I Don’t Have Time to Not Read

I was listening to a recent episode of the Read to Lead podcast this week and the guest was talking about the importance of reading. You probably aren’t too surprised by that, given the subject of the podcast is reading.

Guest Angie Morgan said you can’t argue that you don’t have time to read because we don’t have time to not read.

That was sufficiently profound that I felt prompted to write a blog post. A blog post on the blog where I spend a considerable amount of time talking about the farm by way of the books I am sharing with you.

I don’t have time to NOT read.

Why?

Because there is so much I do not know….too much I will never figure out or even think of without guidance. The depth of my ignorance is boundless. Reading does not alleviate me of the need for thinking for myself. Rather, it allows me the opportunity to catch up. Why do we ask the Muse to sing of the wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles? Because he brought so much pain upon the Achaeans. Because Achilles thought he wanted a short life and everlasting glory but, when later talking with Odysseus, changed his mind. He would have preferred a long life. Because we can see by their example how badly we can screw things up when responding to emotions rather than to reason.

Humans have shared read the works of Homer for 3,000 years. Is that by accident? I don’t think so.

Because I can’t tell the future.

I know very little about Neil Gaiman. I have seen his name on spines at the library and at book stores. Fortunately, the Milk is on our shelf and I suspect my kids know all about him. But I don’t. I have only read this article quoting him. Rather than quote the whole article, which you should read and consider, I’ll point out this sentence:

The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

But I can influence the future, just as Gaiman says in the post above. I can raise my children to wonder at worlds that will never exist but are reflections of worlds that could be. I can help guide my children through these worlds, the concepts and consequences the writer is presenting. Jean Valjean was not real but his impact can be felt. Bilbo Baggins, like Luke Skywalker, was an unlikely hero with a glowing sword…but a hero nonetheless. Jean and Bilbo teach my children about doing what is right in spite of the cost in a way they can relate to where they are now.

Because I don’t want to screw this up.

Is that silly? Or obvious? I want to be a good husband. A good father. Even a good employee and citizen. I want to understand the historical definition of each of those roles and I find my way through them. Not only do I seek to understand how previous generations raised my fathers, I seek to know why. And what traps did they fall into that I can avoid? Because it’s not enough to turn infants into adults-sized bodies. I want to shape the minds trapped in those bodies. And I can’t do it alone. I have to rely on outside help. Marcus Aurelius’ great-grandfather said exactly this:

From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally.

While you can’t learn to swim from a book, we rely on the perspective and experience of a wide variety of authors to teach us. And we do spend liberally. Amazon gets a frightening portion of our budget. So does the library in the form of overdue fees but that’s another story.

Obviously my focus in on my home but it goes beyond that. After Julie and the kids, I spend the most time with my employees and co-workers. I can influence the future of the company by encouraging others to explore, learn and grow. It’s as easy as asking, “Hey, whatcha reading these days?”

The most typical answer is, “Nothing. I don’t have time to read. Hey, did you see that last episode of Zombies Murdering People? It was Awesome!”

No, man. I don’t have time to watch watch Zombies Murdering People. There is too much I don’t know…don’t understand and haven’t explored. In short, I am too stupid to watch Zombies Murdering People.

How about you? Whatcha reading these days?

Update:

I came down kind of hard on Zombies Murdering People and for that I am sorry. It may be that in 100 years we will look back on the various episodes of Zombies Murdering People and reflect on the changes the show wrought in the human spirit. It may prove to become a classic. But the odds are against it. Jefferson wrote that the US was better for its lack of printing presses compared to France. France had plenty of paper for the toilet but the US only printed the things that had proven their worth.

So I’ll offer Zombies Murdering People the benefit of the doubt and I’ll just let it be. And while its worth is measured I’ll occupy my time on tested and proven resources.

 

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The #1 Reason We Farm

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I can respond to the title in one sentence but that’s not what we do here. I have to use 1,000 words. Bear with me, please. You know I like to talk.

