Tag Archives: management

Cato’s Land and Soil Management

More on Cato’s Farm Management from Forgotten Books. Remember, these are thoughts and teachings from the Cato the Elder circa 160 bc. He was not a good or kind person and purportedly treated his wife as poorly and with little difference than his slaves.

Later on, better management skills were implemented which can alleviate or even eliminate that eventual souring of the land. Sadly, those skills have been left in the dustbin of history and we now ‘farm the govt’ regardless that it is poor practice for leaving the land in good shape for subsequent generations. Very sad, but here we are.

Of Draining (the land)

Drain wet land with trough shaped ditches dug three feet wide at the surface and one foot at the bottom and four feet deep. Blind these ditches with rock. If you have no rock then fill them with green willow poles braced crosswise. If you have no poles, fill then with faggots. Then dig lateral trenches three feet deep and four feet wide in such way that the water will flow from the trenches into the ditches.

In winter surface water should be drained off the fields. Keep hillsides clear so water will run off and during rainy season, have the hands with picks and shovels, clear out the drains so water will flow off the land and into roads so crops are protected.

Of Preparing the Seed Bed

What is the first principle of good agriculture? To plow well. What is the second? To plow again; and the third is to manure. When you plow corn land, plow well and in good weather, let you turn a cloddy furrow. The other things of good agriculture are to sow good seed plentifully, to thin the young sprouts, and to hill up the roots with earth.

  1. Never plow rotten land nor drive flocks or carts across it. If care is not taken about this, the land so abused will be barren for three years.

Of Manure:

Plan to have a big compost heap and take the best of care of the manure. When it is hauled out see that is well rotted and spread. Autumn is the time to do this.

Fold your sheep on the land which you are about to seed and there feed them leaves.

Of Soil Improvement:

The things which are harmful to corn land are to plow the ground when it is rotten and to plant chick peas which are harvested with the straw and are salt. Barley, fenugreek, and pulse all exhaust corn land, as well as all other things which are harvested with the straw. Do not plant nut trees in the corn land. On the other hand, lupines, field beans, and vetch manure corn land.

Intentional Beef Producer

Robert Wells, Livestock Consultant with the Noble Research Institute offers his idea of 8 characteristics successful, intentional producers share.

For the full article go to: Do You Possess the 8 Characteristics of an Intentional Beef Producer? as published in the January 2020 issue of Noble News and Views.

To keep me focused, i like to reduce the lengthy description of characteristics to 8 bullet points.

  1. Understand the importance of recordkeeping. The key is to keep records that are meaningful and that you will use to make management decisions. Identify key production and economic metrics you can use to monitor your operation.
  2. Know animal nutrition management can make or break an operation. The feeding program can account for 40% to 60% of the total annual cost of maintaining a cow in most operations. Match the cow’s time of highest nutrient requirements – early lactation or around 2 months of calf age – to the time of year when the pastures supply the highest-quality and quantity forage of the year.
  3. Know when and how to market calves. Determine the type of animal you will sell and when you will sell it. No matter how large your outfit is, it can still benefit from selling in a market that has more cattle similar to yours.
  4. Have a defined outcome for the ranch breeding program. Make sure the calving season is as tight as possible, ideally 60 days or less. If you are a commercial producer, consider the value of heterosis and the advantages built into a well-defined and thought-out crossbreeding program. Identify which individuals which will help reach your goals.
  5. Have a comprehensive herd health program. Work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive vaccination and herd health program. If you do not have documentation, you cannot prove how your cattle were immunized.
  6. Optimize stocking rate and pasture management. Forages in various paddocks need appropriate rest periods. A cost effective grazing principle is to use standing dormant forages instead of hay during the dormant season.
  7. Develop a ranch management calendar. The management calendar should include the following dates: bull turn-in and pickup (hence subsequent calving dates), weaning and marketing dates, when to work calves for vaccinations, when to conduct breeding soundness evaluations (for bulls, cows, and heifers). Evaluate and plan the grazing program, knowing that changes will be necessary as the year progresses.
  8. Remain flexible. Above all else, an intentional producer will learn to be flexible, since so many variables are out of one’s control. Having a plan, working the plan, but pivoting as needed.

CATO – Duties of the Overseer

My part 3 of Marcus Porcius Cato, who died 149 BC and had great thoughts on establishing and running a successful farm or ranch as recorded in Forgotten Books.

