Songs Stuck Since Childhood

Our Cow fence is built twelve steps at a time. Twelve. I count each step. Yes, I measure distance in terms of steps.

FencePosts

One…Two…Three…

And about here I get one of two songs stuck in my head. Thanks Sesame Street.

First the Pointer Sisters.

Showing my age here, eh?

How about ladybugs?

There is no escaping my childhood.

Strolling Through the Pasture March 2015

Remember strolling through the pasture? I used to do this quite a bit. What has happened to my life? Sigh.

I still walk the pastures. I always have my phone with me. I just don’t seem to stop and look around anymore. Julie took most of today’s pictures. This isn’t a farm walk. It’s just a snapshot of the farm (pun!) in a few places. The cows are way up north of the barn and hog building. Nothing has grazed there since September and that was brief as we were trying to get to the clover field asap.

Let’s start in the trees.

Pasture6

Not much going on here in terms of forage. Maybe this is a good time to talk about goals, intentions, reality and consequences.

The goal is to allow the cows to quickly skim across the landscape, allowing them to eat a little of the new, a lot of the old and to make the most of the remaining hay by converting it into magical brown messy stuff. That’s the goal.

Pasture2

Our intention is to minimize the amount of damage cow hooves make to the muddy landscape while grazing…most of the time. Sometimes a little creative destruction is appropriate. But it has to be intentional. Hooves can cut the soil and allow tiny pools of water to form and increase opportunity for seed germination. But they can also cause soil compaction.

Pasture8

The reality is we aren’t very good at this stuff. We still have the cows bunched up tightly because the grass is not growing fast and we don’t want to decapitate baby grass. So we are spreading out the magical brown messy stuff, allowing the cows access to fresh green, old green and hay but sometimes they make a mess. And that’s my fault. Normally it’s just around the water supply but sometimes it’s in places that just don’t drain well.

Pasture1

I guess it doesn’t look too bad. The soil is covered. The cows have been asked to move. But they will return in a few weeks. In fact, I may try to rotate across the entire farm every 10 days this spring. Yeah. I want to put a lot of energy into the cattle so they shed out quickly. We’ll see how it goes. I have 16 animals grazing nearly 45 acres so they should get the cream of the cream. That’s part of why the hay is out there…to help balance out their digestion. But I want to talk about what cream is and what cream isn’t.

Pasture5

This is not cream. This is grass in its infancy. I have to protect this grass right now. Maybe for another two weeks. So the cows are still bunched up and moving slowly over tall fescue stockpile. Acres and acres of it. With access to hay.

Pasture3

While the rest of the farm just gets to sit and rest. I want to point out the brush in the picture below. All those thorny stems are hedge trees. Hundreds of them. Every one 1″ in diameter and loaded with sharp thorns. That’s what happens when you cut hedge trees without killing the stump. Ugh. Pick your poison. You can either apply a bit of brush killer with a paintbrush or you can apply the loppers every few months for the next few years.

Pasture7

The pastures to the east are recovering after heavy grazing most of the winter…

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..with the exception of the broilers. They move daily, dropping a tremendous amount of manure along the way. Otherwise, we are resting this area. Need to put some clover seed out too.

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So now we are at the part about consequences. What are the consequences of messing up today?

The consequences are pretty serious. If I graze the young grass too soon I’ll lose production all summer. If I compact the soil the pasture will suffer for years. If…if…if…

But if I don’t graze off and smash down some of that dead, oxidizing grass I’ll hurt grass production for the year. And I’ll have to feed more hay. And put down more bedding. And haul bedding later.

So the cows are on pasture. Again. Thank God. And the chickens are following close behind. The old chickens. The ones I should have slaughtered last fall but didn’t. After taking their third winter off they are laying heavily again.

Mess up or not, April will be here soon. Let’s take a look at April 30 of 2014.

CemeteryHill

Look at all that fescue! It won’t be long.

Spring Bee Situation

OK. Well. I have learned my lesson. Again.

I like to keep my bees by the pond. In my mind that’s a convenient location and is near water. After several years of beekeeping in drought I thought the pond was the solution to all of my hive cooling problems. Well, after several winters of frozen hives I have decided I need to place my apiary near water but near shelter and away from the freezing cold air that blows out of the west and across the frozen pond for four months every winter.

BeeHive

So we are back to one hive. Again. But it looks strong.

I haven’t blogged about beekeeping previously for two main reasons. First, I am more of a bee owner than a bee keeper and I’m not very good…even after 10 years. Second, it seems…and I hope you understand this…intensely personal. Beekeeping is very…zen. I have to be totally chill when I have a frame of brood in my hand and about a thousand stinging beasts ready to launch at any moment.

I have a beekeeping mentor (get yourself a mentor) who took me out on January 1 my first year of beekeeping to check 50 or so hives. I don’t remember what the arrangement was. Either he pulled the lid and I poured sugar on the frame tops or the other way around. Whatever the deal was, he didn’t let me wear gloves. Hood? Fine. No gloves. Fewer smashed bees that way. Did you know that I type for a living? It’s hard to type when your fingers are swollen like bratwursts. I got so stung up…you wouldn’t believe it. I hardly have any reaction to bee stings these days. Thanks Arvin.

BeeFeeder

I am down to one hive right now. I have high hopes of splitting that survivor hive. But I need that hive to continue to survive. They are pretty low on food and are flying hard. The trees haven’t bloomed yet so we set out a feeder with a 1:1 syrup. Should see big bees in three weeks. Should be good times.

We use spare chick drinkers. Multi-purpose infrastructure, right? We place rocks in the bowl because bees are not good at swimming.

Do you keep bees? Do you understand what I mean about it being personal? It’s my alone time. It requires my complete attention. And it’s a lot of fun. Sorry I don’t write about it more.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 12

The last two weeks have been…well…work has taken more time than usual recently. And I guess that’s going to be the new usual. Plus, traffic has been awful. Awful. I don’t know if I’m making a note to myself here or if I’m speaking to you, reader. But stuff is gettin’ real.

I have been fascinated reading and savoring Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers. What is this book about? Really. Is this a book about investing around the world? Is this a book about the state of morality around the world? Is he taking a vacation or making a case against global intervention?

