Small scale farmers–especially those getting started–usually buy feed by the bag. Throw a few bags in the back of truck and you’re good to go. That’s fine when you’re feeding a dozen chickens or two goats, but when you start getting into greater numbers of animals–especially dairy cows–it’s not a good plan.
First, you’re going to lose lots of money buying in 50 lb. increments. For example, here in NC, whole corn is selling for about $11.00 per 50 lb. at Tractor Supply. I can get it from a friend for $9.00 per 50 lb. However, I can buy it from the mill for only $7.50 per 50 lb. if I buy 3 tons. Now, let’s do a little math. 3 tons is 120 x 50 lb. bags. So, I can get 120 bags of corn for $900. That would only get me 82 bags from Tractor Supply. My friend can’t sell me more than 40, so there’s no use talking about that. If I only want 4o bags (1 ton), he’s probably a good deal…and the money goes to a friend. However, If I’m going to use more than 1 ton, buying in bulk is going to save me lots of money down the road.
Second, the savings increase over time. So, if you bought 3 tons per year for 10 years, assuming were relatively unchanged, your savings would continue to multiply. That’s how businessmen think, but most small-scale farmers aren’t good businessmen.
Now, if you’re going to buy in bulk, you’ll save even more if you have a place to store grain direct from the farms. The smart grain farmers save their own grains on their farm and wait for prices to go up before they sell. To sell their grains, they often have to drive a ways to the mills which adds to their expenses and reduces their profits, so if you’re willing to give them a good price and are closer to them, they’ll gladly sell to you. You can have a grain truck come from the farm and pump corn or wheat right into your grain bins.
That is, if you have grain bins.
A grain bin is a large metal tank (see picture), between 6 and 9 feet in diameter that stores grain. The top of the bin opens and a grain truck can pump the grains right in. The bottom of the bin has a dispenser that allows you to either (a) fill buckets, barrels or wheelbarrows by hand, or (b) connect the bin to an auger that can pump the grain from your bin into a building or anywhere you’d like.
The grain bin you would probably be interested in are only 6′ in diameter. Then, they vary in height–that’s what determines how much your bin canhold. The good news is that the height is determined by how many rings are set on top of the base of the bin and you can add rings at any time. So, you can begin with a 6′ wide bin with the minimum height (say 10′) and, if in a few years, you want to add more volume to your bin…just add a ring. If you look at the picture on the right, you can see where the first ladder ends–that’s the end of the standard bin. Above that you have a second ring, which also adds a section of ladder. So, you don’t have to take a gamble on a too-big bin today and you don’t have to suffer with a too-small bin tomorrow. Your bin can grow with you.
Here in NC, I can buy a grain bin capable of holding 3 tons for $1650–and that includes delivery and installation. A 4 ton bin will cost $1815. Yes, I know, the penny-pinching farmer will have chest pains to see that four-figure number, but he simply chooses to invest that money in Tractor Supply over the years instead of investing it in his own on-farm grain bins. Note: The successful farmers around you will all be found to have grain bins and not Tractor Supply accounts.
If you’re looking for something smaller, I’ve also seen from Sioux Steel company a smaller set of bins that hold 40 and 65 bags’ worth of grains. You can check them out here: http://www.siouxsteel.com/index.php/products/category/feed-bins/. That would make life more convenient for you, but you’d have to find out if anyone would be willing to haul a smaller quantity of grain to your farm. As their profit decreases, their interest in helping you will also decrease. This is business, remember, not charity.
So, if you’re buying a hefty quantity of grain, it’s worth looking into grain bins. You have to crunch your own numbers, but investing in a grain bin can benefit your small farm if your numbers line up right.