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Creative ideas to supplement your dairy income

Harley Wagenseller for Progressive Dairyman Published on 01 June 2018

In this modern era of dairy farming, it takes more creativity than ever to stay in business. It seems as dairy farmers face an onslaught of forces determined to weed out any but the most efficient, they must be more creative than ever to stay in business. In this article we’re going to mention just a few ideas that many have employed to not only survive in business, but even thrive despite tough economic times. Let’s consider just a few suggestions.

Dried manure solids

Do you have some dried manure stored in some kind of pile that could be sold for a few dollars a truckload? Perhaps all of the NPK requirements for your pasture or cropland are being met already. You’re thinking, “What can I do with the excess?” What about using a local farmers market if available in your area to advertise some of that brown gold you have in abundance? You could perhaps get with a well-known garden expert and create composting situations.

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You may have excess 55-gallon barrels around the dairy you could turn into composting stations. At $50 to $100 to make a usable composter, there’s a potential income supplement for the dairy using the ingenuity that I know so many of you have. Places like Craigslist or local farmers markets could just be the ticket.

Scrap metal

Another potential for dairymen could be scrap metal sales. We all have done it. We have a pile of odd sorted metal of all sizes and shapes that we swear, “We’re going to need that particular scrap piece someday.” Well, five to 10 years later, that day never comes. Meanwhile, that pile in the corner of the shop continues to get bigger and bigger. One day you just say that’s enough! No more. Just like that coat you know you could fit into if you just lost 10 pounds. You finally give it to Goodwill to free up closet space. You feel so much better when you do that. Likewise with selling scrap metal.

Depending on the quality, kind, etc., whether heavy angle iron, old wiring or stainless steel, etc., the reward could be substantial. One dairyman I am aware of made $5,770 in one month making one trip every week to the recycle scrap yard. Not bad for junk. All it takes is a little vision and a lot of elbow grease to do this. I am aware of a large dairy farm that literally has tens of thousands of dollars in scrap manure spreaders, trucks, silage equipment, etc., just sitting behind their shop. They think they may need a part off of such and such, but the irony is they have moved on to other kinds of equipment, so they won’t use all of this old metal again.

Repurposing materials

Yet another way is to sell all those 55-gallon plastic barrels you have piling up out behind the barn. There are so many uses for these very handy items. Have you ever thought about using these as mineral boxes? How about cutting them in half to feed heifers or steers? They make great feeders and can outlast commercial units. I personally know of some that are over 15 years old and still work well. What about catching rainwater for emergency water storage? What about for use in irrigation projects? YouTube is a great way to explore new composters made out of a 55-gallon barrel. Tutorial videos will show you step-by-step how to build one. Also it has been observed that people can grow over 50 different plants by slicing the barrels in certain ways to grow a variety of different vegetables. Maybe you could place ads on Craigslist or some such marketplace to sell those excess 55-gallon barrels. Many people get $15 to $30 each for them.

Related items are IBC 275- or 330-gallon totes. These are containers that are used for many different reasons, such as carrying liquids or bulk materials such as grains. Again there are many uses for totes. Many are used for emergency water storage in such conditions like hurricanes where the lack of electricity could hinder your freshwater availability. They can be plumbed in series to make irrigation projects. I have seen them stacked four high and have heard they can be stacked six high. They have a very stout metal frame that can be picked up either direction with a forklift. Some people will use them as septic tanks for RVs, but be sure to check local laws about this. Also hunting clubs like these because they oftentimes lack fresh water. They also work well for recycling or reclaiming used oil.

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Let’s not forget our friend the honeybee. Honeybees need syrup to feed on while they pollinate our almonds, oranges, etc. A tote is an excellent way to transport the food of those oh-so-important insects. The point is the uses for a 275-gallon tote are nearly endless.

Check YouTube for an endless variety of projects for these devices. Perhaps you can get $80 to $100 each for these at your dairy just collecting dust. Think about it. Do not let cash just sit there. Put it to work!

Pet cows

Another way to make good use of reduced dairy income is a somewhat novel concept of selling your friendly pet cows to local people. You may be asking right now, “Why would I ever want to do that?” Do you know someone who could do this to add dairy income to keep the farm going? Let’s come up with some questions that would need to be asked to make this a reality. Who would you sell these cows to? Where would you sell them and where would they end up? How would you sell them; what methods would you use? Would you advertise them in such places as Craigslist? Would you use a local farmers market? Would you do it by word of mouth? What kinds of cows and heifers would you sell? If you have the ability to rank your cows, perhaps you could sell the friendly ones on the lower end of the spectrum that don’t work as well for dairy income but privately somebody would probably enjoy that cow. With low cull cow prices, this may be a wonderful way to increase your income. Will this have a bearing on the way you sell your bull and heifer calves also? I’m sure as you study this concept more, you will begin to pick up ideas that could save your dairy.

As an example, about two years ago in the pages of Progressive Dairyman magazine, I had an article printed along with the picture of our cow #387 – “Friendly” – standing in a water trough. Shortly after appearing in the magazine, a lady from a nearby town saw her and just fell in love with her and gave us three times her market value just because she has such personality! I am happy to say that as of this writing she lives with a $10,000 racehorse with access to lots of alfalfa and nice pasture. Quite a nice life for a 12-year-old dairy cow! Again I encourage you to contemplate low cull cow prices and selling these cows to local people with small hobby farms who want a friendly cow or a nurse cow with a calf on their acreages as you could certainly help keep your dairy afloat by doing something like this.

Friends, these tips are just a small way to encourage you to find ways to help your dairy out with creative income opportunities. I hope we have inspired you to think about ways to help your dairy survive and thrive in these tough economic times.  end mark

Harley Wagenseller

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