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by Mike Pembry
One thing that most farmers have in common is lots of work. That's O.K., but when that work becomes an intolerable burden something has to change. If the workload reaches the point where it detracts from the enjoyment of farming then the farm will suffer and so will your health. If this article sounds like a sermon from someone who has found the answers, I'm sorry because I haven't. It's just that I have a lot of ideas on this subject and if I tell you about them I might start using them myself.
First, we should look at the farm itself. Can we realistically operate that size of a farm with the present labour force? Are there others who are doing it with time to spar and if so how are they doing it? Taking on additional help might be the answer if it gives us more time to spend on management which might more than pay for the extra labour bill.
If more labour seems like the answer we have to determine whether the right kind of help is available. If we've had trouble with help in the past we have to look at ourselves as well as the help. Do we treat them fairly? Are we able to generate the same enthusiasm in the help as we have ourselves? If the answer is no maybe we should consider taking a labour management seminar - OMAF ran a few around the country last year.
The size of the farm comes into play in many ways. Economists can tell us what is an economic unit, but there are so many things that affect that size. Certainly, once you've locked yourself into overheads you have to have a certain production just to cover all that investment or debt so change becomes difficult. I always remember doing a story for the Family Herald - now long gone, on a farmer who was making an excellent profit milking just 20 cows while economists were saying he had to have at least 40 in the milk line. He kept his costs to a minimum and had excellent production from his cows on inexpensive homegrown feed. One noticeable thing was that he had time for relaxation and management.
Planning can be a great time saver. Those who teach courses on this subject figure there can be an easy 25% saving in time. It takes discipline, not only to take the time to make plans, but to stop yourself filling that extra 25% saved with more jobs.
Another way of saving time is to study the way we do things. Years ago I did some time and motion studies on dairy farms to see how they could save chore time. By mapping several farmers movements when they were doing the milking I found tat we could make changes that saved them miles of walking and effort every day. Today you could save kilometers. Little things like buying an extra pitch fork to keep where it was needed rather than walking across the barn to fetch one, or installing an extra water tap somewhere, maybe a cart to carry several different rations and so on. All these things took minutes and miles off the chores. When confronted with these changes few actually do anything about it. It's either the bother of making the change or the reluctance to change a routine. So we suffer the consequences. Five minutes saved twice a day may not seem like much but it's more than 60 hours in a year - that's a week's holiday!
One thing I've found handy around the farm is a mountain bike - some like one with a motor. Even to get a wrench from the barn I often jump on the bike and can be there and back in seconds. I use it to check the cattle and move the electric strip grazing fence.
Being conservationists we all like to reduce unnecessary use of machines and fuel, but we also have to face the fact that our economy is such that labour saving devices are necessary to produce food at the price people will pay - even if it's a horse to pull a plow rather than doing it with a spade! There are other little gadgets you can make too. I once fashioned a unit that would fix on an electric drill to roll up electric fence string onto old wire spools. I simply pulled the string back to the barn when I walked home - it trails easily, and then hooked it onto the spool, started the drill and in seconds it was wound up. Unfortunately the unit broke and I haven't found the time to replace it, but now I'm talking about it I think I will.
When we're faced with field operations we should plan to do the best job with the least trips across the field. Sometimes two units can be hooked together. I used the tines and arms of an old hay rake to make a light harrow that fits on the back of my seed drill and the roller trails behind that. This allows seeding, light harrowing and packing in one sweep.
I know another organic farm who bought an old seed drill and joined the hoppers of the fertilizer and seed together because he doesn't use fertilizer. Now he only has to fill up half as many times because of the extra seed-carrying capacity.
Sometimes a machinery purchase may not seem economic on paper, but may still be worthwhile. I traded a small tractor on a used skid steer this spring. I've rented one before for cleaning out the barn an thought I'd buy one when I could afford it. Afford it or not I made the purchase and it's saved me hours of work from moving machinery around to clearing rocks off the fields and it makes loathsome tasks much easier.
In short, we have to take the time to save time and effort. We work most of our lives. If that time is not enjoyable life can be pretty miserable. Let's share ideas on time saving. We could all use a break.
Copyright © 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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