A little over eight years ago, my wife and I moved from an old, large farmhouse to our current, modestly built ranch home in Small Town, U.S.A. The difference in abode size called for some heavy culling. A quarter century of keeping stuff around “just in case” exacerbated the premoving ritual. As I get older, I find my thought process to stockpile items is becoming less of a problem because my future just-in-case timeframe is shrinking.

I don’t believe the mindset to keep things around is necessarily a bad characteristic; in fact, it’s human nature. Of course, never tossing anything can be a problem. Even the Mayo Clinic has a webpage on what they term “hoarding disorder.” People who suffer from such a malady experience significant distress at the thought of getting rid of anything, even if the item has no redeeming value or use. A few of these individuals have become reality television stars, making money to buy even more stuff to not throw away.

Mike Rankin

It’s one thing to have to sift through your own possessions, but I’m sure many readers have been put in the position of sorting through a house or farm belonging to a departed loved one. This exercise will often temper your own saving mindset, especially if that loved one possessed no just-in-case throttle to lower the SPMs, or saves per minute.

A house and garage are bad enough in offering ample storage space, but extending the playing field to a farmstead and the surrounding acreage brings just-in-case available capacity to a whole new level. We’ve all seen farm shops and backfields that look like Amazon distribution centers or salvage yards, housing a past generation’s worth of parts and machinery — just in case. Of course, it all seems worth it when you break down on a Sunday afternoon and find the needed fix in an old box or amongst the overgrown weeds.

Even with the aesthetic degradation that sometimes comes with indiscriminate saving, the merits of keeping old stuff around ad nauseam is still preferred by many farm owners. The purpose here is not to judge one way or another. That said, there is one thing that every livestock farm should strive to hoard.

I once visited a custom forage harvester who had six self-propelled choppers. He only ran five crews, so I asked what the sixth chopper was for. His response was, “That’s an extra in case one breaks down.” His parts inventory simply included a functional machine — just in case.

I’m not suggesting that everyone keep an extra chopper or baler in case of a breakdown, although it certainly would be a mind-calming luxury. Rather, I’m advocating for livestock feeders to keep a bloated forage inventory — having a reasonable amount of extra forage that will get you through the tough times caused by extreme weather or economic downturns. These days, it’s more important and easier than ever to be a forage hoarder.

Not too many years ago, farmers filled their available upright silos with silage and barns with hay, and that got them through until the next season with little to spare. A wet or dry growing season often meant buying more feed, if you could find or afford it, or culling cows. Many farmers still operate with this mindset, although many others have rethought that strategy.

I recall talking to one Arkansas cow-calf producer who had been making baleage for about 10 years. I asked him what prompted the baleage move, given that his grazing strategies were already sound and supplied the vast majority of his feed in a given year. He replied, “The drought years of 2011 and 2012 nearly killed us. I swore I would never go through something like that again. Yes, we have way more baleage on hand than we need in most years, but I can guarantee we’re going to need it someday.”

Extreme weather has become the norm. It may not impact the same region every year, but no area is immune, and no insurance coverage will cover your total feed or pasture forage losses. Extra forage inventory, now more than ever, is worth its weight in gold.

Fortunately, extra forage that is harvested dry or ensiled is a stable product when stored properly. It’s “money in the bank,” as the old saying goes. With the advancement of storage practices such as baleage, silage bags, horizontal pile silos, net wrap, and denser round bales, effective forage storage options are plentiful. It may take several years to build inventory well beyond a single season, but doing so is a worthy goal — just in case. •

Happy foraging,

This article appeared in the January 2024 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 4.

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