Thursday, June 25, 2015

At Least The Grass Is Free

We all hear certain things that, for whatever reason, really push our buttons. A comment I hear from time to time is something along the lines of "your expenses must be so low most of the year because the grass is free."  When someone makes a comment this stupid (sorry to be harsh but it is true) I generally don't respond. Sometimes I'll make a half-hearted attempt at correcting their overwhelmingly wrong interpretation of what it takes to run our farm, but usually I don't bother and just try to change the subject.  As I was watching Jason mowing in one of the pastures yesterday it made me think about how "free" the grass is.

In case you haven't picked up on where this is headed grass is not free. In fact grass is expensive in both money and time. First of all you have to pay for the land. Even when purchasing cheap land at $3,000-$5,000 an acre that means we have $6,000 - $10,000 per horse tied up in land costs as we allow two acres per horse. After we've purchased our free grass, I mean land, then you have to fence it. Four board wood fencing in our area costs between $6-$7 per foot, with gates costing double the amount per foot. The variation in cost depends on if each post is set in concrete or if the posts are just pounded in and some other factors. So to fence off one pasture you are looking at another $10,000 minimum, and that is for a pretty small pasture. 

Jason using some of our free equipment to maintain our free grass


Then your free grass needs some run-in shelters at about $7,000 per shelter.It would be so nice if the fence maintained itself and the horses didn't scratch their butts on it, crib on it, and do other horsey things that break boards. So after you've paid for the fence you get to keep paying for it as you replace boards. And those replacement fence boards (free of course) are all cut with a $600 chain saw. Why do you need an expensive chain saw? So it will run when you need it to. Anyone who has used chain saws on a regular basis will know what I mean by that. 

Then we have this free grass that has to be maintained. We have two tractors and three bush hogs. Our critics could rightly point out that three bush hogs is overkill and they wouldn't be wrong. However we actually do need two of them.  The 15 foot wide bat wing mower is essential, and one of the two smaller bush hogs is necessary as well to get to the few places that are a bit too tight or awkward for the big bush hog. We have an 8 foot as well as a 4 foot bush hog for the tighter areas. We really only need one of the two smaller ones, and I'm not sure which Jason would pick if he were choosing between the two. The bigger tractor was about $50,000 when purchased, and the big bushhog was about $20,000. Between one tractor and one mower that is $70,000 in equipment for maintaining the free grass.  We also have a 500 gallon sprayer used for weed control and chain harrows used for dragging the pastures. 

And just like any other piece of equipment this stuff all has to be maintained, belts and chains have to be replaced, tires have to be replaced, fluids need to be changed, they run on that free diesel fuel, etc. Then you need a place to park this free equipment. The best part is that the free equipment runs itself. There is no manpower at all involved in servicing and maintaining it, much less hooking it up and mowing over 150 acres. I'm sure Jason is having a good laugh over that right now. 

The next expense in your free grass is keeping it looking nice and keeping it at optimum nutritional levels. This means we take multiple soil samples from all over the farm and have it analyzed on a regular basis. From these results we determine when to lime and when to fertilize. We fertilize at least once a year, sometimes twice. Lime is not applied yearly but every few years depending on soil tests. Each round of lime and fertilizer costs a few thousand dollars. It isn't necessary to do either of these and grass will still grow, but if you want the grass to have optimum nutritional value then you need to help out. We also re-seed various areas depending on need each year. Grass seed if of course free at as well, if you drive up to the co-op and ask for 100 bags of grass seed they load it in your truck and never expect you to actually pay for it.

Allowing horses to continuously graze pastures is incredibly hard on grass. Horses are pasture destroyers by nature. They do not graze evenly and are terrible spot grazers because they can thanks to their two rows of teeth. They like to return to the same place and over and wreck them, using their top and bottom teeth (many other grazing species don't have two rows of teeth) to eat the grass down to the ground. We do our best to mitigate their damage by re-seeding, liming, fertilizing, mowing and controlling weeds. Not to mention when it is really wet and they decide to gallop through the pastures, seriously damaging the free grass with every step. Throwing in the sliding stop, especially when wet, is just the icing on the cake for pasture damage.  

The hardest part to take with all of this free grass is when the weather thwarts all of your efforts anyway. We had a record breaking drought seven years ago that did serious damage to our pastures. It took about three years of intensive inputs and management to recover from that record breaking drought. I would be absolutely fine if we never experienced a drought like that again. As a general rule I find participating in record-setting weather events to be unpleasant experiences. I will never forget the defeated feeling I had while looking at our brown and yellow pastures that we had put so much time and money into.

Grass can be done much more inexpensively. It does not have to be mowed, fertilized, limed, have weed control,  be re-seeded, or anything else. You can put up cheap barb wire to fence in your grass. However, if you want to have pastures that look decent, and ours look at least decent most of the time, and have horses living on them year round, grass is expensive in money and time. 

To summarize it would be a lot cheaper to have much smaller pastures and allow the horses to over-graze them and feed hay year round. MUCH cheaper. So the next time any of you are talking to any farm owner, please skip the comment about how the grass is free. 

_______________________________


Stormy and Rocky


Clayton, Walon and Johnny


Maisie and Lily


Renny, Dutch and Murphy wandering in for breakfast


B-Rad, Alex and Mick


Rip, Grand (sticking his tongue out), Elfin, Ritchie and Tony (Apollo is hiding behind Ritchie and Tony)


Romeo, Lotus and Donneur


Trigger having a stressful morning



Leo and Chance


Homer, Tony and Baby dozing in the shade

5 comments:

EvenSong said...

Be careful, Melissa, you might bite your tongue, with it so,firmly ensconced in your cheek! 😊

2 Punk Dogs said...

You completely nailed it! My parents have a u-pick blueberry farm and we hear similar comments every picking season. People have seriously asked if the bushes "just grow like that." No, we had to plant all 4000 of them by hand in straight lines. "So you just plant them & that's it?" No, then we had to weed around the bushes & mow the entire field for 5 years before any berries were produced. "So now you just hang out & collect money from the pickers?" Right now yes, but all 400 bushes needed to be pruned this winter, fertilized twice this spring & sprayed numerous times to prevent winter moth worms from eating the entire crop like they did the last 2 years. Plus we still have to pay taxes on the land whether or not we have a crop. And mow & weed the field." Yeah, farming is so easy, everyone is rushing to do it. :)

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks that grass is free has NEVER owned a Horse Farm, or any other farm for that matter.

Vivian Vetere said...

We had 120 acres in central Va. It cost us a hell of a lot to fence (the cheapest way with high tensile wire) the 4 acre pasture for our horse at the time. We had one 40hp old Ford tractor and a 6 foot bush hog. Believe me, I know what you mean and what you are going through. We never got the angora goats we wanted because we could not afford the fencing or the cost of starting a herd. Farming and grass are never cheap. I have tremendous respect for farmers and I grew up in NYC.

An American in Tokyo said...

The efforts you put into your farm really show in your photos!
Everything always looks so beautiful and the horses and other critters look so happy.

I hope the "grass is free" commentators keep to themselves!!