Duties of Overseer:

  1. maintain discipline
  2. observe feast days
  3. respect the rights of others and uphold his own
  4. settle all quarrels/administer punishment
  5. make sure no one is in want to easily prevent picking and stealing

The overseer should not permit wrong-doing by others and show appreciation for courtesy. He should not be given to conviviality, but should always be sober. He should keep his hands busy and see that the master’s bidding is done and not think he knows more than the master. The master’s friends should be his friends and give heed to those whom the master has recommended. He should confine his religious practices to Sunday or to his own house.

Lend money to no man unbidden by the master, but what the master has lent he should collect. Never lend any seed reserved for sowing, feed, corn, wine, or oil, but should have relations with other farms to make exchanges in emergencies. His accounts should be discussed frequently with his master.

He should not keep any hired men or day hands longer than is necessary. He should not sell anything without the knowledge of the master nor conceal anything from the master.

He should have no hangers-on, nor consult any soothsayer, fortune teller, necromancer, or astrologer. He should not spare seed in sowing for that is bad economy. He should strive to be expert in all kinds of farm work, and, without exhausting himself, often lend a hand. He will better understand the work and sleep more refreshingly.

First up in the morning, he should be the last to go to bed at ngiths; and before he does, he should see that the farm gates are closed, and the each of the hands is in his own bed, that the stock have been fed. He should pay the highest compliments to the teamsters who keep their oxen in best condition. Make certain that plows and plow shares are kept in good repair, planning ample time for for farm work so nothing is done late.

During rainy times, find something to do rather than remain idle. Clean up.

“Remember that while work may stop, expenses still go on.”

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.

Chooks Peeking In

Daughter, Jessica, noticed a spider in the shower, so wanting to get ahead of the curve, i decided to move our Welsummer laying hens to around the house foundation.  Thankfully, we finally received some rain, so it was at least doable, though difficult still, to pull the electric fence posts out of the ground.

I move them near dusk so the ladies don’t drift too far from their roosting home and scatter.  I can take down the fence and move it, then about the time i’ve set up their new digs, they have filed inside according to their pecking order and i shut the solar electric pop door early and pull the wagon around.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Setting up the electric poultry netting not only continues to protect the hens from predators, but keeps the hens right where i want them.  In this case around the foundation to find bugs to eat.

The beauty of having chooks is they can turn over ripe cucumbers into delectable golden yoked eggs.

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My first go at making Chai tea was a disaster for us, but a bonus for my layers.  They loved it!!!

 

 

Land Considerations

As i get older, i’m more aware of how much time and hard work a piece of property can be.  Many years ago, my grandpa gave me a 160 acre piece of his land and i now realize that he was about my age now when he gave it.  I was much younger and was thrilled, but now i can see that he was probably tired of managing and fixing all its problems.  In fact, it is only about the east 80 acres of the farm i now have that incurs 80% of the work i do on the 520 acres i now own/manage.  (it is a sad reflection of our time that in north Missouri that is no where near enough property to make a living on).  At the same time, it’s the corner of that piece that is the best for working and loading out livestock.  (interestingly, my daughter, at about age 11 made the comment, ‘i don’t like this farm, it is too much work!”)

Truth be told, if it was possible for me to control the land to the north of me and to the south, i could all but eliminate the massive erosion and washing problems which cause my little piece to be so much work.  But i don’t, so difficult repairs are recurring.  Controlling the ‘heads’ of the water by building ponds or dams would practically stop all but the worst rain events which cause such destruction.  The biggest help would be to seed down the hills that are being farmed every year.  There are no roots to hold any soil in place and increase water infiltration on acres and acres of slope.

So, a point i’m trying to make is – look to your future self when purchasing a property – is this property you are considering fixable?  or will it be constant work?  We actually looked at a property last year that was adjoining and for sale, but with all it’s deep ditches and no control of the head, it would be more work than what we wanted to take on now at retirement age.  It is FAR too much asking price anyway.  (It’s still for sale)

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The water rushes through this gap so high and fast that there is brush and sometimes huge logs on top of the sealed road you see in this photo.  This time, there are only a few small pieces on the road, my fence caught most of the trash.  The fence is laid over so much, that i’ll actually take the wires off the two posts you see, pull the posts and reset them on the inside of the trash and it will still be in line with the existing fence.

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using my post puller  (from Hometown Hardware, Brookfield, MO) at a funny angle, but it worked!  i put a small log underneath the ‘foot’ of the contraption so it wouldn’t sink into the mud when i put pressure on the handle.

