A longtime reader suggested that we should buy a new baler, if the old $500 one isn't working properly. Now, this lady isn't a farmer, so there is no way she could know just how expensive new farm equipment is. In fact, I imagine the majority of my readers don't have a clue.
I do not know the exact cost of new balers, but Cliff's guess is around $40,000. We could search Craigslist and find used ones for much less. I just looked, and there is even a $500 one listed. I imagine it would cost over $1,000 to have ours fixed, if it is fixable.
Here's the thing: We don't hay often, and when we do, there isn't much hay. We're getting by, and hopefully not losing too much money doing what we love. Oh yes, we do lose money on most projects around here. We're willing to pay the price to be able to do what we love.
The cattle, for instance. I don't keep track of money spent on them, but I'm pretty sure they are a losing proposition. I pretend the hay is free because we produce it ourselves, but it isn't. Gasoline and diesel are costly. Cliff went over the hayfield several times last week: Once to mow, once to rake, again to turn the windrows with the rake because the hay wasn't curing well in freezing temperatures, once to bale; and then he made thirteen trips from barn to field and back, putting the hay up. That's quite a bit of fuel.
I will stop and tell you that we have one profitable cow: Bonnie-the-Jersey-cow. We paid a steep price for her, but she gives us all the milk we need for about nine months of the year and puts beef in the freezer. The poor thing walks with a hitch in her getalong from a displaced hip. Her udder is uneven because one quarter gives no milk at all and one gives only about half what it should as a result of mastitis. But she owes us nothing. She lives on grass and hay, only getting a can of feed when I milk her a couple of times a week.
Will I make money on the baby calves I bought recently? It's very doubtful. I love raising baby calves, but they aren't usually profitable. It would be better if I could go right to a dairy and buy them, but there aren't that many dairies around. I went through a middleman and paid $130 for George and $175 for Gracie. $305 spent, right off the bat. So far I have spent $165 for milk replacer and calf starter. I have enough, though, to last at least a month, so I won't be buying more feed for awhile; and the next grain I buy will be cheaper than what they are eating now. They are only getting one bottle a day, but eating more creep feed all the time.
Things go wrong when you have livestock, things you never counted on... especially when the back of the property is full of steep canyons. When I bought Jody as a baby calf, I paid $275 for her and spent lots of money on whatever food she needed. Around the age of five months we turned her with the herd, and from then on she, like Bonnie, ate only grass and hay. We spent all of Mother's Day and at least $60 in gasoline taking her to a Jersey bull: Finally I saw a possibility of turning a profit on my pet heifer. I would manage her in the same way I have done Bonnie. Very simple, very easy.
Then she came up with a limp. Every day I watch to make sure she is grazing as much as the other cows, because if she gets to the point that she is laying around rather than eating, it will be time to cut our losses and have her butchered. No calf. Mother's Day, a total waste. All we would have is some very expensive beef in the freezer. The hard part is, she's a pet.
A former local dairyman named Emmett once told me, "Any time you have a cow that's your prize, your pet, that's the one something will happen to."
Will she make it until February? Seriously, I doubt it. I read that when cows have done "the splits" with their back legs, arthritis sets in. But as long as Jody doesn't get worse we will leave her alone and hope for the best.