Yes. Especially the morality part. Because why would you invest with immoral people?

I mean moral here, not religious. Moral. There are few investment opportunities when you are marketing time with impoverished women but he comments on market availability and price wherever he goes. I’m not kidding, man. Every chapter there is something about prostitution. Why? Because in some places there are no jobs. There is no opportunity. There is only one thing to sell. Women in eastern Siberia could sell it to tourists from the far east for a higher price than the ladies a little to the west who lacked access to tourists. But before you get your hackles up about male Japanese tourists taking advantage of underprivileged women in Siberia, flip ahead to the trip to Africa and the detail of single, young women from Europe traveling to Gambia for the same purpose. This is not an issue of race nor of sex.

Sigh.

Market demand.

But why is there no opportunity when there are so many Mercedes driving around? Because they are stolen in Brazil and shipped to Siberia. And because of aid programs that are only aiding those strong enough to muscle to the front of the line.

“I have called ahead,” he said. “You won’t have any problems.”

He had called his people two or three cities down the line to smooth our passage.

“If you do have problems, let me know,” he said, “and whoever it is, we will have them killed.”

He was serious. This was not bravado. (For the price of a decent night out in the United States, you can have somebody killed in Siberia, and in Siberia these days, the latter seems to be the more common practice.) So we had the mafia’s protection…

So this is a book about morality.

Capital has its own laws as inexorable as those of gravity. Until Russia comes to respect capital, to provide for its safety and nourishment, capital will not come to its aid. Intelligent capital does not aid thieves.

But it is also a book about investing. Last week a reader was hoping for some insight into how the author’s predictions have turned out all these years later. While in Japan in 1999 Jim wrote this:

I am convinced that the Japanese economy has hit a temporary bottom and that a prosperous time – call it a rebound – is coming. I am looking for stocks to buy for the medium term. Furthermore, the Bank of Japan – in time-honored, economically blundering fashion – has made it pretty clear that it is going to start printing money. And when governments print money, one of the first places the money winds up is the stock market. I believe that in the short term the yen will rise against the even more fundamentally weak dollar, so not only will certain stocks do well, but the currency will also advance along with stocks, doubling the impact of my purchases. Again, I am speaking of the short or medium term. The Nikkei is not a place I expect to have money for the next ten or twenty years. Japan is sailing into the wind…

Welcome to my blog about our family farm. Let’s talk about investing in the Yen 15 years ago, shall we? It may seem like a stretch but this fits the blog very well. We have to make the most of our available resources so the next generation will have the chance to do the same. I could screw this all up. I could be the generation that breaks the family legacy. I have to make the most of my opportunity to position the land, people and resources to have a positive impact on our community and our ecology far into the future. Or we should just pack it up and move back to town. SO I, Chris Jordan, in real life, away from the blog, hidden from view, read at least as many financial publications as I do farming publications. Probably more. And you know what I have learned over the years?

Popular financial “experts” are clowns and are unworthy of my trust.

But let’s look into what may have been for the claims Jim made above. Let’s go back to 1999. I don’t know when he arrived in Japan. It might be in the book but if so I missed it. Let’s say he drove across Europe and Asia in four months…as he was in Russia during the summer. OK. That puts us in April of 1999. On April 1 the Yen was, apparently worth $0.0083. By 2007 it had not changed much…$0.0085. Maybe that’s a bigger change than it appears. Maybe I missed some major fluctuations in there along the way. But that’s the window of time I’m going to stick with. Less than 10 years, right?

So what about Japanese stocks? He makes no individual recommendations. I’m sure we could cherry pick the stars out of any bunch if we wanted but let’s just stick with the index. If he had bought the Nikkei 225 on April 1, 1999 it would have been 16,701. On April 1, 2007 it would have been 17,400. Not much happenin’ there. I guess he could have operated on a shorter window of time and done better. Of course, the book wasn’t written in 1999. He was driving then. So maybe he looked back at his notes from Japan in 2002 or 2003 and decided to buy at that time. In April of 2003 the Nekkei was at 7,831. He could have sold it at any time after that and come out ahead.

It’s not clear. It’s not our business either. But what is our business is understanding that there is no clear, straight line to riches especially when following advice written by some stranger 15 years ago.

But I do agree with his statement that equities tend to rise when money gets cheap. Apple doesn’t know what to do with their $300 billion in cash so they are buying back their own stock. They have enough cash laying around to build two copies of the international space station and they are buying apple stock as if that’s the best option.

I don’t understand. It probably is the best option. It puts money in the pockets of the executives. But it weakens the company’s financial position. If you are interested in this topic you might read this essay.

I’m not a financial adviser. I’m not an investor. I don’t own apple stock. I don’t own any part of the Nikkei. I don’t own Jim Rogers. I own cows. When I have more cash available I put it into more cows. The plan is simple. Over time, by reinvesting a portion of my profits (keeping heifers) my investment grows. That makes sense to my limited intellect. The stock market makes no sense to me whatsoever. I guess if I had no other option and had no idea what to do with a mountain of surplus cash I might consider handing it over to someone else to help build their business. But right now I have my own business to build. Mind your own business.

But I digress.

I wouldn’t look at this book for investment insight. The little it offers is neither specific enough nor timely enough to act on. But the discussions surrounding each mention are worthy of your time. We live in a complex world. Humans tend to exaggerate that complexity. It’s a level of complexity that confounds the efforts of world-improvers everywhere.

I was told that there were more top-of-the-line Mercedes in Moscow than in any city in the world…Where does this money come from? It pours in from the IMF and the World Bank, which are funded by the world’s taxpayers. In 1998 I testified before Congress, which, following the collapse of the ruble, was planning yet another Russian bailout. I said then that both the IMF and the World Bank should be abolished.

Self-perpetuation and ever-growing bureaucracies founded after the Second World War, these institutions have long since diverged from their original mandates. Their analyses are hopeless, and their prescriptions are worse. There are no external, independent audits to determine the long-term efficacy of their projects. The greatest beneficiaries of their programs are the twelve thousand bureaucrats who work for them and their well-funded and well-protected pensions. I have made a career of analyzing financial statements, and I have yet to see a financial statement of either the World Bank or the IMF that I can understand, nor have I ever met anyone who could explain them. Whenever I have found this to be true of corporations, it has always been a sign of serious problems.

