Easier to Part with Animals When Price is High

Hoosier Perspectives

Sentimental reasoning doesn’t pay the feed bill.

Published on: May 24, 2010

When I opened the barn door one morning in late January, there were triplet lambs looking at me. Once in a while you get the bear- they were out of our best ewe. Naturally, one was very small. We ended up bottle feeding it for while, but it was wiry and soon took off on its own.

Once you've bottle fed an animal, it's hard not to become attached. If we didn't care about animals, we wouldn't raise them. That the part the animal activists miss. When they portray farmers as basically profitmongers holding a meat clever behind their back every time they look at an animal, nothing could be more off-base.

If they need a dry place to lay, we bed with straw. If its' cold, we turn on a heat lamp. To get them off and going, young lambs get electrolytes,. And I personally feed the first colostrum to them through a bottle to make sure they get it. That sounds like a mean, animal-hating, animal abuser, doesn't it?

The hard part comes when it's time to decide whether to keep the animal for breeding, in this case, or sell it. In the case of the triplet ewes, the two older sisters took off growing. The little one didn't. She was cute, but by early May it was obvious she would always be small. That's when my brother who also has sheep taught me economics. "They'll bring more per pound now, so you're better off selling them than waiting for a bigger weight, and grossing more dollars, but having put more feed and dollars into them": he said.

Well put for a farm manager. What else would I expect? So we culled two old ewes and sorted of four of our15 lambs, including 'Little' and took them to the local market last week. It wasn't a happy moment putting her on the truck, but if you're operating a farm and not a zoo, sometimes you have to make hard decisions.

My brother didn't know how prophetic he was. It turns out the lamb market if very strong right now. That little triplet was part of the foursome that netted me over $100 each. I also left a couple extra sacks of feed at the feedstore with fewer mouths to feed.

Economically, it was such a good decisions that I decided to look harder at who should stay and who should go. Dairymen found out over the past 18 months that it's easier to cull when prices are low and you know to have to slice feed bills. It's also easier when prices are high, and you know you're going to get a good return for what you sell.

My goal is quality, not quantity, on my tiny spread. High live animal prices certainly make it easier to part with an animal that might otherwise not look so bad. In reality, my economist-type brother would have culled harder a long time ago. Seeing dollar signs makes it easier to do the right thing.

It still doesn't make it any easier to put them on the truck. You just have to keep reminding yourself you took very good care of them while you had them, and that now it's time to market them.

Nobody said being a farmer or livestock producer was easy.