Sorry Jack

by Dave Pratt via Ranching for Profit Blog

Several years ago my son, Jack, spent a couple of summers working for one of our alumni in Wyoming. It just about killed me when he said, “Dad, I love putting up hay!” He said that driving the swather was like driving an Imperial Walker that the Dark Side’s storm trooper’s used in Star Wars.  (I’m not sure how he knew what it was like to drive an Imperial Walker.)  My son is probably the exception to the rule. For most of us, it doesn’t take too many days putting up hay before we start thinking, “There must be a better way.”

That better way often involves selling the Imperial Walkers.  Most ranchers don’t have the economies of scale to justify owning their own hay equipment.  Contracting with someone to put up the hay is often a more profitable option.

Some people resist contracting out their hay making. They insist that, Contractors never come when I need them or when they say they will come. That may be true. While the quality of your hay may suffer, the quality of your life and profitability of your ranch will likely improve.  The convenience of owning your own equipment comes with a hefty price tag.

Some resist the contracting option insisting that there is no one in their area who contracts to  put up hay.  Of course that means that there’s probably an opportunity to start a profitable contract hay making business.  If you own the equipment it needs to get used whether it’s putting up your hay or someone else’s.

You can avoid the contractor issue all together if you start calling those hay fields “pastures” and start harvesting them with four-legged combines rather than ones with four wheels.  This is an especially attractive option if the margins in your cattle enterprises are high and turnover is your limiting factor.  Strategies for reducing the hay needed in an operation have been discussed in previous ProfitTips.  Whatever hay you need can be purchased from someone else.

If you think you can’t afford to buy hay at today’s prices, you are probably right.  But remember, your cows have to buy all of the hay you feed them at market value, whether you grow it or not. If you grow it, you ought to be selling it to someone else because your cows probably can’t afford it.

With high hay prices, growing hay may seem like an attractive option.  Even with normal hay prices, the gross margin from hay enterprises often beats the gross margin from most cattle enterprises.   However, cutting the hay out can free up our capital invested in equipment. It may drastically reduce your labor overheads and it can have a big, positive impact on the health of our land.  The impact of these things may make harvesting hay with a four-legged combine an attractive option.  Sorry Jack.

To view a short video of Ranching For Profit School alumnus Brad Radtke discussing the impact of converting hay fields to grazing on his ranch Click Here.

About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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