At this point I’m only sharing quotes from the first third of the book. Wait till you read about his trip through Africa. And I think you should. I really enjoyed this book. I’m not reading it for ideas on where to park or invest surplus cash. There is no surplus cash and no shortage of ideas on how to “invest” any that comes my way. But the book is fascinating in other ways. The crossroads of desperation and morality. When you have nothing left to sell, apparently you sell time with your daughter.

Maybe I have been too sheltered. Maybe my upbringing was too perfect. Too protected by my parents who did too good of a job making sure we learned the value of work, brushed our teeth, ate our dinner, did our homework, stayed active in sports and went to bed on time.

Thank God.


This Week in Other Printed Media

Our insurance company markets to specifically to farmers. We pay for membership to their little organization, they pay lobbyists to influence legislation and that’s how it goes. They write a weekly propaganda letter to send out to subscribers. There is no intention of impartiality nor of journalism. It’s all propaganda. And it’s truly amazing. Truly.

I rarely read it. When I do it’s because something caught my eye as I am crumpling the newspaper up to help start a fire. And I want to point out, whatever paper they print this on doesn’t burn well.

This week, as I was starting the fire with an empty paper feed sack and a little of the propaganda paper in question I noticed an article, “Chipotle CFO claims no fear intended.”

In short, Chipotle made some advertisements that implied that current conventional agriculture was..well, maybe not what we want to do with our resources. And Chipotle proposed itself to be the solution.

Whatever.

The Illinois Farm Bureau hopes to talk to Chipotle about the sustainable practices of Illinois farmers. Chipotle doesn’t want to talk to them. So IFB says they are doody-heads. And, just taking a stab in the dark here, Chipotle says the IFB are doody-heads because they are an extension of Monsanto…more doody-heads. And that summarizes the article neatly.

I’m not taking sides here. But the discussion can’t focus on bureaucrats vs. mega-corporations. If you want to help farming families grow and prosper, why not help them identify niches they can fill to achieve a higher profit margin? You can still grow corn if you want. You just have to do things a little differently to make a little more money. But I don’t think our policy-makers are truly concerned about helping farming families grow and prosper.

I’m also not entirely sure that Chipotle is interested in helping farming families grow and prosper. But at least we didn’t elect Chipotle to help farming families. The good news about businesses is that they can go out of business. Bureaucracies are harder to get rid of.

So it went into the wood stove.


So this silly goal of mine to start and finish a book a week in 2015…it hasn’t held up. And I’m not sure it should. The pattern is fairly simple, I get busy throughout the week. Work, farm, family, Minecraft. Then the weekend arrives. Friday night I cram in a couple of chapters. Saturday I try to read a little bit throughout the day. Saturday night I stay up late turning pages. Sunday morning I get up about 4:00 and read and write and flip back through looking for memorable quotes to share. That’s tough.

I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not saying it’s going to stop. I’m just saying it’s wearing on me. I enjoy reading. But I’m not sure I enjoy this pace. It is nice to be finishing so many books though.

Livin’ Large

Mrs. White was a big heifer. Now she’s a big cow.

MrsWhite

Cow size, like everything else, is subject to marginal utility. Big is good but too bug is too big. Like steak? Eat the 96er. Mrs. White is too big. She was late to mature and didn’t breed until she was 3. But I won’t say no to a calf. We’ll just keep track of the late breeding thing so we don’t accidentally select for it. She was bred late in the evening three days after the bull arrived…I caught them smoking cigarettes. So she should calve in April.

Grass is greening up quickly. Cows are still on stockpiled forage but I still put hay out just to make sure they get all they can and to put the hay out where I need it to decompose.

Decompose you ask? Yes. Last summer was wet. Our hay was not what I might have wanted.

Not much of a post today. Used a picture that is at least a week old. Lots of green out there. We went from 0 to 70 in about 2 days then hovered above 50 for a week or so. I think it hit 81 yesterday. Stuff should really start to happen now.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 11

Let’s go back to January 1, 2015 together, shall we?

Julie and I are big on goals. But for some reason, when it came time to write down our goals on paper so that those who read it can run I was caught short. Normally I just write a list of things I think we should budget for and get done in the calendar year. But this year I decided I didn’t want to make a shopping list. I wanted to do stuff. On that list was one very challenging item.

Read a book each week.

Look. That doesn’t sound like a big deal. My two oldest children read a book a day or more. But they don’t have jobs.

Start and finish a book within a week…and do that every week.

Some books…well, with some books that’s just fine. There is nothing to chew on, you just gulp and swallow. Some books though, some books give you too much to think about. I recently read Malabar Farm in a week…and that was a disservice to Louis Bromfield. His book isn’t meant to be read quickly. His book is meant to be savored. I think Mr. Bromfield wanted his readers to read a few pages each morning with coffee, then lay the book aside and think about how to apply what you read. And I don’t think that’s an extension of his ego, I think the book is worthy of that level of reflection.

I made that same mistake again this week.

I was chatting with my father a few weeks ago about a book I had heard about but hadn’t read by Jim Rogers titled Adventure Capitalist. In short, a billionaire investor drove a car around the world and kept a journal of his observations. Sounded cool enough. Dad bought a used copy and got through it in a week, strongly suggesting that I read it as well.

Have you met my father? Dad worked at a mine my entire childhood. In 16 years he took, I believe, one sick day. Somehow he also found time for college classes on philosophy and community theater and home remodeling projects and playing catch and going fishing with me…in spite of the fact that he worked swing shift…his sleep pattern changed every two weeks. Ugh. SO dad, apparently, is the kind of person who can just get things done.

I am not.

I sat down with Jim Rogers several times throughout the week to discuss his world travels but I couldn’t finish the conversation. He kept saying things that I couldn’t digest. Things I needed to think about. The writing style is approachable. I didn’t need to deconstruct his sentences to find meaning. But I could only read so much in one sitting. Let me give you an example from page 8. He has decided to have a custom-built Mercedes to drive around the world by merging two different models, a 4WD chassis mounted to a convertable top.

