All posts by tannachtonfarm

A 13- year homeschooling mom (youngest graduated in May 2015!) who is also a cattle and sheep farmer married to a cattle farmer. My three children and I enjoy traveling and spending time with family and friends. While this blog will chronicle our journey of Faith, Family, and Farm, opinionated articles on frugal living, traveling, recipes, and homeschooling experiences may be found sprinkled throughout!

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.

Challenges or Opportunities

Oftentimes, we view challenges as mountains to overcome, but sometimes, those challenges are opportunities to diversify or force us to find the holes in our operations, the ‘dead wood’ as Stan Parson would call it.

I’ve penciled feeding hay vs grazing only. And even though feeding hay – even cheap hay and high calf prices – it is seldom (actually never) the path to take. Yet, i’ve taken it and been exhausted by mid-winter feeding hay! Now that i’m older, i must – forced, if you will — eliminate that practice. This year is tough – we are in a drought, so eliminating hay this year with little winter stockpile forage growth means a deep culling of my cow herd.

As markets have changed from their high in 2014, I also must let go of my beautifully colored Corriente and Longhorn cows. They have been a joy, but i can no longer justify the current deep discount those crossbred calves bring at market. My cow herd after November 19, 2020 will be almost exclusively black or red Angus.

Going forward, i’ve rigidly utilized the clever alliteration from the Noble Research Institute Foundation to start with my culling selections.

Old, Ornery, or Open.

This should be used every year actually, but i’ve let too many cows slide (not the ornery ones – they go quickly) through the years and this year is the year to clean up and add value. This year’s cattle prices have a lot of pressure with low demand and anything a bit off is deeply discounted.

  1. Even if a cow has really nice calf at side but comes up open (not pregnant) she needs selling because she will be freeloading for another year at least once her calf at side is sold. Plus, if she has a heifer i keep as a replacement, those poor conception genetics stay in my herd. Gone and gone. This cow may be a perfect fit for a fall calving buyer or one with better forages.
This particular red cow is actually pregnant and raising a decent calf, however she is a bit thin and shouldn’t be this time of year, so she will be sold as a 3 in 1 (3 animals in 1 package). Her pregnancy is a calf, not a blob of cells. The spotted cow with her butt to the camera also has a very nice calf, but she is not pregnant as indicated by the chartreuse ear tag we gave her to make it easier to sort off, she’ll be sold as a pair.

2. If a cow was bred and lost her calf sometime during the year and is open or bred back, i sell her. If she doesn’t bring a coupon (calf), she becomes the coupon.

This beautiful Corriente cow has made a lot of money for me, but she lost her calf this spring. She is bred back, starting to slip in condition, and is extremely old. She may have a difficult time making it through our harsh winter this year, so she can go to someone who may have a more gentle program. She has, until this spring, raised a big good calf for me for 12 years – she was middle aged when i bought her 12 years ago. She actually even carried an ET bull calf and raised it nicely. It’s tempting to keep her and let her die on the ranch and if she had a heifer calf at side i would do that.

3. Ornery is self explanatory. I used the same black Angus bulls for 3 years and one or more of them developed really bad attitudes. By the third year, i’d had enough and when i got them loaded out of the breeding pasture, I called the sale barn owner and asked i could just bring them up (there was a sale that day). Sold them (weighed up – i sure didn’t want anyone else have this problem) and so glad, but despite selecting my heifers very carefully for disposition, over the course of a couple years, some of them have become cranky. Now, i’m going to say, i’m much pickier on attitude than some people. I have 3 generations to work through.

This heifer coming with her first calf is bred and nice shape – you can note the Corriente touch in her. However, she is only being sold because she has snorted at me a couple times – even in the pasture. She doesn’t come after me, but i won’t tolerate a cow that raises her head and runs off or snorts at me.

