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Old 02-27-2014, 01:24 PM
 
Location: Black Hawk, CO
6 posts, read 8,872 times
Reputation: 15

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Hello ya'll. I'm seeking help in a search for suitable land to start or take over a small farm/ranch.

A little background to help you understand what I'm looking for. I'm 29 and have a young family. I grew up dairy farming in upstate NY and wanted nothing more than to try my hand at engineering growing up. I went to school and found I can't sit still long enough to just go to school full time and not work so I dropped out 2/3 of the way before getting my degree. I moved to CO and built my own house ground up with my soon to be wife and started a small llama/alpaca ranch. It was in my blood and I couldn't escape the call I guess. After a few years of that I have been feeling the need to get into real agriculture again and go back to my roots. I've been seeking any internships or mentors to help me learn all I can about small scale farming and ranching since.

My needs: I will need to be semi close to a town with decent schools and a market to sell some of my smaller scale goods (eggs, poultry, meat, dairy products, small amounts of vegetables). It would also be nice to be close to somewhere where I can find work if needed as the start up will not happen overnight. My wife currently works in downtown Denver as a medical researcher so I doubt she'll find similar work in MT but she's very well educated so I'm sure she can find something. Long commutes are nothing new to us but we'd like to keep it to around an hour at most. The goal is to run a small cow/calf operation with a cash crop like wheat. I'm thinking 50-100 acres is a starting point with the potential to acquire more land or leases to help expand the cattle operation in the future. I am more than willing to take on a project run down farm and make it work so long as my other needs are mostly met.

#1 need though is water. Water rights must come first as dry land operations take lots of land to make work as far as I can tell. Without water I might as well live in town and be a banker (no offense intended towards bankers).

So ideas? Helpful tips? Resources I can check into? I can use all the helpful info I can get!

Thank you all for reading my long post. I look forward to talking with you all!

James
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Old 02-27-2014, 01:50 PM
 
Location: Where the mountains touch the sky
4,915 posts, read 5,801,396 times
Reputation: 8305
Welcome to the Montana boards;

Please be aware that 50 -100 acres in Montana will grow a garden, but isn't a serious place for a cow calf operation or to grow enough wheat to pay for your equipment.

If you are in a good area, depending on how many cattle you want to raise, figure that prime land will take anywhere from 10-20 acres for a single cow/calf for a year. In some of the drier regions, I would bank on around 40 acres to be safe.

Dryland wheat will normally produce 27-30 bushels to the acre.
Small Grains

Current price on wheat is around $6/bushel so if you have a good crop of 30 bushels to the acre for a 50 acre spread you are looking at around $9,000, not enough to pay for your fuel and seeds, pesticides, herbicides, let alone your equipment, repairs, land mortgage, taxes and something to live on.
USW: Price Reports

On a small place, like 640 acres, if you have some good crop land and some range, raising cattle and the necessary hay for feeding through the winter, you may be able to make a living, but you won't have much money. If you have for instance 75 cow/calf pairs with say 50 calves to sell in the fall, if the prices are up, (like now) with 500 lb calves, you could make around $750 per calf as current February prices are around $150/ hundredweight.
This would make a gross income of $37,500. That discounts the price of hay if you have to buy some, at around $200/ton and a cow usually needs around 5 tons per winter.
It also doesn't figure in the costs of startup in buying your base stock, veterinary bills, salt, supliments, vaccinations, haying equipment, trucks and trailers for moving the stock, etc. etc. etc.
2014 Should Reflect Current Market Strength | Cattle Prices content from BEEF Magazine

That is why the old saying in Montana is that a successful farmer/rancher has a good producing place, and a wife with a good job in town.

The area of the state east of the Rockies would be the place to look for more reasonably priced land, (reasonable being relative), but there are a lot of areas with water issues.
For your wife's job, Billings hands down has the major medical facilities in the state.


So with that in mind, go to the map of Montana, draw a circle about 60 miles out from the center, (Billings), and start looking. There is a lot of very productive farm land in that area, lot of divergent climates and quality of land as well, but it's a place to start.

Just be aware that agriculture is a hard way to make a living unless you find a niche market for something that is hard to get.

For instance, in the Northwest corner of the state, one of the cash crops is Mint, and they do very well.