Even in the absence of a warranty, I knew, I would find Mercedes service everywhere in the world. Even in the developing world one is never far from a dealership; every dictator and mafioso in the world drives a Mercedes. Even in countries with no roads to speak of, Mercedes service is available…

OK. I’m going to stop mid-sentence here. The author has identified a pattern and is seeking to leverage it to his advantage. He could go around the world in a Toyota. Sure. But he has decided to go with a Mercedes. Why? I dunno. Cause he’s a billionaire and he wants to have the top down while driving in comfort and style. But he is, at least, practical. If he needs a mechanic, he believes he can find one anywhere in the world if he drives a Mercedes.

Then he goes into why he thinks that is. You should be sitting down.

…Mercedes service is available – often to the exclusion of things like food – thanks to all the US foreign aid, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank money being shipped in. It is no secret that this money is aimed at nourishing only those corrupt enough to get their hands on it, while at the same time fattening bureaucrats on both sides of the transaction who diligently work the trough. And none of them is driving a Chevy.

I knew much of this from my last trip. The upcoming trip, especially as it took us through Africa, would be an eye-opening education in to the workings of the latest foreign aid scam: the nongovernmental organization, or NGO. As an American taxpayer I would be amazed to discover that a lot of the money we send to these countries goes to support Mercedes and BMW dealers and various Swiss bankers.

So. Yup. That just happened.

I don’t feel that the paragraphs above are the kind of material you just read and move on. You have to stop. I stopped. I read it to Julie. I read it to Mike, my boss. I read it to John at work. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. First, make sure you can get your things repaired. Good lesson. Second, actions – even well-intentioned ones – may have unexpected consequences. Is he right? Is there too much obfuscation? I’m happy to share with those in need…but am I actually meeting needs? That money they take out of my paycheck before I even have a chance to say, “no, thanks – not that I have the option of saying “no, thanks” – ends up going through a number of hands, each taking their cut before heading off to its final destination. What percentage of dollars involved actually accomplish their mission? Our author suggests a great number of them successfully filter their way to German car manufacturers. I guess that’s mission accomplished.

That’s just on page 8. Later he gets through China and into Korea and, later, Japan. He talks at length about protectionism and how damaging it is to the economy. As an example, he discusses the lack of real free trade between the US and Canada at the time…in spite of Free Trade agreements…by pointing out the absurdity of tariffs on tomatoes imported from Canada. If a farmer anywhere in Canada can produce a tomato cheaper than a farmer in America…well, maybe they should. Henry Hazlitt talks about this quite a bit in Economics in One Lesson. (If you haven’t read that book…well, you should.) Keeping tomato prices artificially high benefits American producers but hurts EVERYBODY WHO WANTS TO EAT A TOMATO!

Same thing happening at the time in Korea and Japan. Let’s say you are a Korean Billionaire and want to drive a Toyota. Can’t. Let’s say you want a Sony phone. Can’t. Hafta buy a Samsung. Why? Cause it’s good for our domestic producers. Sure, it’s bad for everybody else in the whole world but we have to protect our own manufacturing. And we are so bad at producing stuff nobody would buy it if the government didn’t force people to.

Sigh.

Have you ever driven through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa in the summer? Have you ever wondered how much of that corn would be there if your tax dollars weren’t being used to grow it? How many John Deere dealerships exist as a result of government action? What is that costing the world? What would be growing there if we were free to pursue our own interests and weren’t growing corn? Would there be endless fields of hemp? But it goes beyond that. We have policies in place to keep interests rates low so prices will be higher. Yeah. So buying a farm is almost impossible. And that’s good for the economy somehow. Who needs new farmers anyway? They’ll probably want to do something crazy and not plant endless seas of corn. What would we do then? How would we pay for a Mercedes without our government contract to ship corn to Africa?

So you see, this was a difficult book for me to finish. I tried. I really tried.

But beyond the time spent reflecting on his words I had a difficult week. I am staring at some major changes at work and I’m afraid it wore on me all week long.

So this week I didn’t meet my goal of reading a book in its entirety. I am still averaging more than a book a week on the year but the average wasn’t the goal. I wanted to finish a book each week.

I’ll continue chipping away at the book over the next week or so. I hope it shows that I’m having a lot of fun reading it and hope that counts as a recommendation.

Please comment below to let me know what you are reading and feel free to offer additional recommendations.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.

Hopeful. Cautiously Hopeful.

It snowed. Then it snowed again. Then, to add insult to injury, it snowed again…on March first.

Sigh.

There are some years Julie and I plant peas and radishes outside in the last week of February. This is not one of those years. This was a cold, snowy, cold, dreary cold winter. Did I mention it was cold? Oh, it was cold all right.

But the forecast this week calls for 50’s and 60’s in the day and mid-30’s at night.

You know what that means? Well…you know what that may mean? Well…you know what we hope that means?

We hope that means we can move the broilers out of the brooder and onto pasture. And they need to go. They really, really need to go.

I plan to run the chicken tractors on a slightly sloping hill north of the hog building. That should help drainage (I killed an area of my alfalfa field where chicken tractors were parked during a heavy rainstorm) and will make moving the chicken tractors easier each time.

BarnTime travel with me 5 days into the future.

I’m back. You may not have known but I shelved this post for a few days. I was hopeful but cautious. I’m cautious even about crossing my fingers publicly. Let me sum up what you missed.

It warmed up.

Ta da! 75 degrees yesterday! Moving fence for cows I was stepping about half of the posts into swamp, half of the posts into ice. Weird.

I didn’t put the chicken tractors on the slightly sloping hill north of the hog building. I put the chicken tractors where I ran them last spring. That’s not ideal but it’s not awful either. It just is what it is.

Why didn’t I put the chicken tractors up north?

HogLot1

Because I still haven’t grazed and cleaned that field. It is full of saplings and dilapidated fencing and tree limbs and thorns, brambles and bric-a-brac. I need the cows to bulldoze, clean and fertilize it before I even attempt to drag a big metal box full of chickens across it.

