Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Head in the Trough

Backyard and small scale livestock is a growing area of interest and if the number of emails we get every week asking about mixed feed are any indication, providing feed for these animals is a void that is not being filled.
Wait a minute, aren't there feed mills doing that already?  Yep.  But the people contacting us don't want GMO's in the feed and that simply is not possible unless you purchase organic feed.  If they're not raising the livestock with the intention of selling their products for an organic premium (and in many cases even when they are), organic feed is simply too expensive. 
Coming from farmers who sell the grain to the feed mill to make the feed, the mark up is a bit silly.  I'm no business expert, but it seems like maybe there is some wisdom in creating a customer base with lower profit margins and establishing loyalty and dependence on a quality product.  As people can afford more feed, they can afford more livestock, which will eat more feed and make for money coming in for the mill.  Unfortunately that is now how it's being done and it is without a doubt the number one obstacle standing in the way of organic livestock expansion in this region (and likely across Canada).
SO, my recommendation for those asking for non-GMO feed who don't need organic feed is this:
-figure out what it is you need.  The internet is a great source of information for creating a complete feed.  Mark, thankfully, paid attention in his animal nutrition class at NSAC, but with the use of the Pearson Square anyone can figure out what they need.  Although you may not have the capability to mix it, it is really important to know what you need.  You can make a much more informed purchasing decision then.  My lambs do really well on a mix of 2 things; crushed soybean and whole oats.  A commercial lamb grower probably has 6 ingredients.  I don't have a clue what's in a typical dairy cow ration, but I'm fairly certain it's probably more than the soybean, rolled oats and barley mix that Rosie sees everyday.  So, if you know what you need, you won't buy what you don't.     
-talk to your local grain farmer.  Inform yourself as to your options for proteins.  You can buy oats, barley, wheat, etc. fairly easily and they not yet available in GMO form (thank the Lord). So it's really the corn and soybeans you need to look for. Consider field peas.  Don't tell our soybean customers, but peas are a fantastic source of protein in complete feed mixes.
You might be surprised to find out what a farmer will grow if he is given the market, no matter how small.  Maybe he's already growing it for a larger market and is willing to sell a few bags.  Maybe he's already mixing his own feed and would share some.  Maybe he has an old mixer or roller you can borrow.  It might depend how much you need.  In our case, we are not certified nutritionists and although our rations are based on specific calculations for our needs, we don't want to assume any risk that might come with selling mixed feed.  Mixing feed is also not the number one job on the never ending list around here although it gets done when it needs to and it's not unusual for us to mix some extra- wink, nudge. 

So, it's too bad that the current infrastructure (ahemCoOpcoughcough) is missing out on the opportunity to play a major role in expanding the small scale and organic livestock industry and in turn grow their own business.  Next time you go to buy that bag of conventional feed just ask if they have a non-GMO product.  I'm sure they don't, but if enough people ask, they might source it.  Or try.  And that's how it gets going. Really. So ask.  Everytime.  Heck, even if you don't care about GMO's, ask, for the sake of those who do care and want a choice. 

Hope this finds you rejoicing at the glimpses of sun amongst the rain clouds.  Things are soggy but Mark and Wendell were out in the tractor this warm, sunny afternoon, discing up some ground, so it's not ark time yet.


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