Traditional wheat farming/ranching needs lots of space if you are going to do it and make a living.

Good Luck.
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Old 02-27-2014, 06:10 PM
 
4,746 posts, read 4,027,528 times
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Montana does not really lend itself to this. In order to make money you need be near a large population center for customers be they individuals or restaurants. The land prices in Montana are not production related.

There are a few operations that might be similar to what you propose.
Outside of Bozeman is a dairy goat farm that is making and selling artisan goat cheeses. The cheese is sold online year round.
There is a solid meat section at the farmers market in Missoula with a number of producers. Other communities ha e summer Saturday farmers markets.
In Montana there are Hutterite colonies and Amish communities which produce pro, chickens, Turkey's, eggs and assorted produce.
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Old 02-28-2014, 01:57 PM
 
Location: Black Hawk, CO
6 posts, read 8,872 times
Reputation: 15
Wow, thank you guys.

I do want to go big however for a square mile of working land I imagine its pretty big money, even on the eastern side of the state. I wonder how hard it is to find financing for that. I'm very open to producing what would sell and am not tied to any single crop however I do really want back into cattle in some manner. So the dry land areas can really tie up to 40 acres per head? What a different world than I'm used to. NY could produce at least 3 cuttings a year WITH the cows pasturing on it.
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Old 02-28-2014, 02:24 PM
 
Location: Where the mountains touch the sky
4,915 posts, read 5,801,396 times
Reputation: 8305
Very different land. Some dryland areas you will only get one cutting per year, sometimes 2 if you grow alfalfa.
40 acres is the upper end for the really dry areas, but not uncommon. It isn't hard to have a small herd of say 10 cow calf pairs on a smaller piece, but you will probably need irrigation for your hay ground.

Got to remember, in Montana a square mile is basically a usable homesite. When the homesteaders came here it was common to hear that the 160 acre quarter section was "too small to live on, too big to die on" which is why usually the man would file on a quarter section, the wife on another quarter secttion, grandma and grandpa, and any kids old enough in a block to get enough ground to grow enough to live on.
In the later years of the homesteadders, you could file on a second "tree" section where you had to plant so many trees in order to prove up.

Each homestead had to have an 8x12 cabin as part of the proving up phase. As it didn't specify the unit of measure, some homesteads had a cabin 8 inches by 12 inches to prove up.

The soil isn't as deep as New York, the climate is much drier, the winters are long, it isn't an easy place to live if you are trying to make a living off the land.

IF you can find some kind of specialty product, smaller places can do OK.

Maybe you could raise Yaks. Others do that here. The wool is really valuable, and you can eat them and milk them, but they don't need nearly the acreage or care of normal beef cattle.

Angora goats, Alpacas, there are several animals with high value products that require much less land than a standard beef cow.

Just an idea.
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Old 02-28-2014, 02:33 PM
 
Location: Black Hawk, CO
6 posts, read 8,872 times
Reputation: 15
I currently have alpacas. The market for them is in shambles and the national organization for them doesn't have a direction to go. I'm very frustrated with exotics in general and would only keep a few llamas because I just enjoy them. I've considered sheep as well but again I feel I would need substantial land to make that work plus I have little experience with them.

That's pretty funny about the 8x12 inch cabins. I love history!

I'll be honest, its pretty intimidating to push ahead to a large operation with a huge bank note more or less sight unseen. I know where I want to be eventually, I guess I just need to find a way.

What is your background that you know so much about calf operations? I was thinking a smaller registered calf operation with some other cash crop to help with costs. Sounds like too much equipment? If I had some wheat or barley growing, are there not traveling harvesters to take up that aspect of the crop or does that pretty much take any profit out of it?
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Old 02-28-2014, 02:52 PM
 
4,746 posts, read 4,027,528 times
Reputation: 9942
40 acres per mother cow might be a tad optimistic for some dryland. There is always some for sale in the $1,000-2,000 acre, if over a section.

It is sometimes possible to buy good eastern Montana pasture (grass & cake country) for $3,000-3,500 per acre if buying a section (640acres) or more. It is not easy to find though. That price would be without any buildings.

You might find farm land for sale in the area south of Billings---Belfry, Fromberg, Bridger. It has the longer growing season of Southeastern Montana and is near-ish to Billings. The only trouble is the swanky restaurant /resort type potential clients are not in Billings.