So that’s the haps. Many of the broilers are in tractors on the field. Not all of the chickens. The forecast is calling for warm weather but it is also calling for an inch of rain tomorrow. An inch of rain can kill little birdies. I’ll have to come up with some tarps. It’s always something.

But I remain hopeful. Cautiously…

Melting Away

Weeks of cold and snow. Snow on March first. That may not seem like a big deal to readers further north but many years we have our first rows of peas and radishes in the garden at the end of February. Snow. Snow. Snow. I’m so tired of snow. Heck, the cows are tired of snow…tired of being locked in the barn lot. But now it is finally melting.

Snowmelt1

Which means mud. Mud, mud, mud. I’m so tired of mud.

Snowmelt3

Guess there’s no pleasing some people.

February’s average temperature was somewhere around negative infinity. This week the average high temperature is 55. That’s quite a change. So much of a change I doubt we’ll have a maple run this year. But it really saves my bacon because the chicks are ready to exit the brooder. A few more days of warmth and melting and runoff and we’ll get things going outside, a little at a time.

With tails and heels in the air the cows ran out to pasture today. Of course, two of them found a low place in the temporary fence and invited themselves to cross it. And to make things worse I put the heifers we weaned at Christmas back into the herd so there was a little pushing and shoving and other family reunion stuff. But then they put their heads down in fresh grass and went to work.

CowsBackOut

Not all of the pasture is snow-free. The north-facing slopes are still covered.

Snowmelt2

I’m hoping to keep the cows up high where drainage is good both for cow health and for pasture health. I don’t want to let them churn up a mud bog. I noticed a line in the snow where the cows grazed a month ago when they were last here. That line is where the fence stood, where the cows had trampled up to. The cows were reluctant to cross that line. Calves always lead the way.

DangerCalf

Just making a few notes about the transition here. Should be nearly 60 degrees today. Hopefully that will take care of the remaining snow.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 10

Let’s listen to Glenn Miller for a minute.

You know what I wasn’t this week? I wasn’t in the mood for reading. In the novel Dune Gurney Halleck says “Not in the mood? Mood is a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset, not fighting!”

I love Dune. That’s one of those books I can read over and over. But, in spite of Gurney’s rebuke, I did little reading this week.

Oh, I read blogs like flipping through pages of a magazine but my week sort of just zipped past. My commute home on Friday took several hours longer than normal, I have a few projects going on at work….on and on the excuses go. It’s not that I’m emotionally down, it’s not that I’m burned out…it’s that I have allowed other options to consume my time. And maybe some of those options were less than optimal.

So yesterday I picked up a motivational book Julie read some time ago called Mach II With Your Hair On Fire: The Art of Vision and Self Motivation. Yes, this is one of those cheesy lightweight business motivational books. Yes, it’s a book about network marketing. But it was just what I needed. And I have more to say about network marketing later.

Let’s start with a quote from chapter 3. I hope this challenges you too.

Most people have goal setting confused with desire. People think that if you write down all the things you desire, that’s goal setting. It’s not. Everyone is a goal setter and a goal achiever, whether consciously or not. Goal setting only works when your goal becomes your MINDSET or EXPECTATION. If all you do is think of things you want and write them down, your “wanter” will be working really well, but your “getter” will still be asleep. Goals have to become beliefs and expectations. You have to believe what you want is actually inevitable.

He talks about his tendency to believe he would fail…he expected to fail. And he did fail. Now you, reader, know better than to believe in all this “attitude” mumbo-jumbo. You have read this stuff before. You don’t believe in it. It doesn’t work. Successful people are born to be successful. For example, I was recently told I am only successful because I am blonde, tall and male.

You are right.

Absolutely right.

You will never amount to anything – but not because of your sex or height or hair color – but because you are a victim. He talks in the book about it isn’t enough to want something, to work hard, to be good and to become educated. Those are great things for you to do but hard work and education do not always lead to success. The author says you have to factor in attitude. My critic focused all attention on envy and gave no attention whatsoever to opportunity…let alone reason.

He goes on in that chapter to talk about the importance of policing your thoughts. It’s easy to focus on negativity. It’s easy to say your idea will never work…and so you never try. And when you finally get enough energy and focus to start that project you have delayed…well…then what? Who would want to read a book I wrote? Tall people have insecurities too.

And those things you repeat to yourself become reality.

To the degree there is clarity, the mind does not distinguish between an actual experience and one that has been vividly imagined!

Prove it to yourself.

Have you ever cried at a movie?

Have you ever screamed at a movie?

Have you ever laughed at a movie?

For further emphasis he retells a story of a mild childhood embarrassment. The event happened once and caused no lasting injury but he has replayed that embarrassment over and over in his mind to the point that it has, effectively, happened to him thousands of times. That sounds familiar. In fact, it is worse than he says. As I relive each bad event I tend to make it worse than it was. Not only did the event happen once, it happened differently than I remember it. And I’m probably the only person who remembers it. I have it memorized. I can see it clearly at this moment. And I can tell you, it holds me back. But the truth is, there is a beautiful, supportive, intelligent woman who loves me. My 15 year old self could not have imagined that happening. I met her when I was 16 and still couldn’t see it. Honestly, it took me until I was nearly 30 years old to believe that she married me out of anything other than pity. I’m not kidding. Every day I thought she would realize her mistake and walk away.

That kind of held me back in our marriage. What is holding you back? What reality have you invented for yourself?

So here I am writing in my reading journal. As he points out in chapter 6 I have committed to something. I’m going to get it done. Even if I journal my reading of “The Little Red Hen”. I have a goal to read a book each week.

A commitment is a decision to do something, to be something, no matter the obstacles; no matter whether you still feel like it next week, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how many times you fail, no matter what results you are creating. A commitment pays no attention to the outcome, other than to refine strategy. Results do not alter the commitment to persevere.

So I am writing this post. Also, I am still married.

Bing will tell you all about it.

