The success of a forage-livestock system is often viewed from an economic standpoint. As with all systems, there are many variables affecting the economic success and these variables are found throughout the entire project. Without a careful look at the economics of the system a manager is doomed. The careful look requires notes, records, and specific planning. Often times, successful forage-livestock production is difficult because the manager has a great deal of experience with only one of the three components. They may be very familiar with livestock requirements or with hay or silage production. Few are well-versed in plant, animal, and soil maintainance. So careful planning and record-keeping will serve the manager well.

Usually the general goal is to produce the best forage to support high productivity in livestock whether it is meat, milk, or leather/wool and doing so with the least possible inputs because inputs require time, labor, and money. But since weather changes and markets rise and fall, there is no magic formula. A good understanding of the basic principles of forage-livestock operations will include a knowledge of what each of the variables costs and where costs can and should not be reduced. The operation can be viewed as a web of interconnected parts and activities. Operators must choose to maximize production with substanial inputs or reduce inputs and have less than optimal production. A year that requires $60,000 of inputs (fertilizer, labor, transportation) to produce $100,000 of product is not as wise a spending $35,000 to make $85,000. This is especially so when the inputs are not a part of sustainability and will be required each year for maximum production.

Generally, the following points are econimically wise:

  • Good establishment of pastures pays off in the long run.
  • Produce a diversity of plants and products.
  • Select the species carefully.
  • Make gradual changes.
  • Develop skills and knowledge in plant, animal, and soil science.
  • Utilizing extensive cycling
  • Be flexible and observant.
  • Use an enterprise budget

Enterprise budgets are tools that represent the cosets and profits for a specific crop or livestock operation within a total system. They are available through extension offices.