There may be potential in the area of organic agriculture that could offset the economies of scale. Or perhaps producing some sort of seed could work. Otherwise the cost of production is going to make it near impossible to realize a profit.
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Old 02-28-2014, 03:24 PM
 
Location: Where the mountains touch the sky
4,915 posts, read 5,801,396 times
Reputation: 8305
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blackdiamond72 View Post
I currently have alpacas. The market for them is in shambles and the national organization for them doesn't have a direction to go. I'm very frustrated with exotics in general and would only keep a few llamas because I just enjoy them. I've considered sheep as well but again I feel I would need substantial land to make that work plus I have little experience with them.

That's pretty funny about the 8x12 inch cabins. I love history!

I'll be honest, its pretty intimidating to push ahead to a large operation with a huge bank note more or less sight unseen. I know where I want to be eventually, I guess I just need to find a way.

What is your background that you know so much about calf operations? I was thinking a smaller registered calf operation with some other cash crop to help with costs. Sounds like too much equipment? If I had some wheat or barley growing, are there not traveling harvesters to take up that aspect of the crop or does that pretty much take any profit out of it?
I was raised on a ranch, 5th generation in Montana from a ranching pioneer family, I worked in the industry for all my life and still have some limited operations where we raise Scottish Highlander cattle. Again, a specialty breed that because of their low fat and cholesterol content are perfect for people with heart disease or cancers or other medical issues, plus the meat is fantastic

We sell custom butchered meat that is processed in an inspected facility to individuals as Scotty calves don't do well through the sales ring. Their long hair and horns don't do well in feedlots.

Registered operations can be lucrative, but you have to establish a name for yourself for your product through winning shows and then have prize winning bulls for sale or semen sales. Buying your base stock would be a huge investment to start out with, but then producing top of the line stock is a very demanding profession.

You may want to look at some of the exotics like Dexters that are small cattle, cows rarely weigh over 750 lbs, or something like the Scotties that have a very strong niche but don't require as much land, care or handling as standard cattle like Black Angus.

One market that shows promise is heritage stock for Pigs, Cattle, Horses, Turkeys and Chickens. Old breeds that are more disease resistant than production stock, usually don't require the land or care of modern stock, and the novelty factor is big too.

Modern farming usually has 4 or 5 main breeds they work with. For instance, cattle usually are restricted to Angus, Hereford, Charolais, and crosses because those are the breeds that do well in feedlots to put on a lot of weight fast for higher sale value.

Hogs are usually Duroc, Hampshire or Yorkshires because they do really well in factory farms.

Heritage breeds like the Scottish Highlander cattle or Mule Foot pigs usually don't do well on processed feed, but do magnificently on marginal pasture or from eating scraps.
They don't have the marbling or cholesterol of production meats, but take longer to grow. I find the flavor of heritage meats is much better, but drier than production stuff.

Instead of the manufactured breed of White turkey, you could try the Bourbon Red or the Royal Palm which will breed naturally unlike the production whites.

This is a pretty good link so you can see the breeds I am talking about:
The Livestock Conservancy

Selling heritage meat to organic stores or breeding stock to homesteadders like yourself may be a way to find your way to your dream
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Old 03-03-2014, 03:11 PM
 
30 posts, read 39,045 times
Reputation: 10
Just some thoughts from an Eastern MT cattle rancher.
We do have all weather roads, snow plowed and maintained. Weather permitting.
Towns have good schools, groceries, supplies, most everything you will need. Maybe will have a half days travel to get medical, stuff like that. School bus rides can get long for the kids.

We DO have a lot of real nice modern conveniences.

I recommend you read the book.

"Bad Land" by Jonathan Raban. Whatever we do here, we are NOT going to change the weather.
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Old 03-07-2014, 07:58 AM
 
Location: Brendansport, Sagitta IV
7,543 posts, read 12,604,319 times
Reputation: 2954
Quote:
Originally Posted by SageCreek View Post
Whatever we do here, we are NOT going to change the weather.
<envisions a gaggle of yuppies staging a protest, demanding better weather>

Howdy! where in north-central? I've got relatives that farm around Carter and Loma. It's actually my favorite part of the state.
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