Once, when we were in the dairy business, we decided that our butterfat was not high enough. After much thought we came up with the idea if we fed some alfalfa hay it would be possible to increase our butter fat. Any alfalfa used down here must be shipped in. It just will not grow in Louisiana.
We contacted a hay broker and made a deal to have a load delivered. The day that truck load of hay arrived may have been one of the hardest days I have ever worked in my life. We milked that morning, about 100 cows, and cleaned the barn, fed the calves, unloaded the truck of hay into the barn, milked the evening milking and then put out alfalfa hay for the cows. We gave them alfalfa hay every evening for a month.
The day the next milk check came we were all anxious to see if there had been any improvement in our butter fat. This little change had done exactly what we thought it would do. The butterfat was up to the point of making the milk check increase enough to make us very proud of ourselves. BUT, and there always seems to be a but, after doing some figuring on the cost of the hay and the extra labor involved in putting it out every night, and being later for supper every night, this little project had broken even. In other words we had done all of this for nothing.
I thought of this lesson the other day when I was at our Co-op and I saw something that really upset me. It was a pickup hooked to one of those big self-feeders that hold a couple of tons of feed. Now I know that old boy who the pickup belongs to and the first thing that come to mind was to say something to him and try to make him realize if that same money were to be spent on pasture development, he would be money ahead. Down here in Louisiana a good crop of ryegrass will provide enough green, growing forage to feed your cattle for 150 days or more at a cost that can be very manageable. If the grass is managed with any sense at all and the stock is moved at the right time and returned at the right time it will provide feed for as low a cost as it is possible to feed cattle. If given the right amount of time the grass will replenish itself over and over again through the whole growing cycle.
On the other hand, when the feeder becomes empty there is only one solution: it must be refilled with feed and this is not free. Back when we were milking cows it was not unusual for our feed bill to exceed thousands of dollars a month.
This is why, after making every mistake it is possible to make by listening to the wrong people, we finally have learned two very important facts about this business of producing livestock and that is this: you cannot spend your way to prosperity and production does not mean profit.
And I don’t care how you figure it, breaking even is doing something for nothing.