Last year I kept a reading journal on the blog. My reading journal continues, I just don’t share it with you. I wrote out a list of books I wanted to read/re-read on January 1. Here is the list:

Do you know what I did with that list? I read some, I put others aside for another time. I appended to the list. Good Profit and Superforecasting seemed, at the time, to be impactful but I would have a hard time telling you what they were about without flipping through the pages again. Landscapes & Cycles was preaching to the saved and I set it aside. Lean Farm and I couldn’t seem to meet up. High Output Management continues to challenge me. Louder and Funner was quietly hilarious and somewhat accusational. I have read enough of Wodehouse that when I re-read Malabar farm I heard the narrative in the voice of Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, bragging that he was asked to speak at the meeting but had declined because he was too busy with the farm, old horse.

So what happened to MacBeth or Republic? Were those failures?

Maybe. Kinda. But mostly I think I got the idea of the first 100 pages of Republic then decided that now was not the right time. And that is true of a good number of books I run into. Today’s Chris Jordan doesn’t need that book. Tomorrow’s might though. I have never read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. Look, I know. I get it. But they don’t seem to scratch an itch.

Is this failure? Maybe. But not the kind of failure we are looking for.

BTW, my current active stack (piled to my right) includes:

The book Turn the Page discusses the importance of reading several books at once and finding connections between them, discovering ways reading one book impacts your thoughts of another. How will Algorithms to Live By impact Tale of Two Cities? I dunno. It may not.

But Turn the Page also talks about the importance of sampling many books and setting the majority of them aside. Also, the author of Turn the Page is a bit of a bore, referring to himself in third person and constantly quoting himself in bold print.

Chris Jordan thinks the author of the book Turn the Page is a bit of a bore, referring to himself in third person and constantly quoting himself in bold print.

If you read the book you’ll understand that joke. There are some good things in the book but you have to get past the writing style.

So what is this all about, Chris? Why are you sharing this with the world? Why are you, who just finished bragging about how humble you are and what a complete flop you are as a farmer, now list out the books you haven’t read? What is the point?

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If I were to ask you, “What do we grow on our farm?” you might answer, “Well, Chris, you seem to have cattle and chickens. Sometimes pigs. There are bees out there somewhere but you don’t talk about that much. I guess you grow hay. Your dad has horses. So…is that what you want? Or are you looking for a more clever answer like, “money”. That’s the answer Henry Galt gave the judge when asked what he farms.”

You are not technically wrong. We grow grass. There are cows. Those things are here. And, yes, we pay a little tax on a very little income each year. But that’s not what we do here.

We grow people.

Our farm is a ministry more than anything. It’s about people.

And not just the six of us.

Jesus boiled life down to two simple tasks:

  1. Love God
  2. Serve People

Cows are a fun extra.

I can’t make you grow. I can’t make you read my blog. But the hope is that you, reader, will happen across my blog and I will grab your attention long enough to plant a seed. I tell you about the things I wrestle with. I tell you what I am reading and thinking and enjoying and experiencing. I ask you to celebrate when our marriage survives another year. I ask you to cry with me about our daughter’s illness. I ask you to share my burden when I lose a calf through ignorance or inaction. I embrace you as a part of my extended family. I want to hear about your struggles. I want to read what you are reading.

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So I lead by example. I write about the things that make the farmer. ..the things that make the marriage. …the things that make the family. …the things that add meaning to our lives.

We home school our children but we don’t do school at home. There are no classrooms, no desks, no ringing bells. No schedule. We read. They read. We discuss. They participate. We sell farm products. They stand beside us at every step.

watering the cattle

I write about my reading list in the same way. I think this is how I can serve you. I scatter seeds. Life is not easy, on the farm or in town. My days are long. I get tired. Julie gets tired. We work through difficulties together. We read books together. We walk through life together. My post about humility and failure was not seeking sympathy from my small group of readers/friends. I was sharing. This stuff is hard. Someone recently told me that I make everything look easy. I am, indeed, very blessed. But it is not easy. I meant that post to be an encouragement to the reader. This stuff is not easy. But I continue to plug away, trying, failing, trying again. Failure, we learned in church this weekend, builds faith.