4. As i wrote above, I will sell all my fancy, colored, cows with chrome – all euphemisms for being spotted or off colored. At the market, the quality of the animal is irrelevant if it is spotted. To quickly add value to the remaining calf crop is to just take my beating now and sell those beautiful cows and be done. 😦

This beautiful first calf heifer bred back in my 45 day breeding season and is raising a fantastic calf, yet both will be heavily discounted at the sale. Nevertheless, my goal is to eliminate ‘fancy’ cattle from my herd. It’s hard to cull a fine heifer strictly on color. 😦 You can see some hay set out in a spaced bale feeding scheme for winter. This is to not only feed cows, but add organic matter and build humus to the soil of that practically barren hillside.

5. If any cow had difficulty maintaining good body condition through the summer, she will also be sold. Even if she is bred back and/or has a good calf at side – eventually, she will come open. Selling her now at her peak.

6. Any cow with a dink calf (smaller or rougher haired than the other calves of the peer group) she will be sold with her calf. Usually, this happens with old cows, so they will be sorted off anyway – it’s just another mark against her.

CaTO’s Farm Management – Farm Buying Tips

Okay, for a bit of old, interesting yet wise counsel, i’m going to share some bits from a reprinted book of 1910 translated by a Virginia Farmer from the Latin Eclogues from the De Re Rustica of M. Porcius Cato of Roman times.

The reprint is a tiny portion of the Eclogues and is entitled ‘Cato’s Farm Management‘ with an ISBN 978-1-330-56017-4. I think i purchased mine through Amazon, but can be found at Forgotten Books.

It is noted in the intro “Cato practised and taught intense cultivation, the use of leguminous plants for soil improvement, the importance of live stock in a system of general farming, and the effective preservation of manure.” Bearing in mind that Cato died 149 years before the Christian era.

This is the ‘new’ revelation and movement now coined as ‘regenerative farming’, with the same principles laid out over 2000 years ago. As the Scriptures say, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ Ecclesiastes 1:9.

Cato on Buying a Farm

  1. Give heed to the appearance of the neighborhood – a flourishing country should show its prosperity

2 Take care that you choose a good climate, not subject to destructive storms, and a soil that is naturally strong.

3) If possible, your farm should be at the foot of a mountain looking to the West, in a healthy situation, where labor and cattle can be had, well watered, near a good sized town, and either on the sea or navigable river, or else on a good and much frequented road.

4) Chose a place which has not often changed ownership, one which is sold unwillingly, that has buildings in good repair.

5) When you inspect the farm, look to see how many wine presses and storage vats there are; where there are none of these you can judge what the harvest is. On the other hand, it is not the number of farming implements, but what is done with them that counts. Where you find few tools, it is not an expensive farm to operate.

More to come!

Choice Hotels

Years ago, i decided to patronize Choice hotels and i’m seldom disappointed based on price -in other words – you get what you pay for. I quickly decided against Rodeway Inns after too many bad experiences, though there were a couple good ones. Econolodge, the same, with the exception of the one in Walnut, IA. Wow, i was impressed. On the upper end of the chain, there have never been any issues.

Downloading their app makes it super easy to search and book whilst on the road. A points program pays for a free night once in a while.

Having been a former travel consultant and being on a few FAMs and site inspects, i automatically have a critical eye to detail, yet i feel i can still give some wiggle room based on the location of the hotel and the price.

The only kicker i have with Choice Hotel properties is the breakfast which is included. They have the same level of quality or lack thereof so it is clear that individual properties have no choices in whether or not to use fresh products from local producers. This would be, in my opinion, a huge selling point for the hotel as well as provide a huge upgrade in tastiness and healthfulness with possible little to no price increase. Can you imagine coming down to a breakfast of eggs from pastured hens?! Or freshly made pastry and biscuits? With real butter, natural yoghurt, and real milk. Okay, most states won’t allow real milk.

Honestly, getting paid to do site inspects and making helpful suggestions might be a really fun thing to do. Maybe i need to see if there is such a job.

A few things i look for:

3) Dust should NOT be present anywhere in the room, including the ledge of the shower stall.

