Friday, March 21, 2008

Making Your Small Farm Profitable :: Chapter 10 Book Report

Ron Macher begins chapter 10 of his book, "Making Your Small Farm Profitable", with this great statement:
Successful farm management is two things:
  1. Farming is taking all you can from the soil so you can sell the surplus to make a profit.
  2. Farming is also putting back into the soil all you can so you can maintain and increase fertility.
That seems like pretty sound advice to me, and the start of a mindset that sees your farm management practices as a tool (also what Mr. Macher is advocating).

This chapter discusses many of the same things you will see in other books of this type. Rotate your crops to help build and maintain N-P-K ... use your livestock to work for you ... know what your resources are ... work smarter, not harder ... gain as much knowledge as possible through reading, discussion, and seminars ... and build reserves of money, crops, and livestock (if needed). But, there were a couple of sections in this chapter that I payed close attention to.

The first section that I read closely was the section on using family labor. Watch out parents/brother/sister ... I'm coming for you! Okay, maybe not that kind of family labor, although their help is always appreciated, but more specifically my immediate family. Mr. Macher talked about he importance of helping your children learn to love the farm. One thing that I have understood from the beginning of this journey was that if my family wasn't behind it then it wasn't going to happen. With that in mind I want to do as much as possible to get the family involved from the beginning.

Even though my children are only 2 and 4-years-old we are trying to get them involved in farming. We have "discussions" with them about our Dexters, chickens, or other things we would like to do this summer (most include Caleb telling me that he is going to buy a cow for a price that he makes up in his head). We take the kids out to the land and talk with them about what we will be doing out there. We have them help name our calves and make sure they see them when the are born. Basically, we are trying to make it fun for them. As the grow older the ways to "make it fun" will change, but the principles will be the same ... and it will always be important that the whole family enjoys farming.

The final thing that really stuck out to me in this chapter was his section on, "Planning for Farm Efficiency". The reason this section made an impression is because we will be starting from scratch with our farm layout so we should do it the most efficient way possible. One book Mr. Macher quotes says that for, "every 100 feet of unnecessary distance between the house and farm adds up to 14 miles of travel a year for each daily round trip." With that in mind I see the importance of laying out our buildings and facilities according to a plan ... rather than just what looks best at the moment. As we have time (and as the grass is either burned or mowed down) we plan on spending plenty of time at the land and planning our layout. No reason to waste footsteps, especially when you are farming in addition to another job!

This chapter was a good overview of some basic farm management principles and gave me plenty to think about. There is only one more chapter left, so keep an eye out for my thoughts on it and then a short review of the book.

6 comments:

Mellifera said...

Yes! Planning for efficiency! Design is SO SO SO important and very few people think about it when putting together a home (or anything else...)

One of the things we're thinking about doing if/when we build is have the house, barn, and other "outbuilding" all be together under one roof. The house will be upwind, naturally... but since we're planning to have our livestock out on pasture anyway, the barn will be more for storing equipment and a place for the occasional sick animal to stay, so the traditional reasons for having a barn far away from the house probably don't apply.

All the buildings being together means if we have to go check on a sick cow at 2 am during a blizzard, let's just say I'd way rather go down the hall or breezeway than go outside. I once looked through a book of 19th century farmhouse plans, and a lot of them had the house, barn, and other "outbuildings" (milkhouse, icehouse, woodshed, etc) attached. Often the kitchen was the transition point in the middle from the "house" end to the "work" end, which makes sense if you think about it.

Beef11 said...

We are land shopping now much as you are. We currently live on 13 acres with several outbuildings. If we end up with raw land (like you) we will think long and hard and from many angles and seasons to determine "the master plan" which will basically be everything we wish it to become and since we aren't rich many of these items won't be built for a few years. We do want to avoid the the folly of thinking only about the current project and not about the interplay of the current project with past and future projects. We will construct fencing to accommodate animals we may not have yet for instance brushy waste ground will be fenced pig and goat tight. The Garden will be strategically located for sunlight, ease of working and for efficiency of maure spreading. we want to eventually be self sustaining even with our fertilizers so a flock of homing pigeons will find their way to our place. By the time you put your house, orchard, annual garden, fruit garden, chicken house, feed storage, barn, Garage/shop, cattle facilities, pig accommodation's and then factor in the land you are working with as well as the finances available. Planning is a big project and will effect you for the rest of your life (hopefully).

Ethan Book said...

Mellifera - We are doing something similar to what you mention. But, I must admit it isn't out of planning as much as it is out of economics. We will only have a "barn/storage" space of 10-16 by 36-40 feet, but it will be something to start with, and could be added onto in the future. It does have its benefits!

Yeoman said...

The all in one type structure, fwiw, describes the traditional German farmhouse. Add to it that more than one generation (often three) lived in the house, and you'd have a complete description of one.

farm mama said...

Years ago, I had the opportunity to visit a cheese-making operation in Holland. It was traditional, in that one large building housed the animals (with free access to pasture), the milking parlor, the cheese-making area, and the family's living quarters. It truly made sense, and it was designed in such a way that everything was totally sanitary, yet accessible from any other part of the building without having to go outside.

Yeoman said...

Another reason for those northern European multi-use building (in addition to avoiding going outside too much in winter) is that they were space efficient. They didn't waste any farm ground.

A similar practice existed in some parts of the US which had significant Irish influence, in which farmers and ranchers lived in town, but commuted to nearby farms. That way, they didn't have their dwelling occupying usable agricultural ground. A few old Irish American ranches around here were that way as recently as ten years ago or so.

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