Dottie Overland’s pigs get larger every day, but her family may never get a chance to eat them.
With the cost of farm feed rising to unprecedented levels, buying feed for 10 pigs has become prohibitively expensive for Overland. “Our intention was to grow them for us. We were going to butcher them ourselves,” she told The Epoch Times. “It’s disappointing.”
Overland, a Georgia resident, raises pigs and chickens to eat and sell. But after feed prices rose by nearly a fourth, she’s considered selling her pigs before they grow up.
But she isn’t making this decision without a fight, she said. To dodge rising feed costs, Overland now feeds her pigs on grasses and day-old grocery store bread. She plans to ferment the feed she buys now so it will be more nutritious and stretch further. It’s not ideal, but it keeps the animals fed for now.
“It’s like junk food,” she said. “But pigs do OK on that kind of thing.”
Under normal circumstances, these foods are usually only a little less expensive than pig feed, but right now, they’re more of a bargain than usual.
The livestock industry is already a business in which farmers often lose money when they sell animals, but 2021’s rising prices on feed make the work of farmers a lot harder.
Filling the Trough
Overland’s problems are overshadowed by the animal feed problems faced by large-scale livestock producers. Abigail Banks is the co-owner of Georgia’s Goat Farm Road. On that farm, she cares for around 300 animals—goats, sheep, and rabbits.
“This year has been one of the hardest years for us,” she told The Epoch Times. “Our feed barn is usually slammed full, it’s now probably not even half full right now.”
Her business functions on a simple equation. Selling animals makes money; raising animals takes money.
Every day, the livestock at Goat Farm Road consumes about 125 pounds of food, Banks estimated. It makes them grow, increase in numbers, and become more valuable. If it stops, they weaken, sicken, and die quickly.
“They kind of go downhill, they will get sickly if they don’t eat enough,” she said. “You will notice in less than a day or two that they’ve lost weight.
Right now, the feed Banks uses costs between $13 and $28 per bag, she said. It used to cost between $9.45 and $18 per bag.
“We have to buy everything by the ton-load,” she said.
Banks said the rise in feed costs started not long after President Joe Biden took office, but she wasn’t sure why.
Although the rising prices of feed have made things difficult for farmers, in 2021, the government offered about $28 billion in pandemic aid. But when the aid ends in 2022, farmers will lose nearly a fifth of their income.
People like eating goats during the winter, Banks said. But during the summer, selling them can be a loss.
“At certain times of the year, you can sell these animals for a good price. And there’s also times of year where if you sell them, you’re not going to be getting as much as you hoped for,” she said.
One way Banks has responded to rising prices is by not feeding grain to goats without kids. In some ways, raising goats is emotionally taxing, she said. Nurturing animals destined for slaughter is a strange feeling, she said.
“I try not to think about it, because I’ve sold two billies that I’ve raised on the bottle, and I sent them to slaughter,” she said.
According to Alesia Stewart, owner of the Feed Store and More in Texas, the rising prices come mainly from shipping fees.
“Whenever I get oats, they’ve been $2 to $3 more a bag when I received them, and it’s all because of the freight,” she told The Epoch Times. “All my feed has went up to anywhere from $2 to $3.”
Stewart added that her suppliers blame truck driver shortages for the supply difficulties.
Although she runs a feed store, Stewart said she’s affected less by rising feed costs than livestock farmers are.
“We haven’t really suffered that bad, because people still want to feed their animals,” she said.
When animal feed gets expensive, commercial farmers have few options, said Joel Greeno, president of Family Farm Defenders, a farming activism group.
First, farmers can give animals less food, but this measure is temporary, he said. A dairy cow can only go without food for two days before it stops producing milk.
Farmers must quickly decide whether to sell animals for money now or feed them and hope they’ll be profitable later.
“If you need to feed your cattle, you have to buy feed or you don’t have cattle anymore,” Greeno told The Epoch Times.
The livestock farmer’s dilemma grows even more complex after the first glance. For many of them, their current herd of animals is a future livelihood that’s too expensive to support in the present because of feed. Some farmers are in debt and have little credit left for taking out loans, he said.
When already-indebted farmers find feed unaffordable, their creditors often don’t know what to do, Greeno said. He recalled one creditor asking people at a U.S. Department of Agriculture meeting for advice on whether to keep lending money to a farmer who owed $100,000 in feed bills already.
“It’s a double-edged sword, because she knows that if she cuts the farmer off, she’ll never get the $100,000, but she also knows that if he’s already $100,000 behind, the picture’s pretty bad already,” he said.
Greeno blamed livestock troubles on the meatpacking industry. Farmers have to take whatever prices the meatpacking industry’s major producers offer.
He argued that major meat companies make immense amounts of money by using monopolistic market control to buy meat from farmers at prices far below the market price of meat.
“It’s a very dangerous and detrimental plan for rural America and our food farm system,” Greeno said. “They’re seeing record profits. And it’s all at the expense of farmers and consumers.”