4) Toilet paper should always roll from over the top and have a fold in the end.
For goodness sakes, if you are going to paint, take down the wall hangings first – painting around is very noticeable and indicates a lack of care and consideration to guests.

Now, those are a few things, but others include:

1) an indication that someone sat on a made bed

2) of course a coffee maker, refrigerator, and microwave not cleaned and/or contain leftovers from a previous use. Yuck! Years ago, the boys and i stayed in another brand hotel in Kingsville, Texas and found a huge pastry (we think) in the microwave with half inch thick mold!!! Haven’t forgotten that experience.

None of these cost even a penny! Why not do it right?

I typically overlook wear and tear and focus more on cleanliness, comfort, and good repair unless the wear and tear can keep cleaning from being effective, Wear and tear is more present in smaller communities and less expensive properties where some upgrades simply can’t be afforded.

Treasures from Washington

Dallas and i went to Washington state a few falls ago and collected a few treasures from our hikes. Finally going to get around and try to stratify and start these chestnuts. Hope they aren’t too dry or old to sprout~

Shells, chestnuts, claws

ESSENTIALISM – RanCHING FOR PROFIT

Another excellent blog from Dallas Mount who now owns and operates Ranch Management Consultants aka Ranching for Profit. Although i’m most interested in the ranching bent to this business, many of the articles written by Dallas, Dave Pratt, former owner, and Stan Parsons, creator and former owner of Ranching for Profit are easily applied to any business or home life decision making.

You can spend money buying books or shelves or containers to declutter or you can save money by making better decisions. Starting with ‘do i really need this?’ then follow up by selling, giving away, recycling, upcycling, renovating, throwing away the stuff you haven’t used in ‘x’ amount of time. If you don’t do it now, it’s called hoarding and whatever value it might have will be lost to you and to whoever may be able to use the item to start a business or help their lives be better. Before you know it, 40, 50, 60 years have passed, and the item is obsolete and worthless. Now, that’s a waste and selfishness!

Essentialism

by Dallas Mount

closet

Each fall and winter our Executive Link meetings start with a continuing education program. We usually reach for something outside the ranching world that our members would not otherwise be exposed to. Often this is a book from business management circles. This fall our book is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. The book challenges us to think about all the things we do in our busyness. Then develop focus by cutting out the trivial and finding the essential.  

In agriculture it is easy to constantly pile on more to our already busy lives. When you step back to really analyze what makes the difference in your life or your business, there are really only a few things at the core of what you do and who you are, that matter. This is the essential. McKeown challenges the reader to think of the things in your life, like you would clothes in the closet. Often, we cull the closet by asking the question “Is there a chance I’ll wear this someday in the future?” When using that broad criterion, we end up with a closet full of Garth Brooks 90’s era neon colored Brush Poppers. McKeown suggests changing the question to “Do I absolutely love this?” allowing us to eliminate the clutter to create space for something better.

I often hear from ranchers that are too “busy” with the daily tasks on the ranch to come to a school, or work on their numbers. What they are saying is that they are too busy to find time to complete the high value work that will make the difference in their businesses long term success or failure. This is a perfect application of McKeown’s assertion that an Essentialist separates and focuses on the vital few from the trivial many.  

In ag, the unspoken culture tends to value work, misery and sacrifice over financial success and healthy work-life balance. I often hear stories being swapped where we are competing over who has the ranch that creates more misery and work then the next. We tend to wear it as a badge of honor, who has to work the longest hours in the harshest weather. Maybe it is long days in the hay field, calving in the winter or feeding our way through the ongoing drought. If you want to get uninvited to the coffee shop pity party ask the question, “Why do you choose to structure your business in a way that creates these challenges?” We need to find the courage to push back on this culture of unsustainable work, coupled with unrewarding results. 

If you want to dive in and examine the essential in your life, here are a few questions to get you started. Take 10 minutes, write down your answers and share them with your spouse or confidant. 

  • What if your business could only do one thing, what would it be?  
  • Where do your passions, purpose, and skill set align? 
  • What specific things will you eliminate to create time to focus on the essential few?

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