Fitting a Farm for Profit
By Henry A. Pontiac
Nearly a third of the farm was waste. There were no fences, and no barns, cribs or granaries. But it was a good farm. Arkansas valley land in Muskogee County, Oklahoma. Bruce Henderson had had it spotted for some time. His business had been dressing up farms for sale. He knew what it took to sell farms, and he knew what it took to make them pay. The two requirements are about the same.
So, he fitted his old farm for sale. When a buyer came along, the deal was made. He had the Arkansas valley place in mind even before he bought the first farm. He proposed to make enough off of the first to put the farm he wanted in condition for its job.
The new place was a bargain because it was unimproved and had been neglected. He built a fence around the place, 48-inch woven wire with steel line posts and locust corners. He divided the place with cross fences. He built 2,100 rods of fence. Rotations to build and maintain fertility, and hogs to bring an income, demanded fence.
Then he must have barns in which to store alfalfa hay. Alfalfa was a part of his soil improvement program. So he built an enormous hay barn, 40 feet by 100 feet, and 24 feet to the eaves. It will store 320 tons of baled hay. He built a general purpose barn. None of his barns were expensive. They were roofed with corrugated steel for permanency. Rough lumber was used for siding. Three buildings, one for baled hay, a double corn crib, and an implement shed cost less than $1,000. He painted these buildings and the big hay barn with used crank case oil, to which had been added a little creosote. They are repainted every other year. A whitewash brush is used in applying the oil and creosote.
About 40 acres of the farm were wet. Some of the low places had never been plowed. Many Arkansas valley farms in that section of Oklahoma had these wet places, but Mr. Henderson’s new place had an excessive acreage of land on which crops drowned out. As a consequence of this, it had been condemned. Yet the land in those wet spots was fertile.
“I laid tile in those areas,” said Mr. Henderson. “In one slough, the water stood boot-top deep. It had never produced more than one crop in three seasons. I tiled it the first year. I harvested the second crop of corn from that slough last year. It made 60 bushels an acre. The rest of my corn averaged 45 bushels. At that rate, it will not be long until the extra corn will have paid for the tile, without considering the loss involved in letting the slough lie idle. I have 4,000 tiles on 21 acres, and need more. Tiling put a big portion of my land into production. Without drainage, the land was worthless. It was an expense upon the productive acres.”
A considerable acreage was reclaimed by clearing a ravine that meandered across the place, fence corners and other places that had grown up in brush and saplings. A total of 75 acres, or more than 31 percent of the farm, was reclaimed by these processes.
A small lake on Mr. Henderson’s property is used as a water supply for his hogs. The waste land along its banks is used for hog lots. This relieves more valuable land for crop production. Shad and abundant water are essential in profitable pork production. Both are provided by the hog lots along the lake.
“Pork, corn and alfalfa are my big projects, although 500 Barred Rocks contribute to the farm income,” Mr. Henderson explained. “I have found hogs profitable. I sold 44 head not long ago. One lot went at 9 cents, another at 7 cents. They weighed 2251⁄2 pounds apiece, and after paying $1 a bushel for corn, they gave me $112 besides.” He keeps 10 brood sows.
Mr. Henderson’s acreages last season were 65 of corn, 22 of spring potatoes, 21 of wheat, 18 of oats, 10 of late potatoes, 10 of sweet clover, and 90 of alfalfa.
“Alfalfa is the most profitable crop I grow,” he said. “I took 351 tons from 85 acres last year. It netted $30 an acre. I don’t know anything else that will do as well.”
Mr. Henderson bales the alfalfa from the windrow and stores the baled hay in his barns. His baling crew consists of 16 men, including three mowers and two rakers. The gross income from his place last year was $11,326. Of that income, $3,900 was from the sale of alfalfa.
He places the cost of getting a stand of alfalfa at $7 an acre. To keep a stand producing profitably, he observes the proper stages of cutting. Also, he cultivates the fields to keep down grass and weeds, and to invigorate the plants. Normally two workings with a springtooth harrow are given every season. Mr. Henderson records a successful reseeding of alfalfa to improve the stand. Two years ago, he seeded one field. The stand was good until it passed through the following fall and winter. Last spring, Mr. Henderson sowed an additional 10 pounds of seed to the acre.
F.O. Pierce Made a $20,000 Change
By Axel Jensen
Grain farming didn’t pay. So about all F.O. Pierce had to show for his first 15 years of labor in Wilkin County, Minnesota, was an accumulation of debts. Of course, there was the experience, but that’s hard to value. However, in this case it meant a lot, because Mr. Pierce changed his farming system.
The change didn’t come suddenly. He grew into the new plan of farming. For instance, he bought some sheep in 1913. They’ve paid more for the effort expended than anything else since, but during the first few years, the sheep income wasn’t enough to offset the losses accumulated by grain farming.
