Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alfalfa is Blooming Again and Economic Thoughts on Small Farming

I noticed this evening that the Alfalfa field is beginning to bloom once again despite the fact that we haven't had a drop of rain to speak of in almost a month now and the ground is beginning to crack badly. I also did not notice any of the bees working the blooms yet.  My guess is the girls are still finding clover blooms to work or maybe the Alfalfa needs to bloom a bit more to attract them but I know Alfalfa does produce a good honey crop and is a valuable forage in some areas. Of course all bee keeping is local so around here there maybe something more attractive for the girls to work and they may not touch Alfalfa much.

I will watch closely over the next week or so before we get our next cutting and see if the bees begin showing more interest as the blooms increase.

The Small-Hold has now lost another useless mouth to feed as the owner of one of the horses finally found a permanent home for it. You may or may not remember but my mother kindly offered to keep  the horse for her friend because her husband had said they were finished with horses and too old to ride.  So always the one willing to stick her nose into other people's business and relationship (Not to mention volunteer my pasture) whenever a horse is concerned my mother tried to thwart the husbands wishes by offering free room and board. I am sure she was also hoping to keep yet another riding partner in the game as she has steadily lost all of them over the last few years.

As a matter of fact the old crazy horse lady crew hasn't ridden once in almost a year now. As I predicted.

So one more down. Four more to go and one ancient donkey and I can continue on with phase two of my small farming plan which includes selling hay. As it stands now all we get goes to feed those useless nags with enough extra to take care of the sheep but once the bottomless pits of horseflesh are gone I can begin preying on other unfortunate husbands or family of crazy horse women and sell them my hay. This Alfalfa experiment is simply the first step in that phase. Once the horses are out of the picture I have another 15 acres to groom into a hay field.

There is some serious money to be made in hay around here especially if you don't mind putting the work into square bales and storing it. Almost every Winter I have strangers literally pulling into the driveway asking me if I have hay to sell em. Especially starting around January each year. Very few large scale farmers mess with the small square bales but there are enough crazy horse people around without their own tractors that really need em because they cannot handle the round bales. Prices will skyrocket around January and people with large barns willing to keep square bales stored out of the weather are few and far between too. The cattle people prefer round bales.

However I am getting ahead of myself. It's going to be a few more years before that phase can be completed although I am well on my way to finally getting all the small tractor implements for it now. All I need at this point is an actual mower that fits my 8N and I am finished with that step as well.

Something I am becoming more familiar with as this experiment in small farming continues are the margins are so close because it's done on such a small scale. You have to have many of the small scale things going on to make it all come together financially as a whole in the end. There is no magical cash crop you can produce to get you into the Black with enough profit to keep the rest of it going and of course no government subsidies available if you make a mistake.

Well OK there maybe some available I don't know, I am not going to open the door for the government nose though.

However I will say this in closing. It seems to be becoming easier. Energy prices have now reached a point where transport costs are leveling the playing field just as I predicted. With low energy prices producers could transport things like say hay bales from higher production areas, under cut the locals and make a profit. Energy calorie to calorie it was even more efficient for them to do so because of the larger transports they had but as energy prices rise this edge begins to dull. Even local Farmers Market prices are beginning to undercut mass super market produce now so sellers no longer have to rely simply on the "local food movement" for niche demand. The trouble is inflation and low margins are still making it almost impossible to turn enough of a profit to become economically viable for most people.

I will admit as it stand now I am still in a very unique position to be able to afford to even attempt what I am doing. The real gamble is if the margins continue to increase to where it eventually pays out enough to be worth while? Honestly there is a long way to go to get there as long as we are dealing with this artificial economy.

Only time will tell.

Keep Prepping Everyone!!!


  1. I hate that tractor stuff and you shame

  2. There are probably more horses around here now than there were 150 years ago. I have one and he eats a tremendous amount of food compared to a steer but if I can figure out how to use him, he can do my plowing. I put most of his manure to use in the garden and he is good at producing it for sure.
    It does sound like you are wasting a lot of field on them.

    1. SF - I bet you are right and the horse population has grown all across the US since before the civil war easily. Keeping a horse is a resource extensive job and a very narrow return on the investment in a very narrow area. It would be like every suburbanite keeping a tractor they never use but running for a few hours daily. Outside of transportation none of the horses on this place would be worth a thing and for the resources to maintain them even using them to plow would take a long time to be more efficient than distilling alcohol and cleaning a carburetor twice a year to use the tractor for that. I bet I could actually switch the 8N to Methane more efficiently than feeding a horse day in and day out. I can feed four or more sheep with the same resources and use their manure without a cool down period too.

      Horses will have a place and be important in a grid down long term post oil situation of course but these day's finding an individual who truly knows what they cost to keep is rare.

  3. We've realized that small farming, if you can call what we do small farming, maybe micro farming? is not a profit center. At this point its done for personal reasons, getting ready for the inevitable; learning all we can, and providing our own food source for as much as possible; fish, chicken, eggs, pork and of course when the garden actually works, fresh vegetables. Part of our group just bought goats and is beginning the process of milking. We really just want to be able to take care of ourselves, if there's anything left over it will be sold and/or traded when the time comes. Keep prepping!

    1. Izzy - It seems to me the hardest part, and one I rarely see people addressing is being able to actually support one's own livestock themselves. Many people talk about keeping this or that and can make the jump they need to have stores but don't seem to be able to realize they need to provide for the animals as well. As far as micro-farming goes I would think that would be the most important thing of all. Once you got that covered you become truly self sufficient.

      I am aiming to go a bit beyond that and hope to turn small farming into not only self sufficiency but into a modest post collapse income as well.

      It maybe possible :)

  4. You are right. I think energy will be key. At some point the price has to be passed along to the consumer and then local becomes less expensive overall. Thanks for posting your thoughts - it makes for good thinking fodder.


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