Farm Feasibility Analysis Part 2: Spending Money to Make Money

The second part of a complete farm feasibility study is, in a word, money. Before you complete the pasture leasing or buying process, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into. Your feasibility analysis will project the costs, revenue and profits you can expect due to certain livestock management decisions. This allows you to plan your enterprise for maximum profit from the start. Do a feasibility study for each piece of land you’re considering, so you can choose the most advantageous one. Perhaps most importantly, you can use your feasibility analysis as the basis for lease contract or purchase price negotiations. Your feasibility study can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. A more comprehensive analysis will decrease the chance of unpleasant surprises once you’ve started grazing. However, even a few simple calculations go a long way in preparing you for your new venture. I’ll start with the four steps involved in your first-year analysis, then discuss growth for years 2-5. Step 1: One-time startup costs. I define startup costs as things you must buy or money you must spend before you can place any animals on your land. A broader definition is one-time expenditures when you start your enterprise. Figure out how much it will cost for any fencing, water infrastructure, handling facility construction, and soil or forage improvements you need to do before your property is fit for grazing.  This is the time-consuming part of your analysis because y

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2 thoughts on “Farm Feasibility Analysis Part 2: Spending Money to Make Money

  1. I am skeptical of the claims made regarding cafeteria-style mineral feeding. Is there any peer-reviewed research that shows production or health gains that offset the additional labor and inventory costs of carrying the many different minerals? Also, wouldn’t the fact that animals are excreting excess mineral imply that they are over-consuming?

    I’d be interested also to see some research to test whether animals actually DO consume the minerals they need. For instance, animals with low blood selenium levels should consume a lot of sodium selenite to correct that deficiency. Do they?

    The mere fact that minerals are present in the soil does not mean that they are taken up by the plant, and even if they are, that doesn’t mean that they are available to the animal. The interactions between and among minerals and the environment are incredibly complex, and I don’t know how statements by those who advocate cafeteria-style minerals that this practice will correct mineral deficiencies in the soil can be evaluated. And even if they are right, does that really mean that the animals are getting the correct mineral balance in their diets?

    In the end, the only thing that really matters is mineral levels in the animal tissue or blood. Are they correct, or are they deficient? If they’re deficient, are they a limiting factor on production? If they are, then what’s the most efficient way to get them up to proper levels to allow optimal health and production? My guess is that cafeteria style minerals are not going to be the answer to that question.

    This perspective comes from 20 plus years of trying to raise sheep on ground that has basically zero selenium. If it were true that minerals passed through the animals would remineralize the soil, you’d think that I would have seen some results by now, but I haven’t. Soil still has no detectible Se, unless I take a sample from the area immediately around a mineral feeder spill.

    1. All excellent points, Bill!

      Without doing a lot of lit review, here’s what I can tell you from folks working at Utah State University on how animals choose what to eat. In trials, sheep do try to eat things that resolve mineral deficiencies. In fact, they try so hard that it was hard to make them mineral deficient. For example, Dr. Juan Villalba was trying to test how animals respond to mineral deficiencies using his typical experimental design, with animals in their pens randomly selected for mineral deficiency or normal status. He realized he’d have to do it differently when the deficient animals began eating the poop of their neighboring normal animals before he could even get them to his target for testing them. Tests are ongoing and I’d say we are still on the edge of knowledge on this topic. There might be other info out there, but I don’t know about it off the top of my head. How this relates to cafeteria style mineral feeding…well, when I talked about it with folks at USU, we talked about how salt in mineral blocks might cause animals to limit consumption and therefore maybe not get enough of something they really need, but that’s not to say they had data. So I’ll take a look around and see what I can find for us all.

      Other work done by Juan has indicated that animals do associate particular foods as treatments for physical problems, and that they tend to consume more of the treatment than necessary to solve the problem. To me this is like humans deciding that if two Aspirin/Tylenol/ibuprofen are good, then 4 must be GREAT! And again, we’re still at the edge of knowledge on this. I’ll collect the info I have and write something up for all of us. Just give me a little time. The weekly publications have me on my toes! 🙂

      Last but not least, I’m ignorant about literature on how animal excretions affect soil minerals over time. I’ll have to take a look around and see what I can find, if anything. Perhaps this is a generalization that folks make because we’ve been told that most of the vitamins we eat just come out the other end, and that we believe it because we’ve seen the color of our vitamin-laden urine. I’ll check in with our soil doc, Rachel, and get back to everyone.

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