I am a man of faith. And I do this to serve you.

I write to bless you. I hope you write back.

Chris Jordan hopes you will write back.

 

The Farming Manual: Rick Building and Thatching

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I’m afraid this chapter has little to offer me unless I look at the pattern exposed by the chapter. Let me start at the middle of the chapter

There is a big difference between building with 6-ft. wheat sheaves, and little, short, round barley sheaves.

The world has changed, Mr. Henderson. We no longer value straw. We have, in the modern era, moved to shorter wheat. I have never been lost in a wheat field. So I cannot build the rick you are describing. Even if you watch BBCs Victorian Farm you see short sheaves.

Some years ago I asked an elderly neighbor (when his combine was plugged up with wet wheat) if he could make a sheaf. He laughed, said yes and then said no. He could but he wouldn’t. He began twisting wheat to bind the sheaf and then he stopped saying he would never do that again…that there was no need.

He passed away a few years ago. That knowledge went with him.

Mr. Henderson spends the entire chapter cautioning us against common errors. Lay sheaves with the knots up. Build on a flat spot. The rick should be slightly larger at the top than at the bottom. Pages and pages of things to do and things to avoid so you will have a successful threshing 10 or so days later.

…a Cotswold farmer, with a rick big enough to hold a day’s threshing, will like his oats to ‘Hear the church bells twice’ in the field…

And then they thresh the wheat. There are still threshing machines around. You will see collections of antique equipment at shows in nearby towns. Groups of belt-driven and steam-powered equipment operated and maintained by older gentlemen who may or may not have both of their hands.

The next part of the chapter covers thatching and I feel that this paragraph is key:

About 2 cwt. of straw is required for each square of thatching. A ton should be kept back for every day’s threshing anticipated. Ideally, it should be hand-threshed with a flail, and grown without the aid of artificial fertilizers – although the farmer who can supply that today can sell every handful at a high price for house thatching. Straw that has been combine-harvested, baled or threshed with a fast-moving peg drum, is useless for thatching. In the West of England there are a few special threshing machines designed for the preparation of thatching straw, but require about five men to take the straw off.

This continues for a few pages. Please allow me to summarize. Even in Henderson’s time it was hard to find suitable straw for house thatching. That means I’m never going to thatch my house.

Look, I know. Those are difficult words to read. We love the Earth and want a biodegradable roof…as long as it doesn’t biodegrade today. And we have all seen The Quiet Man and want a cottage in Ireland with a thatched roof and a green door. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? But just like a prepper with a Red Dawn fantasy, we have to be more honest about our motivations. You don’t prep because you fear Russian invasion, you prep because unemployment lasts longer if you don’t have to buy food when you are unemployed. Chances are, you don’t want a thatched roof because it is practical either.

But let’s say you are not convinced. Good for you. Can you learn to thatch a roof by reading Henderson’s 6 pages? No. He is looking to improve the worker who is already familiar with the process. Can you learn to thatch by watching Tales from the Green Valley? No. But you can get an overview of the process.

Most of the skill in thatching comes from practice, well-prepared straw, carefully drawn yelms, and good organization of the work – the correct number of yelms in a jack to do one strip of the roof, the ladder in just the right place, and so on.

I seriously doubt that I will ever rip my soil to plant an antique variety of wheat. Further, I seriously doubt I will walk out to my fields with a sharpened scythe to harvest my wheat, then bind it by hand into sheaves, then stack it in ricks, thresh it by hand, pile and wet the straw and thatch a building. I might decide to do that one summer but I have serious doubts.

So the value of this chapter comes from the quote above. Most of the skill on my farm comes from practice, quality materials and good organization. However, Henderson spends page after page giving pointers. In real life that doesn’t work well.

Go ahead. Approach your spouse and list, in one long monologue, all of the things they can do to be a better person today. Let me know how that works out.

Henderson had to do that. It is a book, not a relationship. But in coaching my children or helping my wife I have to reserve comment from time to time. If I dare to open my yap I offer one pointer…not so much that they are confused by my instruction, just enough that they can make a small course adjustment and practice more effectively today.

