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.
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!