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All set to cut this piece of tin off because it’s so buried in the sand and mud, i couldn’t pull it out.  Took the photo, picked up the DeWalt reciprocating saw, clicked it off safety, and pulled the trigger.  Nothing, no power, what?!  Well, clearly you can see what i couldn’t – i forgot to bring a battery with me.  So, i will do this part of the repair on Friday when i come back to my farm.  UGGGHH!

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This one was a bit of a pickle, but after scratching my head a bit, i figured out a plan.  thank goodness i got a ‘B’ in geometry.  Farming and ranching is a LOT of problem solving with the tools you have on hand and putting them in the right order and angle.

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For fun, i found this map which shows the watershed area through which this one watergap i’m repairing all the runoff water passes through.  I measured the area and it encompasses 560 acres of surface land area.  When we get gully washers, which do come at least 3 times a year, that’s a lot of water rushing down Lick Branch – no wonder my fence gets washed out every time.

Tradition vs Innovation Paradox

Another great blog from Ranch Management Consultants (Ranching for Profit).  If what you are doing regularly is only a tradition – start questioning why you continue and if the practice is still effective for today’s economy, whether for your home or business.

sunset cowboyAgriculture is steeped in tradition. These traditions serve as a source of pride and continuity which help make us who we are in agriculture. However, these same traditions create a paradox of sorts when it comes to managing the business of ranching. Balancing respect for traditions and fostering innovation can be tricky to navigate. Another complicating factor in ranching is that business leadership is often slower to transition than most. Generally this is because the decision making is in the hands of a generation that would have retired 10-20 years ago in any other industry. This generation is often making decisions from a place of risk minimization … rightly so from their perspective. However, when Junior is wanting to expand the business to support a growing family this can pit two very different business strategies against each other which often creates conflict on the family ranch.

I think there are some traditions on a ranch that need to be challenged to position the ranch to be successful in the coming decades. Each operation will need to find its own balance between tradition and innovation. Having clear goals will help determine the appropriate balance of risk management and growth strategy for the business.

Below is a short list of common ranch traditions that I suggest you look at and examine why you are doing what you are doing, then put some numbers to what it might look like if you did things differently. I’m certainly not suggesting everyone must change these traditions but have a discussion with your team about the pros and cons of staying the same or changing.

  • Grazing management
    I see far too many ranches where tradition determines the grazing plan rather than good planning. Effective grazing management is one of the most powerful economic levers you can pull. Does each pasture get adequate rest for plant recovery after every grazing? Are your animals in a pasture long enough to allow a second bite? I have never visited a ranch that couldn’t improve their grazing which would allow the ranch to increase carrying capacity, often as much as doubling historic stocking rates, while still improving the condition of the land. Often the driving force for not improving grazing practices involve hanging on to old traditions. Many equate better grazing with more fences or more work. Neither of these must be true.
  • Needing lots of stuff to ranch
    Here is an interesting thought experiment. Make a list of every piece of equipment on the ranch and what it would be worth if sold today. Total up the dollars and now pretend you have that money as cash in your hand and you have no equipment. Paint a picture in your mind of the type of business you want to build. Now, ask the question, “How would we best deploy the capital we now have to create the business we want?” Would you spend it all or save some for a cushion? When times are good on the ranch, we often fall into the trap of upgrading tools that make our lives easier. It is very difficult to go backwards in creature comforts once we step forward. However, from the numbers I’ve seen it is the rare piece of equipment that creates more cash flow than it costs in depreciation and repairs. Tradition might lead us to believe that we need all this stuff to ranch, but economics might be telling us that all this stuff is part of what makes ranching so financially difficult.
  • We should be running cows
    But we have always run cows! What is the purpose of your ranch? Is it to create opportunities for owners to do the things they enjoy or is it to create cash flow and profit to support the owners and provide opportunities for others? Might these two things be in contrast? I’m not saying you can’t run cows and be profitable, but often I observe ranchers who see no other alternative to the current enterprise structure on the ranch. I also don’t believe it is a problem if ownership sees the ranch as a place to allow them to do the things they enjoy – such as running cows. I do see a conflict when the ranch isn’t creating the outcomes required and people are unwilling to look beyond traditional enterprises. Might it be that the ranch could be an even more enjoyable place if it were highly profitable?

Following that line of thought, what other traditions should be challenged on your ranch? Which traditions must be held on to? There are some traditions that are core to who we are, let’s be sure we don’t jeopardize those in pursuit of profit. Balancing the paradox of tradition and innovation is part of what makes this business so interesting.