Let’s make up a new world. Let’s imagine something big. Something wonderful. Let’s imagine a Christmas surrounded by our parents and children and grandchildren in a warm home. Both ham and turkey have been roasted and smell wonderful. Presents are piled near the tree and the children can hardly wait. My children and I reflect on the year that has passed. We sold our first thousand calves in April and brought in enough money to meet our operating expenses for the year. The remaining calves, eggs, chickens and lumber sold from the farm were just extra. In fact, it’s time to expand again…this time we are going abroad. I sit at the table talking big but doing nothing. Julie looks beautiful even as she manages the work in the kitchen. She is always working. I decide it’s time to sneak up behind her and give her a kiss. The grandchildren blush and turn away…but they know I love their grandma. She asks me to wash the dishes. Oh well.

What do you see? As the book asks, what movie do you create in your mind?

Julie has a similar vision. She has it written on paper. Look man, don’t discount writing things down. Write the vision, make it plain so he that read it may run with it. It’s in the Bible, man. Not only has she written it, she listens to the audio of it each morning. I would love to share it with you but I can’t. Maybe she will but I can’t. It’s hers. And it’s quite personal. The point is, she has it on paper where we can see it and she plays it for herself each morning. That recording, though personal, is VERY POSITIVE. And that’s how she starts her day.

But she sees it outside of writing too. I have shared a portion of her vision board before.

FamilyVision

It’s all over our house, man. Reminders of where we are going. And we are going up. It is inevitable.

In a way, as pointed out by the book, we are telling ourselves lies. But are you honest with yourself about your failures? His example is that someone may imagine themselves as a 150 pound person. When you lose 25 pounds you still see yourself as a 150 pound person…so you soon become a 150 pound person again. Even when 125 pounds was the truth, you couldn’t see the truth. We lie to ourselves…good or bad. What lie do you want to believe?

This is a powerful thing, man. Do you hate your job? Do you want to love your job? List out the positives of your job. Only the positives. Write out your ideal day. Every morning before work play out a movie while reading your list. Soon, your dream will come true. If you dwell on the differences in your marriage you will soon be divorced. If you focus on alignment, you will soon be aligned. That’s how it is. Go ahead. Tell her she’s fat and ugly and can’t cook 20 times each day. Tell her to her face and you’ll probably get slapped. Tell her in your mind and you’ll probably get divorced. True or not, your mind makes it real.

The whole book is summed up early on with one simple quote.

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.


Now, concerning network marketing. We seem to have applied a negative connotation to the phrase. And, maybe, for good reason. But let’s network market some eggs. First, I give a free dozen eggs to a random lady at work. She says, “Um…thanks?” A week later she buys two dozen. She tells a co-worker. That co-worker buys two dozen. My network is spreading. Networking is good business. The issue we have is with pyramid schemes. Some central person at the top raking in the dough by setting up some tool at the bottom. I’m sure that happens. But sometimes, word of mouth is just a good business model. Pay commissions instead of paying for advertising makes for more targeted, personal advertising. Not that I’m here to sell you on a network marketing company. Just sayin’.

Thanks for taking time to read this today. I know I have lost focus on my farm blog…I tend to write more about life issues and video games. But I put a lot of myself into the blog. The cows are in the barn. Chicks in the brooder. Snow is melting and it’s muddy outside. We just can’t do much so our time is being spent in close proximity. And that’s cool. But it can’t help but bleed through on the blog.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 9

Well, this didn’t work out as planned. I thought I would read Gaining Ground this week but only succeeded in carrying it around with me for a week.

Satchel

I did start and finish Robinson Crusoe and sped my way through something unexpected, The Dilemmas of Family Wealth. On that last one, I feel I should clarify that family money is no problem I suffer from. Rather, I hope to equip my children with a soil-building, cash generating machine that will enable them to live life to the fullest, pursuing their own interests, finding enlightenment and fulfillment on their own terms…not just tagging cows for the old man.

So let’s talk for a minute about reading whatever I wanna and about my kids. My kids read whatever they wanna. Here is a post that talks about why.

Another four inches of snow fell last night. You know what sounds nice? Nicaragua. 93 degrees in Managua today. Sigh.

Let’s get started. We’ll start on a tropical island.


Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Guy ignores his father’s advice and ends up shipwrecked on an island. He deals with scarcity and economy as he scratches out an existence on the little island. Seriously? You haven’t read this?

This is a classic among classics. Classics are classics because people still read them. Some are more classic than others though. For example, I have never survived the meat grinder that is Don Quixote…short of watching Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren.

I focused on economy as I read. What is most important to Rob? The ship wrecks. His companions are all washed away. He is alone and has an unknown but limited amount of time to retrieve goods from the ship before it washes out to sea. What is first? That choice is faced over and over. How to make the most of his time and resources. So let’s bring this on home. Rob had to farm. He kept goats, grew barley, etc. Barley. Barley from seeds he found in a coat pocket. Starting small, with very little, showing a small profit, saving that profit instead of consuming it and re-investing it in the future, Rob ultimately had more barley than he needed. It took time.

It takes time. we bought 6 cows. How long will it take us to increase that to 30 cows? A long time…even in a perfect world where all cows breed each year. Half of the cows born each year are male. Math that out for yourself. But you save heifers and reinvest them. You save and hatch a few chicken eggs and duck eggs. You build your customer base slowly as your production increases. Little by little, over time, focusing on keeping the most important things at the top of your list.

Economy aside, you know what Rob wanted more than anything? Companionship. The Bible says that’s what God wanted too. That’s why He made us.

I spend a lot of blog time praising my wife. I do that in real life too. I need my wife. I need her support. She is my companion. Isolation in our marriage is just a few criticisms away. If I want her to leave me alone I just have to say a few magic words and she’ll disappear. Vanish. In fact, I can make her disappear with a lack of words as well. I can just neglect her out of my life. I also have to be careful with my expectations. I expect to be married the rest of my life and I don’t want to be a broken down old man married to a broken down old woman when we’re 50. We have to make careful choices right now to care for our bodies. She should not be carrying 50 pound feed sacks across ice. I shouldn’t carry two hay bales at once. Those kinds of actions limit our potential over the long haul.

And Robinson Crusoe was in it for the long haul. He played the long game and <SPOILER!> he won.

You may be asking, reader, if everything I read has to involve my farm and my marriage.

Yes. Yes it does.

Do you think eggs matter to anybody? Eggs don’t last. My marriage matters to me…even if you don’t care. My marriage has to last. I was made to worship God. I have vowed before that God that my marriage would work. I have a limited amount of time and resources to invest in my relationship. What do I do first?


