Co-Op: Livestock

Livestock are a vital part of farm operations.  It is unfortunate that commercial farms take livestock confinement to extremes, creating problems rather than using these animals as a working component of the operation.  For a small farm serving the needs of hundreds of families, taking on livestock can be a tremendous investment and one that may be best taken incrementally.  Cage an animal, you have to feed that animal.  This means you have to buy or produce the feed, plus pay for and maintain the cage, remove the waste, and look after the medical needs of a high population in a small area.  You end up with unhealthy animals, unsanitary conditions and an inferior product.  

Confining animals is expensive and counterproductive.  Rather than working for the animals, let the animals do the work.  Why take food and water to them when they will go to the food and water?  Without confinement the cost of structures, equipment, feed containment and storage, plumbing and wase handling systems are removed.  The trade off is the required land and sound management practices.  Big critters need big land.  This puts livestock on the back burner when we start with a limited investment.  

Is it worth the trouble?
Projected milk consumption for 200 families, at 2 gallons per family each week suggests 400 gallons/week.  Extending the arithmetic to a year shows 20,000 gallons/year.  If we buy milk wholesale the retail markup is around 30¢/gallon.  This gives us $6000/year.  A retail price of $4/gallon for those 20,000 gallons is $80,000.  The difference is $74,000.  That would pay for a whole lot of land and equipment.  Mind you, this is just for our own consumption.  The general public can increase our milk sales substantially.  

It's not just the milk.  200 families consuming a dozen eggs each week works out to 10,000 dozen each year.  Eggs, butter, ice cream, cheese, yogurt...these are goods we use all the time.  We've already put a market in place by forming the co-op.  Add a deli and a store, we could use and sell a tremendous amount of product.  It is simply an extension of what we are already doing to add livestock to the operation.  Most importantly, we have control over what is in our product.

Income potential from livestock can only be described as "very large".  By eliminating growers, processors, packagers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailer, we remove several layers of price markups and administrative expenses.  All the labor and profit from each of these layers becomes all ours.  This helps with the reduced efficiency of scale in our smaller operation.  

Pastured animals can be quite cost effective in terms of daily upkeep.  At issue is the cost of land required.  Small livestock is not so bad.  Chickens don't take up much space and work in conjuction with a compost operation.  Worms will hold up well in a greenhouse or under a tarp in the woods.  By the way, we will not be raising the worms for food, at least not for people.  Fish dont really use pasture.  

Larger animals need more room.  Pigs, sheep, goats make a fine contribution in more ways than only as meat.  Pigs will till a field when properly motivated.  Sheep offer wool which can well serve a cottage industry.  Goats provide milk, useful for cheese and soaps.  The larger the beast, the fewer we need.  For example, we'd only need about 15 dairy cows to supply our own demand for milk.  The issue arises when a dairy cow requires several acres each.

This is a road to cross when we get there.  We'll need to decide at the outset if the co-op may at some point include livestock, and if we will be harvesting them.  We can't decide later if we will or not.  Our ethics need to be clear from square one, lest we entrap vegans in a situation of which they want no part, likewise with steak enthusiasts such as myself.  There are few vegans and speciesists out there.  While we may disenfranchise a few good people by choosing to go all the way with livestock, we will be able to seize upon sales to the general public with a broad product line.


Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline