Fall is the time to make decisions regarding feed and marketing for the winter season. Before long, feeding hay will become a necessity and once again this year, we couldn’t make much of our own.
It is much easier to make decisions about our goats and sheep than our beef cattle because we have been able to grow our own private markets for our small stock. We know how many we can sell and for what price. We can use that number and work back to see which feed source will allow us to make a profit.
We do not have that luxury with our beef cows. We never did, and this year the situation was made worse when the local auction mart — 20 minutes away at Inwood— closed. The owners have retired. So now our marketing options have changed. The next closest auction marts are about one hour away. Also, after another wet summer, everyone is short hay by approximately 70 per cent and there is also no straw.
Through family discussions, we have decided on an eclectic approach for marketing our beef cattle. We can continue to ship some animals to an auction mart, we can start marketing our replacement heifers to other people interested in expanding their grass-based herds, we can establish a clientele that would buy grass-finished beef, and we will continue to butcher cull cows and bulls for our family’s consumption.
Although the simplest option is to find a neighbour we can share a truck with and ship our calves to auction, it is also the riskiest. We are at the mercy of the buyers, and it will cost us more to ship over an hour away. Also, if we cannot combine our load with anyone, we will have to hire a semi to ship 30 animals — which isn’t cost effective. The other problem that surfaced is that unlike Inwood Auction Mart, the others all have weekday sales. My husband would have to book a day off school bus driving to market the calves, which would again decrease our return.
The option of selling our replacement-quality heifers privately surfaced because this will be the second year in a row we haven’t been able to keep any for ourselves. We can’t afford to feed any new stock. It is a shame that these animals, which are the result of 15 years of intense culling and selective breeding, cannot be used in a breeding program. But selling the heifers is financially responsible because we would be able to control our price, which isn’t an option at the auction marts.
To market these heifers, I am trying newspapers, our website and the Internet. Many community newspapers as well as the Manitoba Co-operator have lowered advertising costs if you run your ads for a set period of time. It is also beneficial to explore advertising on a yearly basis in trade magazines. That way people are exposed to your name on a regular basis and are likely to think of you first when they think about buying stock.
With our Internet marketing, I have put our bull’s genetics on our website www.chikouskyfarms.comand joined www.cattlegrowers.com.CattleGrowers.comis the equivalent of Facebook for people with agricultural interests. These agricultural social group websites are designed to allow you to find like-minded farmers and they usually have free classified ads.
Our other option, marketing beef, will not work for us this winter. Grass finished steers are generally butchered at two years of age and we didn’t keep any last fall and won’t be able to keep any this fall again
CattleGrowers.ComIs The Equivalent Of Facebook For People With Agricultural Interests. These Agricultural Social Group Websites Are Designed To Allow You To Find Like-Minded Farmers.
due to the feed shortages. So I will be spending the winter researching costs and marketing. Luckily there are many opportunities, at little or no charge, for farmers to learn about the intricacies of direct marketing. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives have regular workshops on topics such as advertising, marketing, and legalities of starting up a new business. In our area they are done by videoconference, and I think they are a fantastic free resource that we will be tapping into this winter. Another free resource is Agriwebinars. To register for the 2009-10 season, go to http://www.agriwebinar.com/Default.aspx.You can also go to the site at any time and view previous webinars available through the extensive archive. I thoroughly enjoy this service.
The hardships we have experienced the past two years due to excess moisture and marketing problems have been a test on our patience. Most importantly we are learning that these issues are what farmers have been facing since time began and if we are to be here for the duration, we must learn how to keep recognizing opportunities that arise out of the middle of disasters. In our case this fall, closing of Inwood Auction Mart coupled with a severe lack of feed could be seen as a disaster. Instead we have chosen to think of this challenging situation as an opportunity to reach out to other farmers and take our operation into a new arena. Hopefully the choices we make will work. If not we will have to keep our eyes open for the next new opportunity that arises.
Debbie Chikousky farms at Narcisse, Man.
Email her at [email protected]