Save Money, Save Time, Buy Hay

To save on machine repairs, keep his soil fertile, and still turn a profit, this farmer sold some equipment and started buying hay for his cattle rather than baling his own.

| September 2016

A memoir, Gaining Ground (Lyons Press, 2013) follows Forrest Pritchard as he returns to the family farm and struggles to bring it back to life. Wishing to imitate to the pure and personal farming techniques of his grandparents, Pritchard learns the hard way what it takes to farm organically, live sustainably, and turn a profit while taking care of crops and livestock. Pritchard writes honestly about his life and his family in this book; he recounts his experiences, his trials and errors, and his personal hopes and fears about the important work to which he found himself called.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Gaining Ground.

My family was united by the solemn fact that if we didn’t harvest enough hay in the summer, our cattle would starve to death come wintertime. Faced with this reality, haying had always been a mandatory activity. My grandfather had kept two years’ worth of hay in his barns, safely weathering both winter blizzards and summer droughts. The shadowy recesses of our barn contained bales that had been put up decades earlier; properly cured, hay remains palatable almost indefinitely. I now felt a responsibility to keep my own barn fully stocked.

Still, the longer I considered it, the harder time I had making sense of the math. Labor and repairs topped my list of concerns, and it didn’t help that cattle prices had recently fallen again. Our last load of calves had brought only seventy cents per pound at the stock sale, a 10 percent drop from the prior year. As I ran to town on yet another trip for tractor parts, this meager paycheck eroded right before my eyes.

But this was how we’d always done it, I kept telling myself. This was how my grandfather, and all my neighbors, farmed. Haying was simply an unavoidable part of cattle farming, a season of costly aggravation that kept the business afloat. Resigned to my duty, I climbed onto my Ford tractor and headed back into the fields.

One day, by chance, I read about Gordon Hazard, a farmer who grazed cattle on a farm in Mississippi. He was renowned not only because he had raised his animals profitably for fifty straight years (a herculean accomplishment for any business, and doubly so in a commodity-based enterprise) but also for his hard-line stance against owning farm machinery of any kind.

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