“I was about broke in 1916,” said Mr. Pierce. “But the livestock I had gradually accumulated pointed the way out of my difficulties. I decided that year to make the complete swing.”
Since then, Mr. Pierce has put $20,000 worth of buildings on his farm, and the livestock program has paid for them, including a dairy barn, hog houses, general barn, shelter for the sheep, cribs, granaries, feed storage, two silos, and a modern dwelling.
The dairy cattle were added as the third project in switching to a livestock program. Mr. Pierce established a milk route in his hometown eight years ago. Then he bought a purebred Angus herd of 43 head to produce feeders in his beef project. He feeds about 100 hogs every year, but buys the shotes locally.
“I quit grain farming,” said Mr. Pierce, “because it didn’t pay, but I did not quit raising grain. I simply devised a more profitable way of selling it. I feed it to sheep, hogs, dairy cows and beef cattle. The livestock also enables me to sell a great quantity of roughage, which went to waste when I was raising grain exclusively. That, in the main, is the financial advantage of livestock farming over grain farming.”
Mr. Pierce’s principal grain crop is a mixture of oats and barley. He sows a bushel of each, and the average yield is better than the average in the neighborhood of either. Normally, the mixture makes 40 bushels of 40-pound grain to the acre. He threshes the mixture with his own separator, and grinds it in his own feed grinder.
“It takes an early oats for the mixture,” said Mr. Pierce. “I always get a good yield, sometimes 60 bushels an acre. The mixture is a safety practice, and it makes a fine feed. You see, if the season is dry, the barley will do better than the oats. If it is wet and cool, the oats do well. Sometimes I sow wheat and oats together in the proportion of 2 pecks of oats to one of wheat. That doesn’t give me as great a yield, but it does produce a heavier feed than oats and barley. I give the ground feed to both cattle and hogs. In fattening beef cattle, I put silage in the bunkers and sprinkle the ground mixture over it. I also grind corn, ears and fodder together, in my mill and feed it to the dairy cows.”
The dairy cows are fed alfalfa hay. A little sweet clover hay is given to the beef cattle. In the main, sweet clover is used as pasture for milk cows and sheep. Sheep are used in cleaning up stubble and corn fields. They’re put into the corn to harvest it, just as hogs often do. The lambs weigh about 60 pounds when they go into the field. When they go to market in December, they weigh about 80 pounds.
Mr. Pierce owns 480 acres. All is tillable, but only 320 acres are farmed. He also rents 800 acres.
“That land doesn’t cost much,” Mr. Pierce said. “For a half-section, I pay $2 an acre rent, and for the other three quarters, I pay $1 an acre. At such rental, my pasture costs very little. That is one reason the weaning charge against my beef calves is so low.”
He contends that his beef calves at weaning time cost only $20 a head. Calves of similar quality and weight would have cost $50 a head on the ranges last fall. The cheap roughage and cheap pasture are responsible for the savings. Such conditions might not be obtained in another section of the country, but Mr. Pierce has taken advantage of a situation that exists in his neighborhood, and that’s good management, to take advantage of local conditions.
Last spring, his 43 Angus cows produced 42 calves, each averaging about 450 pounds by mid-October. Last year, his calves from the same cows averaged 510 pounds at weaning. He takes the calves off of the cows about October 15 and puts them on feed. They receive the oats-barley mix through most of the feeding period, but he likes corn as a finishing grain. The shotes follow the calves.
Straw and other rough feeds are used extensively in wintering livestock. Mr. Pierce depends upon straw particularly for carrying his beef herd between pasture seasons. The barley-oats mix affords another advantage in that the cattle like straws better than they do the wheat, and they are more nourishing. Mr. Pierce owns a tractor and separator, which he uses in his own threshing. Straw piles are thrown in lots near the barn, where they are easily accessible for feed or bedding.
The feed mill is also valuable in maintaining the livestock program. The oats-barley or wheat-oats mix would be impracticable without it. Hogs, sheep and beef cattle can’t use small grains advantageously, and dairy cows require grinding of any grains for best results. The mill also grinds fodder, which makes it more palatable.
Mr. Pierce credits sweet clover with big increases in crop yields. It is also effective in draining the soil. Most of the land in that section is flat. When the sweet clover roots die after penetrating the subsoil, the holes form downward water course for surface moisture. Also, sweet clover is valuable in controlling weeds. That is because it is a smother crop primarily, but inasmuch as it is a pasture crop, the sheep help control some of the noxious weeds by grazing them.
Likewise, the harvest season for sweet clover hay is earlier than the maturity of many weeds, and cutting keeps weeds down. Sweet clover is grown every third crop. Such an intensive rotation is effective in yield increases and in improving the protein content of small grains.
“Flax will make 4 to 5 bushels more an acre after sweet clover,” Mr. Pierce explained. “Last year, I had 9 bushels of flax after the land had been in sweet clover two years. Other land made less than 6 bushels. The increase of corn following sweet clover is 8 to 10 bushels an acre.”