2, 11, 11

Yesterday on her blog, Northview Dairy, Three Collies had a link to another blog where they talked about Ethanol. I read it and typed out a longer reply and then when I clicked the button to post it, I must have pushed the wrong button or something. Anyway, I thought I’d “air my paunch” here a bit about it.

Seems some are concerned that we are taking something that is mostly used for food and turning it into something we burn as fuel.

From all the studies I have read, ethanol is a bust. The only reason it is working is because the government is underwriting it to the tune of at least 75 cents a gallon on up, depending on who’s figures you use. The price of corn has risen quite a bit and the worry is the the cost of food will rise with it, as corn is used in so many products anymore and also is used to fatten cattle and pigs and chickens.

Seems to me that in the past, whenever something becomes scarce and costly, some enterprising people find substitutes for it. Just like they substituted corn syrup for sugar in many different types of foods. Just as they substituted coal for wood, when wood became scarce at the start of the industrial revolution. Etc..

Here on this ranch, we traditionally only fed corn when we had bad winters and dry summers. When I was a kid Dad would bed cows down in hay and that is what they needed and got. They wasted a lot of it, but he put up a lot of hay for winter feed. No grain. When we were short on winter feed because of drought we would buy ear corn to fed to the cows, to give them some more energy and make up for less hay they received every day, just like almost every other rancher in this area. Then it became popular to feed cow cubes which were processed grain and by products that had been made from excess cheap grains. All except for corn, as it wouldn’t stick together in the form of a cube, too well. Dad didn’t like them as he thought there was too much waste.

As I took over, I weighed the price of the feed against the contents and what you got out of it and did feed several different types and forms of cubes over the year. And then there was Loomix, which was a syrup made from the left overs of sugar beets, if I remember right. It was touted as a way to stretch your grass and give the cattle more bang for the buck, in drought years. The guy delivered it and put it in a container with wooden wheels exposed. the cattle licked the wheels to get the product, with the idea being that they would get tired or bored after awhile so they would not eat too much of it. A way to control the consumption. Seems like some cows had brown faces and some didn’t so you could pretty much tell which were eating the most and the least. This was on a range situation and the idea was to just put it out and not have to mess with it every day like when you fed in the winter. Results varied.

Now we have lick tanks, lick blocks and lots of other assorted ways and means to supplement cattle on pasture and also while under hand feeding, or as in everyday feeding something to cattle.

Every year I look at all the different types and the cost of each and what the protein and fat levels are, so as to see what is the cheapest and most beneficial to the cattle in the winter.

And I always end up feeding the same thing, as it is the cheapest and easiest with the most bang for my buck. Extruded soybeans. Soybeans that have been put through a large screw system, which breaks the beans down and puts them through a slight heat which helps to make them more digestible. The product runs about 40% protein and 12% fat. Costs a lot per ton, but a small amount does a lot of good. Kind of like the difference between steak and jerky. I get it locally and mix salt with it to limit the cattle from eating too much. If I have something I am trying to fatten up, as I am now, with some older thinner cows in the corral, which I feed in a feed bunk with a bucket of grain, I limit the amount they feed by only giving them a certain amount and scattering it out over a large enough distance that each cow gets her fair share. But with the cattle in the pasture, I mix the salt and don’t have to worry about one hogging all the feed.

Anyway, long story short, I will continue to use this product until another comes along that is cheaper or better or both. Same with corn ethanol.

When/if corn gets to high to be economical to be used as feed, someone will find something else.

But when the government sticks it’s finger in the water by paying something for nothing, so to speak, it sends ripples out that we have no idea where they will end up or what it will cause. In trying to help one person or group, it will cause grief to others. Always has, always will. Bottom line to my way of thinking, if ethanol is a good thing, why does the government have to pay companies to produce it?

But don’t worry about corn and the price. Like all things sold and used by mankind, eventually when it become too high to use as food or fuel, somebody will find a better, cheaper source.

There are quite a few in the cattle business who are finding out it might be cheaper and more effective to fatten cattle on grass and forages. Like the old timers did. And the cycle continues.

8 thoughts on “2, 11, 11

  1. Well thought out response. You are probably right. Dairy farmers and beef growers are already using distillers grains from ethanol production and everyone is emphasizing increasing the forage in their rations. We have done so as well, and simply stretch the grain for more days and fill them up with haylage. Nobody more inventive than the American farmer

  2. Great post. I live here in Washington state, and have a few cows. Lucky enough to have lots of grass. We put out lick as a supplement. Checked the lable, it’s made in Belle Fourche. Small world. Allen

  3. I like the way you think!

    Using corn for fuel is such an emotional issue for so many that it seems outright lies or complete omission of certain facts is de rigueur. I read a post at another blogger’s site the other day that was itemizing the costs of using corn. It seems to me in most of these cases it is assumed that the corn is completely used up because they neglect to include the revenue from the leavings! When I see that, I tend to doubt the rest of the figures and even their motives. If they have to lie to promote their agenda, why would I believe them?

    My main concerns with the issue is two-fold. One – the whole procedure is an energy sink. The idea is to wean us off foreign oil, but it takes more energy to produce than we gain. The only way this could work to our advantage would be if grain production was able to use – say, nuclear energy. But, we can’t. All our production requires petroleum burning equipment from the tractors to farm the ground, combines to harvest, trucks and trains to haul it and even ships to export. Completely dependent on oil.

    To mask this, the government got involved with subsidies. That’s my second objection. If the process were a surefire winner, why do we need to use taxpayer dollars to fund it? The industrial process is being refined and improved but I cannot see it ever achieving true energy production, where more is gained than put in. That is the logical argument, but most of the opposition seems to be trying to pin emotional memes to the issue – Oh My God We’re All Gonna Starve Because You Know We All Eat Dent Corn Each And Every Day. The fact is that after alcohol is removed from corn there is a nutrient loss – but dent corn cannot be utilized as food without some sort of processing in the first place. If it could be fed as a whole grain in a successful cattle operation, then feedlots everywhere would quit milling and steam flaking to make a corn product for feed. It’s just not as digestible whole! Plus, sweetener production ends up with leftovers as cattle feed as well. So, a true cost analysis would take all of these things into account, but they never do.

    But try to explain this to a rabid foodie.

    Just because the markets are going nuts doesn’t mean the supply/demand equation is causing it – which seems to be the main argument. If the price of corn is rising, well, then it must mean there is less of it. But that is rarely true in the grain markets because prices really function on the whims of nervous traders around the world. And our government, any other government, the large grain traders, and anyone else with a thumb in the pie try to influence the market for their personal gains. Think crop reports, for instance. Actual supply and demand as the major influence? How naive do you have to be? Think about the Dutch tulip market bubble crash. Prices had nothing to do with actual supply.

    So, yeah, I’d like to see the .gov out of the ethanol business. But, in the meantime, I don’t see it as the end of our world nor will we be starving the hungry around the world, either, mostly because that is a specious argument based on very doubtful evidence.

    Anyways, that’s the way I see it.

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