Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.
Jun 29, 2013
The Death of Conventional wisdom
As cattle Breeders, calf pullers, grazers, stockers, growers and finishers, we are armed with an impressive arsenal. We seed and fertilize and some of you spray and mow and plow and burn. Though we don’t practice it, some producers also vaccinate, drench, implant and supplement their cattle too. We feed from barrels, blocks, bales and bags. Some fight the weather to get feed to the cows and struggle to save calves born in winter and spring storms. All of these things have made us productive, but they have also made us very tired.
How many times, and for how long have you or your significant other been saying "we need to simplify our process and or procedures", we’re not getting any younger".
Rising energy prices are making it even tougher for us who are dependant on making hay, irrigating fields and trucking cattle and hay. And the oil/diesel situation is only going to get worse because estimated fossil fuel reserves will be exhausted in 40-50 years. Than what? I don’t know about you, but farming with horses is for the Amish! Not this Cowboy. I actually enjoy mowing, raking & bailing hay for winter feeding of our Beefalo Cattle. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a rancher on horseback (not behind the horse), like folks we know out in Colorado? Than I speak with them about how they haven’t had a substantial rainfall in almost 2 years, their wondering if the recent wildfires were going to devour what little rangeland they had left, and how are they going to feed their cattle this coming winter because their winter rangelands never recovered from the drought of 2011?
It’s a good thing most of us trust the Lord to provide for us, our families & our farms, because Lord knows we can’t depend on our Government. The Government turned their back on God many years ago, and look what it did to them. Could you imagine if farmers and ranchers did the same thing? We’d all have starved to death by now.
Don’t let this make you feel like we’re fighting a losing battle as cattle producers. We are fortunate to have a role model to help us make the transition to sustainability. This role model I’m referring to was incredibly productive before we ever started building fences and barns, or grew and fed hay. This operation I’m referring to has endured for centuries. It is an efficient operation with no expensive infrastructure or capital costs. It’s overhead costs are extremely low. It uses a concentrated breeding season, and a strict culling policy. It is the prototype of a profitable ranch today. It is nature that was created by God, long before there were cowboys and farmers who thought they knew better.
The most important thing in the process I just mentioned as a producer must be a "concentrated or controlled" breeding season. To keep from having to "rescue" freezing calves in winter and early spring, start with how does nature do it? Deer don’t have fawns in January, why would your cattle? Birds don’t hatch chic’s in March, why would you subject your cattle and yourself to that un-necessary stress and high potential for loss? Make things easier on your self, and in return it’ll make things allot easier, healthier and safer for your cattle. Nature has been witnessing newborns out in the wild for…..well…..a long time. And guess what? We had nothing to do with it! You should be encouraging your cattle to breed by the end of July at the earliest, so they calve in May of next spring.
What would happen if instead of fighting nature, we worked with nature? If we tried to help nature do what comes naturally? Nature doesn't need equipment to harvest forages, although as I previously stated, I enjoy doing just that. Nature uses four-legged combines. Those would be your cattle folks. And guess what? You can too. Nature doesn't have high capital expenses or overheads...and neither should we. Ranching & farming seams like a challenging profession because we are too busy working in our businesses that we don’t spend time working on our business. But most challenging of all is that we don’t think of ranching as a profession in the first place. That’s probably because it’s too much fun, and work can’t be fun, right? Nope, not if it’s "Sustainable Ranching".
Sustainable ranches & farms work with nature to minimize the use of fossil fuels, build stable healthy soils, and make a profit. The changes required to achieve sustainability are quite simple. For those of you who grew up in the world of conventional feedlots & factory dairy farms, making this transformation isn’t easy. Especially if your elders who built your empire are still around. But it is possible. It starts with seeing your operation as more than just a business. It is however a business no matter how small or large you are, but you need to see it as more than just that. You and your family are producing a product that helps feed the world. Even if your only feeding a few families in your rural area, your still contributing to the over-all good, and it makes you feel good, right? That’s one of the reasons you do it. Another would be because you love working with animals. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a heifer calve or a sow deliver a healthy litter of 12 piglets? We see it quite often on our farm and it’s experiences like those, that I never get tired of seeing. Of course it’s nice to make a profit too, but if that’s the only motivator in your farm or ranch, your never going to be happy. You need to look at farming & ranching as more than your job or your profession. It’s a way of life.
"Conventional wisdom" is that ranchers have to own a lot of fixed assets. The result of this strategy may have made your neighbors wealthy on their balance sheets but it’s left them broke at the bank. This is all too common especially in the dairy industry in our area. It’s the "Get BIG or go broke" mentality that the banks have brainwashed farmers with that have depleted 80% of the dairy farms in our area. "Conventional wisdom" also tells us that ranching and farming isn’t very profitable. Logically, following conventional wisdom you should expect conventional results. Over the last 40 years, input costs have risen five times faster than cattle prices. That means that continuing to follow conventional wisdom will lead to worse than conventional results.
Well folks, on our farm conventional wisdom was put to death over a decade ago. And we couldn’t be happier! A wise man I know whom is a very successful grass-based cattle rancher in Colorado has abolished the conventional way of thinking when it comes to ranching & farming. This way of thinking can also be applied to everything else you do in life. He call’s it being a "Herd Quitter".
A "Herd Quitter" is a term used to refer to folks such as us whom have enough courage to break away from the herd-mentality way of thinking. Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing is seldom (if ever) the best way to manage a business. Once people are able to think for themselves, they are able to make the necessary changes in their operations. We’re seen as the round pegs in the square holes. We’re not fond of rules and have no respect for the status quo. You can praise us, disagree with us or vilify us. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore us – because we change things and hopefully folks way of thinking.
Just remember, folks like us who are crazy enough to think we can change the world, are the ones who do!
Thanks Kit for your inspiration.