So that’s the one small adjustment I have gained from this chapter today. I can give thought to organizing our labor. I can ensure that we have what we need to do the job right. And I can help everyone practice more effectively by saying less at once.

The Farming Manual: Hedges

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I have my days. Sometimes I sit, misty-eyed, looking at my fields dreaming of hedges following the contours of the landscape, providing shelter for wildlife, wind protection for the herds, cow protection for the cars driving past…sigh…

I should take a moment to be clear on this topic. What is a “hedge”? Hedges are not something we see outside of gardens in this country. This video is quite lengthy but covers the whole shebang from a how-to perspective.

And here is a later video of the same hedge discussing the results.

So we are talking about planting and training a fence. You typically want a plant species that will coppice well, something that will respond positively to being stressed, something that will grow in close quarters and, usually, something with thorns. You know what will coppice well, grow in close quarters and has thorns? Osage Orange.

Some years ago I read the book Hedges, Windbreaks, Shelters and Live Fences by E. P. Powell dated 1900. He is against using Osage Orange. While they fit most of the criteria, they tend to grow out as much as they grow up and you have to, according to Powell, trim them three times each summer. Worse, you have to lay the hedge at some point. Osage Orange typically has 1″ thorns spaced 1″ apart along the entire length of young growth. How on Earth would you weave those together as in the video above?

Rather than review Powell’s book I’ll continue with Henderson’s species recommendations.

In hedge laying every effort should be made to preserve the hawthorn, which is the hedging material par excellence, it gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon ‘hedge thorn’. If there is any choice, the hazel, elder, maple, privet, spindlewood, wayfarer, guilder, and briar should be cut out, a rapid-growing, large-leafed species is the enemy of the thorn.

We have hawthorn on the farm and, BOY!, does it succumb to fire blight. I suppose I could try to bring a blight-resistant species onto the farm or, over the long years, attempt to breed a more resistant strain of my own.

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Hazel isn’t exactly common in my area. Elder grows everywhere but is, in my opinion, not a worthwhile wood to cultivate. Maple sneaks in where it can. Same with black raspberry…and poison ivy. And rather than deal with a thorny, tangled mess intertwined with poison ivy, modern farmers tend to put up barbed wire or high-tensile fence and keep the fence clean with round-up. Or, if they have a line of trees (not a hedge) they just try to cut them back every so often.

High-tensile electric works pretty well. But that’s not what Julie and I are after. We need wind protection. We need wildlife habitat. We need food production. We need coppiced wood. We need a barrier to smaller animals. And to get this I have to grow appropriate species to my climate and lay them in a woven, living mesh, not just chop them back every so often.

Hedge cropping, the mere cutting back of growth, is not so effective, as the hedge tends to get thin at the bottom and gaps appear through which stock may escape, while a really well-laid hedge is hen proof.

And, later:

Hundreds of farmers no longer keep sheep because their hedges will no longer confine them. On many farms all the stock roam over too wide an area for want of efficient hedging. On such farms it is difficult to think of a more profitable investment for time, money, and effort, than in putting all the hedges in order.

From here, Henderson begins on dry stone walling. My enthusiasm for hedging is, I believe, obvious. My lack of enthusiasm on the subject of dry-stone walling may be similarly obvious. We do not grow rocks where I live. I suppose there are rocks down there somewhere but not like they are a few hours to the north. I have driven past fields in Wisconsin where there are piles of stones that must grow like potatoes in the soil each winter for harvest each spring. The few we have were carried by glacial action or by my vacationing grandparents. But he does talk a little about contour here, something we missed in the section about hedges

Where boundaries run up hill, the wall should be built horizontally, and not up the slope. Heading stones should be supported by a large block occasionally, or made to lean uphill, so that if a lower stone is removed accidentally the others do not fall like a pack of cards.

