Spare the Fork, Spoil the Farmer
Viking, Minnesota

Rural Reflections Radio

I am going to offend a few people. I want to look at cattle farming in a different way. Please read the whole article and then decide if you agree or not.
Farmers need to be efficient. Not an earth-shaking concept. The keyword is “be." Not buy. You can buy efficiency but you must really adhere to certain policies to make it profitable. You must use that piece of equipment a high percentage of the time. Every time it sits it loses money. If you buy the brand new skidsteer loader you finish chores in two hours instead of 5 hours. What then? The loader sits and does nothing and you’re still paying for it. Do the cattle make any more money as a result of your finishing sooner? I’ve thought about taking this route myself but always come to the same conclusion-I’m cheap and don't come with payment book. I’d rather spend my labor than my money. Less overhead makes lean times a little less lean.
Do you like what you are doing? I do. I love being with my cattle. I don’t need to get out of the cattle yard right away. I enjoy nothing more than putting a big square of straw in my ’76 Chevrolet pick-up and bedding with a fork. I get a chance to see the cattle from ground level and I also get a chance to listen for coughing without an engine running. Cattle act differently when they aren’t getting out of the way of a tractor. You can see when they are down and need a visit from the vet.
I hear the protests. The calls of “burn him, he’s a heretic” or “he’s in league with the devil!”. I know we follow the manufacturing model. The more you can produce per hour the less it costs to produce. This is fine but from what I’ve seen you need to produce incredible amounts and make your money on very slim margins because of high overhead. You must also follow this model very closely. If you buy into the feed salesman’s plan for feeding your cattle and leave a couple of steps out to save money, chances are it will not work as well and the margins become smaller. Are you using implants? If you implant only once instead of the recommended amount are you really getting much out of it?
I think the one thing we all can do to maintain cash flow and maybe even increase our prices is to market. Unfortunately we’ve gotten into a “catch 22." At a time when we should be marketing we instead buy more land, more cattle and more tractors. We are now even more busy than before and have even less time to market and to keep accurate books so we can analyze costs and losses. Sometimes just looking over your canceled checks can show you negative trends. We cannot buy an operation-we have to accumulate it over time. You cannot buy your goals. You have to work towards them over time.
Finally, I do know that many of my ideas work only for the small or “hobby” farmer. Boy do I hate that term. Just because I have other jobs does not mean I am less serious than the next guy. What’s wrong with being smaller? Farming this way requires less equipment. We receive prices for our products equal to those from 40 years ago but the equipment prices are gauged to contemporary prices. I don’t approve of restrictions on feedlots but fewer cattle on the same land do create a lower concentration of manure. Maybe smaller is the trend for the future. It sure makes farming more enjoyable and leaves you more time to be resourceful in marketing your product. You’ll spend more time with a pitchfork in your hands and less with your rear in a tractor seat, however. But my Belarus tractor doesn’t have a padded seat anyway so maybe that’s not a bad thing.