Rebecca Thistlethwaite, author of The New Livestock Farmer, currently lives and raises livestock near Hood River, Oregon. She and her husband ran TLC Ranch near Watsonville, California, where they raised ten thousand broiler chickens, five thousand laying hens, and 300 hogs each year on twenty acres of irrigated pasture for many years. We discuss ways farmers who are focused on livestock and farmers who have livestock as a secondary enterprise can make the most of their critter-based efforts. Along the way we get into the importance of matching the scale of your livestock enterprise to the equipment and infrastructure you have on hand, the considerations of selling meat through different outlets and in different ways, and how to make the most of your water, feed, and fencing.
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Quotes from the Show
We believe strongly in a management-intensive farming system. There wasn’t a lot of physical labor involved, but there was a lot of daily observation.
The chickens were a good entry-level enterprise. You can start with chickens with almost nothing, and the turnaround is great for cash flow.
I see a lot of farmers trying to do too many different animal enterprises, especially at the beginning before they’ve got that experience, before they’ve had the opportunity to build that infrastructure.
Make your life less complicated and try one thing at a time or a couple of things at a time. Then do that end-of-the-year analysis to see which one is most profitable overall and which one makes you the most money per hour of labor invested.
Water and feed and fencing are the three main things we help farmers deal with. Right away, we see that 90% of the farmers don’t have these things right. They’re doing things in ways that are hard on their body and their equipment.
If you’re not able to put away money for future investments, then you’re never going to be able to grow your business. And if you’re not paying yourself, then you’re better off not farming at all and saving your money for better investments.
A lot of animal producers are attracted to the high retail prices they see on cuts of meat, but that doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to make more money on that animal because you have significantly more costs involved.
If you’re spending the majority of your day doing chores, you’re never going to have time to step back and figure out how to make those bigger improvements or how to work on efficiency. You have to figure out how get your chores down to no more than four hours a day.
Rebecca mentioned that her pen design came from Robert Plamondon in Oregon. Back in my poultry days, I relied on a lot of Plamondon’s information and designs – if you’re in poultry, I encourage you to check out Robert’s website.
We referenced Joel Salatin’s books, in particular Pastured Poultry Profits a couple of times during the show, and it’s worth having a look at.
Here are some instructions for how to open a feed sack – something that every farmer should know and which took me too long to figure out!