The Delimmas of Family Wealth by Judy Martel

Hoo boy. I SPRINTED through this book. Sprinted. This book requires serious, personal reflection time but it is hard for me to apply because I’m not the target audience. I’m ready to step aside and let the next generation run but they aren’t ready yet and we are certainly don’t have money to burn. Is it a classic? I don’t know. I won’t know for some time. I gathered some ideas that will help me guide my family for a few decades but you’ll have to check in 50 years from now to see if I garnered anything of value.

Let’s begin at the beginning. What do I want for my children?

I don’t want my children to take the farm. I hope one or more of them will but I can’t look at my oldest son and say, “Son, this will all be yours someday.” He wants to be an engineer. Oldest girl? Baker. Next child? Pastor/carpenter/taco stand owner. Last child? She just wants to live with us. And she can. So maybe she’ll take the farm. But maybe she’ll grow out of being 8. I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know. I can’t make my kids do this. Nor do I want to. I need to build a base of resources upon which I launch subsequent generations into successes of their own. The farm is our foundation of wealth. We are not slaves, the farm is not our master. The farm is our launch pad.

Martel includes this quote from James Hughes, author of Family Wealth: Keeping It in the Family, a book Julie and dad and I read within the last year.

…most succession plans fail because the first generation tries to impose its dreams on the second, setting up a cycle for dysfunction and eventual collapse. “The families that fail fast are the ones where the first generation says to the second ‘you’ll do this for us, and then we’ll do something for you,’ he says. “It’s better to ask, ‘what is your dream, and how can the family enhance it?”

What are my kids’ dreams? Who are they? Who could they become? What’s the point of having any resources at all if we don’t use them to answer these questions?

So what is the farm then? This is home. This is the place we return to when we are hurt, when we need to heal up, when we need to rest. We are safe here. If there is nowhere else to go, if all the world is against us we can return here.

House

That’s what this house means to me. This was grandma’s house. There were always bags of cookies in the freezer and probably some ham in the fridge. I was loved and wanted here…welcome. If I needed anything at all (need, not want) I could count on grandma and grandpa to help me. When we came to visit I was warm and safe and slept soundly on the couch to the sound of the clock ticking on the mantle. My sister slept on the other couch. Mom and dad slept upstairs. Grandpa slept in his recliner until he went to bed. Even as a teen, I brought a date here to watch Aladdin. We sat on the couch laughing, grandma slept in her recliner.

You know who loved us? Who hated beards but never judged us? Who was more supportive and understanding and loving about the mistakes my cousins and I made in life than anybody else? My grandma. My Bible-reading, popcorn-eating, cookie-baking grandma who had made serious mistakes of her own in life. This was NOT the place to turn when you were short on money but it was the place to turn when your heart was broken. Grandma loved us.

Grandma was perceptive and intuitive. In a certain mood I might say she was manipulative…lol. But she was also creative. She made bookshelves. She made cabinets. She painted pictures and saw blades that are probably in every family’s house. She and her sister wrote a cookbook that mom and her sister just republished so we can still cook up our favorite grandma dishes. Those are, to me, happy smells. They are more than just oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and frozen fruit salad. They are emotion.

Grandma represented love and Grandpa, to my mind, exuded strength. Grandpa was a big, big dude. Remember, his job as a child was to restrain his older brother when Billy had seizures. And he had to carry the milk cans from the white barn down the lane, across the bridge and up the hill because the milk truck couldn’t drive back there…after he milked the cows by hand. That’s a path we still travel.

BarnPath

Through tornadoes, wild animals, recession and ’80’s farm debt, there was comfort in my grandfather’s strength. Maybe I’m showing that the boy in me worshiped the man. Maybe. But maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe that’s why grandpa positively impacted so many people. Uncle Jack’s eulogy is included in the family cookbook. I’ll quote a little. I’ll start after the story of lifting a little boy up onto the back of his horse to spare him from school bullies…an act that got him out of a traffic ticket years later when said little boy became a police officer.

He himself was a faithful hero. He was the kind of hero who takes on impossible burdens, and never gives up. At the age of 16, he had to drop out of school and become sole support of a family of five, in the midst of the Great Depression. He bought a tractor, one of the first in the community, and began a career of innovation and hard work that lasted 60 years. When his doctor told him he had only two or three years to live, he continued to farm for four years before he retired and had a final sale of his machinery – a month before he died.

About his cancer, he told me, “I’m not afraid of dying, but I hate the idea of becoming helpless and worthless.” The tedium of his illness drove him crazy. He knew farmers who, discovering they had terminal cancer, put their affairs in order and killed themselves. But I knew he’d never do that, because he saw it as his duty to set a good example to the end. He’d spent his life demonstrating, for us, how a man should live. Now he spent these final years showing us how a man dies.

I don’t really want to write a post where I cry and tell you how much I loved my grandparents. I want you to know that this place where I am now…the room where my grandparents watched Johnny Carson and snored in their recliners…this is home. I feel safe here. I want to give that to my children. Grandpa didn’t give me cattle or chickens or stock dogs. He built a pond. That’s true. But I am buying it from the bank at a price I myself find shocking. My grandparents gave me love and a legacy of creativity and integrity and hard work. My grandparents set the stage for me to live my life and helped teach me to be happy and hard-working no matter what. And to worship the Lord. They taught their children who taught their children. Now I teach my children.

That’s wealth. Real wealth. Do you know who I am not? I am not my grandfather. I miss by a few inches and about 60 pounds. I lack the personal discipline and character he developed. But I can love my children. I can love them for being who they are and I can apply my own resources to helping them fulfill their individual purposes, not to bend them to my will. Reading these books is not an expression of my love of money. It is an expression of love for my family following the path grandma and grandpa walked before us.

So with tears wiped and nose blown maybe I should talk about the book a little bit…in my book post. We have clearly established what we’re trying to do. Now how do we do it?

One thing Martel points out is the need for the next generation to share our common vision. There is a worksheet included that boils down to two questions for family members:

  • Who actually understands what we are trying to do here?
  • Are we succeeding?

