farm friday – investing in four legs.

Farming is a business. Yeah, it’s a lifestyle, it’s an occupation, and it’s a labor of love . . . but in the end, it is a business. To be completely honest, even as a business school graduate, I had no idea how much anything cost, how slim the margins could be, or how many calculations happened behind the scenes to make it all work. I hadn’t imagined that the same guy hauling manure, fixing fence, and raking hay was managing capital, entering hedge transactions, and determining return on investment.

What makes the business of farming really challenging is the rising and falling prices of commodities, the risk in dealing with live animals, and with planting a tiny seed and letting the weather take control. Farming has a lot of uncontrollable elements that can make all the best planning futile.

For example, we’ve recently had a load of cattle where many of them have gotten sick. We have worked hard to protect the farm’s investment by keeping the cattle fed, hydrated, and making them comfortable in the feed lot by cleaning the pen keeping it bedded. As the signs of sickness emerged, they were given antibiotics to try to stem the sickness. However, in the end all attempts to save them were fruitless and they died. Death loss is part of the business, but obviously not a fun one.

When a calf dies, it is zero profit for a significant investment (think $1,600 down the drain . . . depending on the market at the moment). There is no insurance that protects against death loss from natural causes (insurance does protect against theft and death due to natural disasters); the loss is 100% on the farmer. A bit scary right?  It’s a zero return on that four-legged investment.

To prevent death loss, Farmer J does his best to keep the animals comfortable. When he feeds them each day he is looking for potential signs of sickness. If he sees one that looks like it’s ill, that calf is separated from the others and treated. Depending on the illness the calf may be treated with vaccines (against a virus), electrolytes, or antibiotics, in hopes that it will get better. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I know that antibiotics in farming get a lot of attention and headlines, and I think this will continue as consumers continue to ask questions and scientists expand their research this area. We do use antibiotics, and I am not ashamed to say so. We use them to protect our investment and keep animals alive when they get sick. It is a prudent business decision for this operation. After all, without the business . . . there is no farm.

Four-legged investments.

Four-legged investments.

If you do have any questions about our use of antibiotics in our operation, I would encourage you to ask! We would love to engage in a dialogue if you have interest. Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message.

Happy (Farm) Friday all!

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6 thoughts on “farm friday – investing in four legs.

  1. There has been a huge over use/misuse of antibiotics for human illnesses, do you think there is/was a like wise problem in the livestock industry? The misuses of antibiotics in short term won’t harm anyone but as everyone knows in the long term these misuses often lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Considering the huge amount of antibiotics used in the livestock industry do you think farmers are using them responsible? Are they making sure the animals have actual infections or just pumping them full of antibiotics just incase they do. Doctors in the past have been victims to over prescribing antibiotics but are actively try to stop such misuses. According to the CDC antibiotics used in food producing animals is ‘not necessary and the practice should be phased out’. Obviously though any farmer that stops using them would be put at a competitive disadvantage and hence lose money….that being said do you think there could be legislation passed to reduce a farmers competitive disadvantage by choosing to not use antibiotics? Many would say the right thing to do would be to stop animal usage of antibiotics all together, in order to provide a better future for all humans because fewer antibiotic resistant bugs would exist. Obviously this scenario is not exactly helpful for a farmers bottom line currently…. but maybe some day we can hope it will be.

    *Cue for a conservative post about how we need less government, not more…. Because private industry always looks out for the greater good lol*

    Sorry for my Grammar or spelling errors typed it on my phone

    G-money

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Grant!

      This would be a great conversation to have over a beer, but I will try to respond . . . knowing that I am not an expert at this in anyway.

      I can only really speak for the use of antibiotics on our farm but they are only given when the cattle show symptoms of an illness (common illnesses are related to their lung function, so they will hang their heads low and have a lot of snot running out of their nose usually). There are also rules enforced by the USDA regarding how long after administering those medicines to an animal that the calf can then be slaughtered (so that the drugs are out of the calf’s system). There are varying practices by animal which I have far less experience and knowledge of.

      I think this is an area that will continue to see a lot of attention and the science will continue to develop regarding the exact impacts. I do think there can be some compromise somewhere to allow farmers to protect their investments, meet consumer demands for low cost food, and reduce the antibiotic consumption.

      I am glad it’s not my job to figure out what that solution is 🙂

  2. Watched this tonight on tv: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/hunting-the-nightmare-bacteria/ . Although it is a year old video it seems to me there is a need for more transparency between consumers and producers in order to definitively track antibiotics usage and resistant bacteria. Legislation allowing this to happen has not gained support, as mentioned in the video. Would be curious to find out reasons for this, maybe special interest groups opposing it? Just seems strange that as much data about this controversial issue is not being collected as it could have huge consequences. Seems like the producers (and their supporters) deny everything because there is no ‘smoking bullet’ and people against it are only finding correlations for animal usages causing issues (not specific causation). With increased transparency they could work together to find if there is or isn’t a ‘smoking gun’. So maybe we can hope for more FDA regulations/gov. funding in order to promote this reasearch and avoid any possible public health issues …but that’s no small task.

    • Looks like an interesting program. I did not watch it, and I was wondering if they talked about the rules that do currently exist for antibiotic residues in meat? The FDA and USDA have testing for meat headed to market, and the presence of antibiotic residues is actually illegal. That is why after giving antibiotics, producers have to make sure they wait an appropriate number of days before they take the animal to market.

      I don’t disagree that there should be transparency. I don’t like that there is a level of mistrust, and personally I think the industry should support that. If further research shows that it is a problem, then changes could be made. Like you said though . . . no small task getting all stakeholder parties on board. All I can tell you is that the operation here treats cattle when they show signs of illness and follows the USDA timelines for antibiotic residues.

      I really do appreciate your thoughtful insights and encourage you to keep researching all sides of these issues to be an informed consumer. The dialogue is awesome!

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