work and hopefully add a second tam for him in the future
sustainability for us is using the land responsvily not doing more than the family unit can handle
and keeping the operation sustainable economically
been doing this for 30+ plus years with no real debt we do not own alot of new equipment
go on vacations or drive new car but we have built a life raised kids and not wanted for anything unatainable we have a debt free operation to pass on to the next generation with hope we have set a good example and passed on the tools for future success
It has taken alot of hard work as a family team some sacrifice but the rewards have been intangable
BillMarch 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm #82841
This is an answer I gave to the question of:
George, I admire and envy that you farm most of your ground with the horses. And I don’t want you to be offended at this question; Are you actually making a living, with NO outside income, NONE, on a hundred acres that you farm with the horses? If you truly are, I am very interested in knowing how you do this. While I despise that hardworking wage earners are paying the subsidies that go to multimillionaires that bitch about others getting welfare, I also see the operating costs of farming and ranching today. Everything is out of balance and there is some truth to everything that has been posted on this thread. Again, not looking for a fight here and don’t want anyone to take offense, but I don’t believe that anyone that isn’t amish can support a family on a hundred acres of traditional crops without another income of some sort. And if you are working another job, how in the world would you find time to farm a hundred acres with the horses?? Have a good day folks.
No offence taken, I will try and explain our current business “plan” and why it is the way it is and feel free to give me a a call sometime if you have any questions at 715-821-6775.
Our farm is a work in progress and yes we do, currently, have outside income as we do not want to take on debt, I am a Farrier, my wife trains horses and gives riding lessons, she also has a bus route during the school year. Our farm currently provides about 50% of our income after it pays for itself. Our farm income comes from our meat CSA, direct meat sales, and horse boarding. We are currently running our farm at 30-40% capacity as we are building our flock of sheep and our heard’s of beef and hogs. With our budget and business plan we are well on our way of being able to, financially, farm full time in the next two years as we have made some huge marketing strides in the last year.
As far as using horses as our main source of traction, time is actually not that big of a factor, especially with the advent of some of the modern horse drawn equipment (Thanks to Dris and many other advocates). This year we have added an I&J Heavy duty PTO cart and I&J 9′ mower to our line of equipment which will greatly increase our efficacy, as far as time goes. Diversification is the key to success on a modern small horse powered farm. We are a grass based farm which eases our labor requirements. Our farm land in a nut shell: 50% owned 50% rented at a total of about 100 acres (we also currently have a free summer lease of a 28 acre pasture that our ewes pasture during the summer so 128 acres used total), this years rotation will be: 55+/- acres of hay, 7 acres of oats, 3 acres of corn, 30+/- acres of pasture at home and 28 five miles north.
There is a quick run down, as I said we are only running at about 35% stocking rate, depending on what lifestyle your want, and we love ours, you can make a good life farming with horses on 100+/- acres, you can do it with even less if you do it with a market garden as your main source of farm income because it takes less feed/grazing ground than our meat animal base.
Hope this give you a good idea of what we are up to, it can be done one step at a time.
Any DAPNET Thoughts?March 17, 2014 at 5:27 am #82842Carl RussellModerator
George, I don’t want to skip over your post, I think your answere was great, but it thought you all would find this link interesting…..hold on to your hats… [video]http://youtu.be/jEh5-zZ9jUg[/video]March 17, 2014 at 6:36 am #82844Does’ LeapParticipant
Hey Carl, that system looks pretty inviting as I head out to do chores at 5 below! In seriousness, I believe that for every person / corporation who envisions this future for agriculture, there are many more who seek out a smaller, simpler model.
Here are a couple of factoids for Vermont agriculture: (1) the value of Vermont ag is up 15% compared to 5 years ago while average farm size is decreasing (90 acres in 2007, 80 acres in 2012). (2) the majority of Vermont’s new farms (354 in total) are between 10 and 50 acres; and (3) there has been a 22% increase in new farmers ages 22-35 – bucking the trend of aging farmers nationwide.
There are many of us (both farmers and consumers) in Vermont and nationwide that are bucking the trend toward highly capitalized, chemical intensive farming. Despite all the dire news, I remain hopeful, passionate, and sometimes pugnacious about the future of small farms.
George, great response. I am not a crop farmer, but my wife and I make our full time living off the farm and employ someone full time May-October and part time in the slower months. We mainly sell goat cheese and farm-made sausage. I am a believer in low debt, low cost, low volumes/high margins, and self-reliance. When we managed to couple this model with high quality, identifiable cheese and sausage, we have done well. It is an ever-evolving process.
There is a great article in the current DAPnet newsletter on a horse-powered CSA in Canada. Perhaps the fellow who sent you that inquiry would be interested in a copy.
GeorgeMarch 17, 2014 at 4:16 pm #82849
I must say that video spooks me just a bit, though most of what he did is currently being done, just not with the Star Trek computer screen. I know guys that control their irrigation systems with their cell phones, my brother in law runs about 1500 acres and has a hands free set up in his tractor (he is also dangerously over weight, needs a C-PAP to get any sleep, and my sister still needs to have a full time off farm job to make ends meet. According to him, he and I make about the same income, I on about 128 acres and him on 1500, I with no operating loan, him with about a $650,000 loan each year. Now don’t get me wrong him and I are very close and good friends he understands what we are doing and we have great conversations he says he sometimes wishes he could be as simple as us, but it is what it is and rock is rolling down the hill. We have taken the humanity out of so many things I hope we can turn the ship before it sinks.
On a happy note I am extremely excited about this year our farm is turning a corner, heading towards our goal of farming full time, and people want what we have and appreciate what we are trying to do. I hope all of you are well as we anticipate spring with all is spender.
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