Stacking enterprises makes farms more profitable and efficient

North Dakota farmer, Gabe Brown says stacking complimentary farm enterprises has changed his operation and now he is always on the hunt for ways to add value. Photo: Courtesy of Gabe Brown

By Jennifer Paige
OrganicBiz staff

Puppies from the stock dogs and flower arrangements from cover crops — those are just a couple of the unconventional revenue sources Gabe Brown has found on his operation.

You might think there’s no way that could add up to real dollars, but when he told attendees at a recent grazing club meeting in Lenore just how much it was, there were more than a few surprised chuckles.

“Last year we made $14,000 from selling pups,” Brown said. “There is a real demand for them so why not?”

We have so much diversity in our operation, we are going to make money regardless. – Gabe Brown

Brown says stacking enterprises that build off of each other’s production systems and provide independent but complimentary income streams has transformed his operation near Bismarck, North Dakota.

“Everything on our operation has to have the ability to generate a profit,” he said. “For every acre, we have added an extra $220 in value by stacking enterprises.”

Same overhead, more income

The idea is to seek out new ways to add new ventures to existing operations with minimal added cost, land requirement or labour.

For example, adding laying hens to a beef operation. Hens don’t necessarily require extra space, as they are able to follow cattle through existing grazing rotations.

“My son, Paul uses egg mobiles and right now he has about 750 layers,” said Brown. ‘We pull those around about three days after the grass-finished cattle.”

Brown says for every one of the 5,000 acres of his ranch he produces 84 pounds of beef, 12 pounds of lamb, nine pounds of pork and nine pounds of honey as well as broilers and eggs.

He has also established a 600-tree nut orchard, sells cover crop seed mixes and animal feed and has a business arrangement with local apiaries for the use of his cover crop pastures for pollination.

“You’ve always got to be thinking of ways to generate dollars and we found on our operation the way to really generate profit is to take the waste stream from one enterprise to fuel the profit in another,” Brown said.

Brown says having multiple enterprises on the go is leveraging and has relieved him from keeping such a close eye on commodity prices.

“Now, it doesn’t matter that one commodity is up, one is down, one species of livestock is up, one is down,” he said. “It just doesn’t matter because we have so much diversity in our operation, we are going to make money regardless.”

A number of Brown’s enterprises have come as trial and error but he also watches trends and a big part of his success comes from being unafraid to create a market.

“Sometimes you’ve got to make your own market,” he said. “Right now the grass-fed beef, lamb and the all-natural, no GMOs is really trending. Do you want to be at the forefront of that or do you want to wait until everyone else is doing it? Of course, guys need to follow what they are interested in. Think about if it makes sense in your operation and then why not?”

Labour requirements

If you are looking to bring new family members into your operation, stacking enterprises can give you the ability to expand operations on the same land base. That needn’t just stop with family either.

“We really need our generation to help the next generation get started,” Brown said. “Form partnerships with those young people in your communities and get them out onto your land. It will benefit the both of you.”

If you’re looking outside the family for help, Brown says not to discount any of your options, even if applicants may not be from rural roots.

“Have an open mind. We had 80 applicants for interns. The vast majority were from urban areas. In fact, four of the five interns we hired were from urban areas. Their minds are open, they are willing to learn and they are eager. Don’t shut them out just because they didn’t grow up on a farm. I didn’t grow up on a farm,” said Brown.