Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Feed Costs

I wish I could say that I've saved all of our farm receipts from the entire year, but I can't. I have gotten better about it though. We have saved all of our receipts starting in September. I have added up costs for the last four months of the year for goats and the chickens. I am guessing that our hay and grain costs are higher than anywhere in the country, so if you live elsewhere you are probably going to think we are crazy for paying these high costs... or crazy for raising animals at the end of a supply chain.

In town there are two feed stores that I know of and their pricing on bags of feed is competitive. We shop at one over the other based primarily on location. Walmart carries a few items such as cracked corn, scratch, sunflower seeds and even wheat berries (although they've never had the later when we've looked). Their prices are the cheapest, and possibly for this reason they are often out of stock. The health food store in town also carries bulk grains, some of them organic. We have purchased bags of wheat berries and beans from them. Last I checked their prices were higher than the feed stores, but they have more variety when it comes to finding grains in bulk like amaranth or quinuoa.

I have looked into ordering bulk grains on my own but shipping is outrageous. I tried to join the one coop that I know of that orders through Azure Standard but they are not taking new members. I have thought of starting a coop myself. The main obstacle is figuring out how to rent or pay for a train car to bring grain or hay up from wherever (WA probably) and then find some other individuals with enough money at the same time to make an order and follow through. While I have not followed the proper channels to make this possible, maybe this year, right? 

So without further adeu, here are some numbers:
First here are our main purchases and their prices (fifty pound bags unless otherwise noted):
  1. Cracked Corn 15.99
  2. Hard Red Winter Wheat Berries 54.99
  3. Whole Oats 9.99
  4. Whole Barley 9.99
  5. COB (corn, oats and barley, rolled) 15.99
  6. Fishmeal (AK salmon meal) 54.99
  7. Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS) 24.99
  8. Alfalfa Pellets 19.99
  9. Kelp Meal 81.99
  10. Flax Seed 59.99
  11. Alfalfa Meal 18.99
  12. Alfalfa Hay 90-100 Ib bales 39.99

We are feeding nine goats total; one full size buck and two bucklings under a year, four grown does, three of which are bred and two doelings. We have been milking two does this fall and they eat as much grain and BOSS as all the other goats put together. We have been feeding the following:

Bred or milking does: 2 Ib COB, 1 cup BOSS, herbal vitamin supplement on daily grain.
Doelings and unbred doe: 1-2 C (less than a pound) COB, handful BOSS and herbal supp.
All Bucks: 2 C COB, handful BOSS and alfalfa pellets, herbal vit supp.

In addition to grain the goats also receive twice daily feedings of Brome Hay. We try to give the does one to two flakes of alfalfa hay daily but we don't always have it. This time of year we feed it more than in the summer or fall, because we are trying to increase the amount of protein and nutrients the bred does are receiving. If it was less expensive we would feed it much more often. The goats get a number of additional supplements and vitamins depending on the time of year. They always have access to baking soda and sweetlix loose mineral supplement for goats. We feed an herbal wormer weekly. We also some other herbal formulas, tinctures, probiotics and vitamin supplements on hand if needed. More information on why we feed what could take up an entire post itself and may at a later time. I also intend to write an entire post on hay, hay costs and calculating hay needs for the winter - coming.

With that said, we spent two hundred and thirty-six dollars on grain over the course of four months. That breaks down to about sixty dollars a month. I'll add that we are feeding the chickadees with that money as well, (BOSS). So I've got a pretty close idea of how much we spend on grain. Figuring out hay is a little more challenging because we buy most our hay in the summer. However I have kept all of our hay receipts since June, so we'll just have to see how long the hay lasts. Hay and Grain are the biggest costs in raising goats. Other costs include electricity, vet calls, vitamins and supplements. It is not cheap, but do I need to keep nine goats to have milk for my family? Certainly not. If my goal was just milk and cheese for my family all I would need are two milking does. I could pay eighty dollar breeding fees in the fall, sell the kids in the spring, and have significantly lower feed costs. However, in addition to supplying our family with quality milk and dairy products here are some of our long term goals for keeping a small herd of goats.

  1. self sufficiency
  2. a healthy disease free herd (which means limiting contact with other goats or livestock, which means keeping more than one buck)
  3. being able to sell show quality goats who are disease free and great milkers
  4. having the goat numbers and genetic diversity to some day transition into a larger herd with a small dairy in mind.
We made an investment when we purchased six goats and shipped them all the way up from Washington. Could we cut corners and find cheaper hay or feed less grain? Yes, but I not without jeapardizing the health of our herd. It is important to me to provide our animals with the diet they need to live healthy and happy lives.

I do have some ideas which may slightly decrease our dependency on hay and grain. We could fence larger areas of our woods as the goats love to eat bark, moss, spruce branches, grasses and dried rose hips, dried birch leaves and other dormant vegetation which is still available above the snow. I am also planning on growing more root vegetables with the intention of storing them, then slicing and feeding to the goats as an extra source of nutrients and vitamins. Both of these practices would add variation to their existing diet. At some point I'd like to have pasture where we could grow all of our own hay and grain, but even that takes money and lots of hard work. Nothing is without cost.

The chickens diet is comprised mostly of a whole grain feed that I mix in hundred pound batches. The chickens also receive daily kitchen scraps along with home brewed kombucha or raw milk kefir. They always have water, free choice grit and oyster shell. Because I make my own chicken feed there are some ingredients that I use in small quantities for example, I purchased a bag of kelp meal and flax seed last February when I first started mixing my own feed, and I just ran out this past December.  This fall we purchased six hundred and fifty pounds of chicken feed grains and ingredients and spent three hundred and forty six dollars. Which breaks down to forty nine cents a pound. Hey that is not bad considering that a bag of layer crumbles last I checked was seventeen dollars a bag or thirty four cents a pound.