It may turn out that nobody knows what is going on. Maybe we need to state it more clearly. Maybe I should state it more clearly.

Kids, I want you to learn everything you can about everything you can. I enjoy working with animals and tromping around outdoors. I think owning a farm is a hoot and I see business potential here…though we have yet to fully realize it. I hope the farm will teach you the rewards of hard work, help you appreciate and understand the world around you and will give us a source of income from which we can launch other businesses. Whatever you want to do, I’m with you. The land is just the place. You are the purpose. Or as your mother wrote it:

We work together as a team to steward God’s resources, create a welcoming home, share with others, encourage one another, learn and explore new ideas and pursue our God given purpose.

My grandparents didn’t make anybody stay home on the farm. They also didn’t make anybody leave. But had grandma and grandpa been intentional about building a family business here, things might be different. Aunts and uncles may still have moved away but there would have been something more than the cemetery to link their children to this land.

The cemetery is a good example of another quote I liked from this book. The cemetery committee is voluntary. You want to participate? Great. The committee’s goal appears to be to see to it that our family memorials are cared for and our own place is prepared. I want the cemetery to be the kind of place I would like to be buried. To make that happen, there is a committee to oversee the cemetery and it’s made of adults who contribute willingly. Here the author is quoting David Gage.

The potential roles for siblings working together are extremely diverse – from running the business to being a “silent” investor with a seat on the board of directors. If they, as adults, are given the opportunity to work out their roles and their partnership themselves, they will be more invested in the outcome, and will have a better chance of feeling good about their arrangement – much better, Gage maintains, than if a parent selected those roles for them.

There is no reason my aunt and uncle and parents can’t work together outside of the boundaries of a formal family business. In fact, they do. But the family business structure could be a way Julie and I can facilitate that cooperation. We just have to structure it correctly. There is a TJED home school quote we repeat to ourselves constantly. We seek to inspire, not require. Did you read the link at the top about helping your kids to develop a passion for reading? Let me sum up. If you want your kids to read, you should read. Early and often. That inspire quote is in this book too. Quoting Robert Mondavi’s book Harvests of Joy the author includes:

The greatest leaders don’t rule. They inspire.

This is important, as the author points out, because at some point a family business is likely to be sold. And that may be the best thing. Culture, economy, legislation and talent in the family change. What then? I can’t anticipate what will happen in the future. The best thing I can do is to help my children become thoughtful, mature adults who can branch out, do their own thing and feel that they, themselves are the founding generation so the wealth will grow rather than evaporate.

…what some founders fail to take into account is that future business entrepreneurs are vital for wealthy families because it is through the sale of a successful company that much of the great wealth in this country is earned. These supplemental fortunes help to offset the original asset base that is being depleted as the family grows, simply through the care and feeding of too many mouths. While the family begins to write a multigenerational narrative that will be funded through the wealth created by the founder, the money is being stretched to pay for more members who come into the fold. New family entrepreneurs are needed to replenish the financial capital.

So, by golly, we will have engineers and bakers and taco makers…or the book talks about soldiers, farmers and poets. So I’ll invest in their success. And their children? Who knows. But that’s a more interesting investment than anything listed on an exchange. And it sounds like more fun than buying yacht.

I really can’t cover this book. I found it to be a valuable read but there is just too much here…and as I hope you can tell it is all very personal and important to me. The introduction strongly suggests that the book be read with a group. I agree. And I know just the group to read it with.

I do want to say, though, that the book points out the necessity of connecting future generations with the family’s past. Who are we? Can we still be “us” without the farm? My kids barely remember my grandmother. They never met my grandpa. It is important that we record and tell the stories of our family past to lend context to the process of discovering who we are now. This is important because cows and money do not encompass our family. Those are a means, not an end. I know I used a lot of words to illustrate it but that’s what this book reinforced for me.


Article of the Week

On the topic of family wealth, I make it a point to read Bill Bonner (author of the excellent book Family Fortunes, BTW) at least a couple of times each week. This is not a farming topic. This is entertainment. Just for laughs. The last thing I am looking for is investment advice. Just humor. Keep that in mind as you click. Also, sometimes Bill’s posts are all about misdirection. This week he threatened to post a two-part meditation on the burden of wealth but part 2 was…well, part 2 didn’t go anywhere so he promised to write more later. So go into this forewarned.

Bill kicked this off on Wednesday by writing If You Value Your Freedom, Don’t Get Rich. Basically, being poor…genuinely poor – without clothing or food, not the moving target that is the poverty line – is obviously bad. But being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. Wealth may lead to isolation. It might be better to be somewhere in the middle. Read the post and you’ll see what he’s getting at.

Part two is inappropriately titled The ONLY Stocks You Should Be Holding Right Now. That’s the right way to title part two of a series about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (Look, it’s a play on words, Shakespeare. Let it go.) If you click on the link focus your time on the lower third of the post as he describes a gentleman named Emile. I’ll quote a little.

He was probably the least vulnerable person we have ever met. If the stock market got cut in half, he wouldn’t have noticed. If the country fell into a recession or depression, it wouldn’t have changed a thing about his life or his living standard.

Emile needed no job. He paid no mortgage. He awaited the arrival of no check, neither from the government nor from anywhere else.

It’s not lack of income that makes you vulnerable. Nor is it lack of income equality that makes you a schmuck.

This builds on to the notion Bill frequently presents that you should be ready to ride out any storm with a garden, a wine cellar, a stack of firewood…what more do you need?

And I have no response to that question. What more do I need? I recently asked Julie why we have so much stuff. Really! Why? Our bedroom requires a bed, a dresser and about a foot of clothes hanging in my closet, another foot or more of clothes hanging in her closet. Maybe a bedside table. So why is there so much other stuff? Keep going around the house. Living room. Couch, chair, bookshelf, lamp. Everything else needs to go. Why do I have all of that other stuff? Probably because I have more money than sense. Which is why I don’t have more money. Which is why I don’t have more cows. Which is why I spend several hours each day driving to work instead of sitting with my wife by the fire or tending my garden.


I don’t know who you are or what your are reading. I don’t know if you are even reading this. Pop something in the comment box to let me know you are alive, will you?

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.