Tag Archives: management

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.

777 Bison Ranch

So, the short story is that an awesomely talented and accomplished woman, Mimi Hillenbrand, has for some years owned and managed the 777 Bison Ranch in South Dakota in a holistic manner vis-à-vis that which is promoted by the Savory Institute or Holistic Management International.  Bison on an open ranch of thousands of acres requires a bit different approach to grazing pressure and rest to improve the soil health and forage quality/quantity.  It was very interesting to hear how she handles the animals.

These past few years, she purchased a smaller property in Chile she named 45 South to not only improve the pastures, (though using cattle this time) but also just to really enjoy the beautiful scenery and to live in a completely different culture –at least part time.

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Mimi provided hand made empanades for lunch!

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A huge tray of them!

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It will take more years, but with managed cattle impact on the land, improvement can already be measured.

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Properly managed livestock impact is critical to healing the land.

Fundo Panguilemu, Coyhaique, Chili

I cannot do justice to the sweet hospitality of this young family.  Our Savory Institute journey group is here to learn about the improvements they have experienced using the holistic management techniques.  The grass is thick, lush, and tender – rested paddocks are ready for consuming.

 

 

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Regenerative farm owner and operator, Jose,  (who is also a holistic management instructor) gave us an excellent overview on how they’ve managed their farm and improved the sward and healed the soil substantially in only 6 years using managed grazing of cattle and sheep.

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No bare soil in this thick sward.

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Thick stand of grass after 45 days rest.

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Elizabeth, also owner of the farm and a holistic management instructor keeps all the balls in the air on this stunning cattle and sheep farm/pastured egg laying/horse trekking/firewood gathering/wildlife viewing/fly fishing/mountain biking/yurt accommodation/HMI training site.  Oh, did i mention she also is raising 2 wonderful little children as well as training interns who show up from around the world to help on the farm?

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How about a unique stay on a working farm?! And talk about a view!  Excellent fly fishing available here on the edge of the Simpson River.  Contact Elizabeth at Fundo Panguilemu.

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Lookout Paddock provides excellent overview of paddock layout.  Note cattle and sheep grazing in lower left paddock.

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For my Missouri friends, you will be surprised to know that many of the grasses and forbes are the same as what we graze.  This is a photo of the rose bush that we also have growing, but no multiflora rose here.

Top 5 Business Management Actions on the Farm/Ranch

This reblogged from Ranch Management Consultants.

Top 5 Business Management Actions on the Farm/Ranch

by Dallas Mount

As we wrap up 2019, I want to share with you what comes to the top of my mind as actions that farms and ranches take when they are serious about their business management. If you are hitting the mark on these, well done! If not, then what will your strategy be to improve in 2020?

1.Effective Communication –
Have regular WITB (operational) meetings and WOTB (strategic) meetings. For WITB they should be brief, focused and end with something written down in a visible spot, listing who is doing what by when. For WOTB meetings they need to be focused with limited distractions, allow for creative thought, be inclusive and also end with an action plan.

2.Clear Roles and Accountability –
Are all the roles of your business being filled? Is ownership clearly setting the mission and vision? Is management developing plans that include strategies with contingencies and communicating those to everybody? Is labor effectively balancing all the duties and working with the end in mind? Most farms and ranches are owned and labored while few are effectively managed.

3.Plans Developed and Communicated –
Does your business have the following plans written down:
Economic plan showing the projected profit for the coming year.
Financial plan which shows the projected cash flow for the coming year.
Grazing plan that shows where the animals will be, for how long, planned rest periods and planned stocking rate.
Disaster plan for drought, fire, blizzards, or floods.
Organization structure listing who is responsible for each aspect of the business.

4.Professional Development – What is the plan for the coming year? What areas does the business need training in? Each key person should develop their own professional development plan for the coming year and get buy-in from the business leadership.

5.Healthy Balance of Work and Life – If you are spending all your time putting out fires in the business something has to change. Sure, we all go through periods of super-human effort, but if this is the norm it isn’t sustainable. If you want different results, you must take different actions.

From all of us at RMC, thank you for your support over this past year. We are so blessed to get to work with some of the best people in the world who are taking care of God’s creation and feeding the people.

Best wishes for a joyful and prosperous 2020!

 

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