Farming Smarter, Not Harder, Part 2: Herd Size and a Farm Business Plan


goats eating cedar 

You know you are short on forage when a cedar tree is a treat!

Last time, I wrote about the beginnings of our Missouri farm and our problems with grass. This installment will conclude with our continued struggles with numbers and how we finally (maybe) got smarter.

Keeping Track of Livestock Numbers

Numbers mean livestock head count as well as an annual business plan review. First: the census of animals on your farm. I cannot tell you how many posts I read in social media that are the direct result of problems from overstocking. (Caveat: I am also guilty of this.) Our cattle numbers have fluctuated between the five calves we started with up to about twenty-four when the “big drought” hit, then back down to about twelve or so. Our goat numbers went from the eleven we brought with us from Virginia to nearly sixty, then (again, after the drought) down to a handful.

As years went by after the Big Drought of 2012, the fields recovered and improved each year. Lower stocking rates in addition to Management Intensive Grazing (MIG)  and stockpiling forage has many benefits- the sod thickens, grass species improve and runoff all but ceases. Gradually our cattle and goat numbers increased in response to the surplus grazing. We would rotate grazing paddocks and move the cows and the goats here and there, but I was not really keeping track of the numbers/animal units we were attempting to carry.

We had friends contact us who owned livestock we had sold to them in the past, asking us to buy them back as they were cutting back on their own herd numbers. We had plenty of grazing and obviously we did not learn anything from 2012.

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