Cato – Duties of the Owner

“The appetite of the good farmer is to sell, not to buy.” Marcus Porcius Cato

Let’s get back to Cato’s thoughts on Farm Management. As the title indicates, here is his outline of the basic duties of the land/farm owner.

  1. Upon arrival at your country house and have saluted your household, you should make the rounds of the farm the same day if possible. Certainly the next day.
  2. Observe how the field work has progressed and what things have been done, and what remains undone,
  3. You should summon your overseer the next day and should call for a report of what work has been done in good season and why it has not been possible to complete the rest, and what wine and corn and other crops have been gathered.
  4. When you are advised on these points you should make your own calculation of the time necessary for the work, if there does not appear to you to have been enough accomplished. The overseer will report that he himself has worked diligently, but that some slaves have been sick and others truant, the weather has been bad, and that it has been necessary to work the public roads.
  5. When he has given these and many other excuses, you should recall to his attention the program of work which you had laid out for him on your last visit and compare it with the results attained. If the weather has been bad, count how many stormy days there have been, and rehearse what work could have been done despite the rain, such as washing and and pitching the wine vats, cleaning out the barns, sorting the grain, hauling out and composting manure, cleaning seed, mending the old gear and making new, mending the smocks and hoods furnished for the hands. On feast days the old ditches should be mended, the public roads worked, briers cut down, the garden dug, the meadow cleaned, the hedges trimmed and clippings collected and burned, the fish pond cleaned out. On such days, furthermore, the slaves’ rations would be cut down as compared with what is allowed when they are working in the fields in fine weather.
  6. When this routine has been discussed quietly and with good humor and is thoroughly understood by the overseer, you should give orders for the completion of the work which has been neglected.
  7. The accounts of money, supplies, and provision should then be considered. Inventory and sales should be settled.
  8. If any thing is needed for the coming year, it should be bought; every things which is not needed should be sold. Whatever there is for lease should be leased.
  9. Orders should be given (and take care that they are in writing) for all work which next it is desired to have done on the farm or let to contract.
  10. You should go over the cattle and determine what is to be sold. You should sell the oil, if you can get your price, the surplus wine and corn, the old cattle, the worn out oxen, the cull sheep, the wool and the hides, the old and sick slaves, and if any thing else is superfluous you should sell that.
  11. Be a good neighbor.