I thought I'd take it one step further and I took each ingredient that I am using, figured out how much it cost by the pound, multiplied that by how many pounds I am using in the recipe and then added up all the costs, which gave me sixty four dollars and thirty nine cents for a hundred pound recipe, thirty two dollars for fifty pounds and sixty four cents a pound, ouch!

I have known that our feed was costing a significant amount more than processed crumbled or pelleted feed. I think that the real number is somewhere in between my two figures. As wheat berries are my biggest expense, I need to find a cheaper source or find another grain that can take the place of a portion of the berries. Another conclusion I've come to is that I am going to stop eye balling and start measuring when I am mixing feed. I have also started looking into other ingredients I can add to the existing recipe which will provide more variation. I will most likely do a follow up post on the individual ingredients and why I'm feeding what I'm feeding.

On a side note, I can't help but point out that even if we were feeding our chickens crumbled layer feed at seventeen dollars a bag, and fed the same amount of pounds of feed as we did our own mix, we still would have spent fifty five dollars a month feeding our twenty - twenty four chickens and ducks (we've eaten a few since Sept.). That is still fairly expensive, especially if you are trying to save money on eggs and meat by raising chickens.

We often exchange eggs and other farm products for farm labor or help with the kids. I've sold ten dozen extra eggs since November for about fifty dollars. I use to buy two dozen eggs a week at the Farmer's market for five dollars a dozen. At that rate I was spending thirty five to forty dollars on eggs a month. I'd like to keep better track of how many eggs we are getting. Currently I am supplying three families including our own with eggs. We also enjoy giving people eggs when they stop in for a visit. Beings that we are getting an average of six eggs a day, forty two eggs a week, fourteen dozen a month at five dollars a dozen makes seventy dollars a month in eggs. If we could bring down our feed costs and sell more of our eggs, maybe we could break even on feed, but that is not counting supplies or labor. We keep chickens because we enjoy them, their eggs and meat. I don't ever see myself not raising chickens.

I remember my mom use to charge around two dollars a dozen for eggs. I also remember paying four dollars for a bale of hay. Those days are long gone, at least in Fairbanks. I think that in Fairbanks farmers have seen a drastic increase in feed and hay prices over the last couple years. I'm sure that farmers all over have experienced this but with shipping costs already adding on a lot to feed costs they seem even more exaggerated. I'm sure that eggs and milk prices have increased at the supermarket as well but I've hardly noticed, but I have to admit, I'm not buying either.

"Headed back to our roots", is where I've claimed we are trying to return to. We are also lacking a lot of the information and practices of how common folks homesteaded before factory farms took over. The way we are raising animals is not the ways of our great grandparents. We are rather impetuous and impatient. Buy animals, buy food, buy lumber, build structures, get eggs, meat, milk, now! Now is better than never. I am looking forward to spending some slow winter days doing some research on traditional farming and livestock raising practices. Looking into providing more of my animals food from our own land and resources. If you have experience or ideas to share, please do so. Thankyou.



Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Those prices are the same here in the outskirts of Portland. Only the price of alfalfa on your list is higher!

Not much consolation - it is still a lot of money any way you look at it!

Nice post :)

Lisa Rae said...

Hi again, down here near the Mat Valley we have locally grown oats for $9 a bag (if you bring your own bags), local (not Delta) barley is $250 a ton, Walmart alfalfa pellets are $10 a bag, and imported alfalfa hay is $16 a bale in Anchorage.

I also feed free choice beet pulp, kelp and mineral salt. I sprout all the barley for my chickens and add salmon meal at $43.95 a 55 pound bag.

Feed costs here were climbing and climbing over the last year or two, but I've found that mixing all of our own feeds and using the most locally produced stocks as possible and buying by the ton really helps.

As far as stuff from Azure and Organically Grown Company and Mountain Rose Herbs and Frontier... check out Ludie is just starting to ship around Alaska.

Hope this helps!

Emily said...

Wow, I can hardly believe that prices in Oregon would be as close to those here in Alaska. Something not quite right with that. I am consoled a bit.

Lisa, unfortunately we don't get down that way but maybe once a year. When we do we totally load up the truck with bulk food and things we don't have up here. We have talked about coming down for Alfalfa hay and some local feed, but once we figure in gas prices it makes more sense to buy it at the feed store here. I believe the oats and barley we have been buying are both from Delta. How much barley do you feed your chickens? I will certainly check out the link you sent, Thanks a bunch

Lisa Rae said...

Yeah, I know Fbks is a long ways from here. Its been an interesting journey with my birds... when I was feeding premixed food to my then 48 birds, they were eating 25 pounds a day. Now that I'm sprouting their barley, I have 60 birds eating 12 pounds of barley and 2 pounds of fishmeal a day. That's a huge difference a big savings for us!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

The problem is that paying retail prices are a killer. The feedstore near us, give a $2.00 discount if you buy a ton of bagged feed.

And the problem we have with our Azure delivery is that we don't necessarily get what we order with their order system. Which makes it too hard to rely for livestock feed.

I did get some good eastern Oregon grass hay for my milk cow, from a local hay dealer. I paid $11.00 for a 100 lb bale. At the feed store, it is $1.50 a pound and the alfalfa is a little higher than that!

It's very hard to manage to feed good feed and not break the bank!

Emily said...

Martha, somehow your comment didn't make publishing when I clicked on it. Sorry. However, we are in the interior of Alaska. Fairbanks is zoned 1 - 2, but I believe we may be closer to zone 3 up here on the hill, as far as the perennials that have made it through the winters. I believe they say we have a ninety day growing season, obviously we find lots of ways to stretch that in either direction. I wish we were just a zone or two higher. I lust after the higher zoned fruit trees in the nursery catalogs.