Pails and Pitchforks
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Viking, Minnesota

Rural Reflections Radio

Life is complicated but you should always approach it with great simplicity. I think the same can be said about farming although it maybe doesn't often happen that way. I think sometimes we all try to address a problem in the field with a blizzard of borrowed money instead of a little strategic thinking.


The tractor is the space shuttle of farming. The tractor is the highlight of any auction and the first purchase for most farmers. It's an incredible beast in that it works at almost one hundred percent of capacity all the time. If a car had to work like a tractor you'd have to buy a new one every year. The problem with a tractor is that it eats money when it sits and  gobbles fuel when you do use it. I try to remind myself of this when it comes time to choose between my tractor or my pitchfork.  I don’t always trade my labor for my tractor key, however.  We are slowly changing our farm to where the cattle harvest a fair amount of the fields, they're good at it and they love the work. An unfortunate effect of farm expansion was that we felt we needed a tractor for every implement, not wanting to un-hitch.   It seems to me a fair amount of farm equipment has no use.  I heard this best expressed in a quote from the Book "Thoughts and Advice from an Old Cattleman." The quote was, "when a cattleman buys a piece of unnecessary equipment, it never stops costing him because he keeps trying to find something for it to do that doesn't need doing, compounding his expense to keep from admitting a mistake."

I've found as a small-scale beef farmer that I don't really raise cattle. A cow takes great care of herself and her calf but I can raise grass and build fence better than the average bovine.  If I can give the cattle good food and make fence they respect then I can just sit back and pretend to be a cattle expert.  With a good fence I can direct my cattle to process corn, alfalfa and grass better than any baler or chopper.  My opinion is if I need to have a four wheeler to chase cattle then I should sell the four wheeler and buy more fencing with the proceeds.

The last thing I can do for my cattle and more importantly my family, is to take care of myself.  If I owned a machine that could bale, fence and cook as good as I can (?), I would care for it daily.  I am that machine and need to invest more in myself than in something from a showroom floor.  I have recently started an exercise in which you place your hands squarely on the dinner table and push away.  I need some other regular calisthenics but fortunately I have a heifer that needs water hand-carried to her so with her help  I am getting physically fit, one pail at a time.