If we looked at our farms like Dr. Laura Schlessinger looks at relationships, we could have quite an interesting list. Last time we looked at the first five things people do to mess up their farms.
They were 1) Enter a partnership agreement without agreeing how to end the partnership, 2) hang on to all management and financial control until junior is responsible, say when he/she is pushing 40, 3) no insurance, 4) No prenuptial agreement, and 5) no estate plan.
My take on the final five …
6) Breed with a live bull.
I’ve heard so many excuses. “He never hurt anyone.” “We always sell them before they get mean.” “It’s easier than A.I.” “It is the only way we can get heifers bred.”
My take on the subject: You can get cows and heifers bred artificially. Bulls don’t come with a calendar that says which day they will decide to get mean. Hundreds of dairymen have successfully used A.I. on heifers. If, for some reason I can’t imagine, you have to have a bull on the farm, keep him in a facility built to protect your safety, his safety and the cows. Bring the cows to him.
It costs money to keep a bull. He eats, he uses bedding, he should be checked by a vet for breeding soundness, and you have to have enough of the buggers to realistically have a chance at getting the cows bred. It costs money to buy a good enough pedigree to have a fighting chance of getting the one out of five bulls that actually have a positive transmitting ability.
If you are fair about what it actually costs to get and keep bulls, and the additional income generated by using proven positive transmitting ability A.I. sires, you can afford to breed with proven A.I. sires.
At least two farmers were killed in Ohio by bulls last year. How many were killed by semen tanks?
7) No production records.
Unless you have a 30 cow herd, the days of keeping records in your head are over. Even if you have a phenomenal photographic memory and can tell me the pedigree and 80 percent of the production information on every cow in your herd, it doesn’t help anyone if you aren’t around to impart it.
A consultant can’t use it to try to help troubleshoot problems. Anyone who tracks their cows’ production can tell you that how she looks and how long it takes her to milk out does not indicate how much milk she is actually producing.
These days, you can use official testing services, buy equipment and software to track production on your own, or develop a hybrid of the two. Some of your cows won’t like it, because the deadwood will float to the surface. Send it down the road. Money in your pocket.
8) Believe “it will never happen here.”
So many things can happen in an instant that can change our lives and our loved one’s lives forever. It is doubly tragic is when these events could have been prevented. I cringe when I go on a farm that has a manure pit or lagoon that is not fenced in. What about pulling a cow or heifer out of a lagoon was so fun for all involved that you wouldn’t fence it in to prevent a repeat performance?
Many manure storages have a ramp from the barn straight into the storage. On most there is a large pipe that will keep a skid loader from driving off the end. Great! Put a gate there, too. So you have to get off the skid loader and take two minutes to open and close the gate. That two minutes can save a cow, a heifer, a calf, a pet an employee or a child from accidentally falling or getting shoved over the edge.
A farm provides a way of life that most of us wouldn’t trade away (most days!) It is also one of the most dangerous places to work. Take a few hours to look for and fix potentially dangerous situations. Chain dual tires to the wall so they won’t fall on a child (many of them are big enough these days that they could seriously hurt adults as well.) Replace missing or broken shields, guards and roll bars. Wear seat belts.
Hang gates, use real latches or chains (declare a “no new baling twine” day.) Fill in holes in floors, alleyways and driveways. Get rid of scrap and old “stuff”. If you could double your annual net farm income by hauling all of the old machinery and parts to the scrap yard, it is time to do just that.
Finally, do not expect children to have the judgment or abilities to do the work of adults. Your local Farm Bureau office has excellent information on what types of jobs are age-appropriate for a child’s physical and mental abilities. Just because they want to drive a piece of equipment, milk cows or do other jobs doesn’t mean they have the physical strength or judgment to do the job safely.
9) Don’t track finances.
There is money in the checkbook, so we must be doing all right. If all the bills and loans are current, and the balance is so high that the bank keeps calling you to tell you about their “investment vehicles,” I might buy in. In reality, finances can really be slipping if we aren’t watching. What are the profit and loss statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements saying?
Is there money in the checking account because the line of credit is maxed out and there is a $20,000 balance on 21 percent interest credit cards? Or, are the enterprise analyses showing that we are netting $1,000 per cow and total cost of producing milk is running $11.70 per cwt.? (I like to be optimistic!)
Check how net worth on your balance sheet has changed over the last five years. Is it going up, down or staying flat? If it is not going up each year, now is the time to start asking why. If the reason and solution for reversing the trend is not immediately apparent, get help to figure it out now, before your equity erodes further.
10) Never take a vacation.
Oh no, here she goes again! Make it short, make it long, inexpensive or save up. Just go somewhere, relax, see something new, combine it with some volunteer or missionary work, spend time with your family. Vacations are not something that only city people can do. Plan ahead and the cows will live without you for a week. You will be better for the cows when you get back.
Number 3, No Insurance … revisited.
Many thanks to a Columbiana County reader who wrote with additional information about Ohio’s “Healthy Start-Healthy Families” health insurance program administered through your local Department of Jobs and Family Services. When a family’s financial situation is tight, this program can not only provide health coverage for children, but also their parents. The application can be requested by calling your Department of Jobs and Family Services and does not require a face to face interview. Families that are able may be required to pay a small monthly premium.
(Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)
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