Contour is important for other reasons though. We want to slow down the flow of water so we can store as much as possible and settle out any sediment the flowing water has picked up as it passes over and through our farm. Our creeks should be wide. Our ponds should be many. And our hills should focus the flow of water to the ridges while slowing the passage of water downhill. The top of the hill is the place to store water. But sometimes hills cannot be avoided and for those moments it is appropriate to remember that water flows through plants too. Sap goes up the stem of the plant. Cut your pleaches so your hedge grows up hill to retain the flow of sap. It’s too much to ask a tree to grow upside-down.

Henderson ends the chapter talking about sheep hurdles. “Hurdles” are wooden sections of temporary fence. This is wood craft. Coppiced wood (probably hazel) made into a kind of wicker fence section.

That’s not for me either. But there is some detail here that pertains to us. We use temporary electric fencing and that requires some level of planning.

A very important aspect is in planning the number of daily pens in a given field inch a way as to give the sheep the food they require, and at the same time ensure the minimum of effort for the land covered, and to never the finish at the week-end with all the additional labour of moving to the next field. The old shepherds were always very cunning in having it all worked out. Many of them never set a hurdle after mid-day, but spent their spare time ‘looking at the sheep’, while lesser men would strive all day to catch up. In the old days it was reckoned one man could set for 400 sheep grazing roots, or half that number if he was grinding (pulping) the roots by hand. It was equivalent to having 1,000 sheep on each acre per day, no wonder the Golden Age of British farming was based upon them.

That is to say, if we are attentive to what we are doing we can be more efficient about it. There is a real difference in the amount of time and energy I spend building fence compared to the time Julie spends on the same task. But this isn’t a chapter about rotational grazing. It’s a chapter about restraining livestock.

The hedge is of interest to me. I have allowed a few black locust trees to sprout up here and there intending to pull them with the tractor and put them all in a row. I think this is the year. Mulberry would work well too. No thorns to mess with. Hawthorn may be the gold-standard but I can’t seem to get ahead of the fire blight. Osage Orange is only in Illinois because it was believed to be the best option in North America. Who am I to argue with that? I’ll argue anyway though. I hate Osage Orange. Hate.

What is the best option where you live? Probably high-tensile electric. But are you adventurous or dumb enough to hedge? Skilled enough to build a dry stone wall? Silly enough to make wooden hurdles in an era of electric netting?

Maybe it’s not dumb or silly. Maybe it’s the right thing to do in any economy. I don’t know.

The Farming Manual: Farm Tools

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Henderson spends a lot of time in this chapter describing a world I have only read about. I realize the traditional tools used in York differ from those used in Cornwall but I may be in the minority of Americans who can point to York and Cornwall on a map…let alone understand that there are differences between racial or cultural subgroups living within Cornwall.

It is in the shovel that we see the racial choice most strongly marked, the so-called Devon or Welsh socket shovel is used wherever you find Celtic people, in Cornwall, Wales, the west of Ireland, up the west coast of Scotland, and of course in the Western Isles.

What a diverse world! It is all but gone in America’s Midwest. There are only a few tokens of my ancestry laying around the old farm house. Stories mostly along with a few food items and family values. But really, the whole thing has gone the way of the shovel. No real variety. The industrial age standardized the shovel into a horrible thing that breaks upon use. There is one design available at multiple price points in every hardware store in America.

This chapter describes the different tools in use by farmers from different counties. Changes depend on the size of the people in the county, the variety of plants available and just plain old user preference. It’s kind of amazing. Tools with enough variety to meet the needs of the farmer. Tools that farmer will use for his lifetime.

I can’t imagine. I recently bought a new hatchet. I didn’t need a new hatchet. I didn’t particularly want a new hatchet. Especially not the toy steel hatchet I bought. But I spent about 5 minutes looking at the grain of the handles in the store and found one with straight grain pointed in the right direction. I bought it. It is nearly impossible to find tool handles with the right grain orientation, let alone one that will hold an edge or is the right weight. I suppose that’s why there are so many of those horrible tools with fiberglass handles. Yuk.

So here I am, living in a world of stamped, pre-broken round point shovels and cross-grain handled axes and hatchets reading about a world of quality hand-made tools in large varieties. Different shovels for different soil types, scaled down for users under a certain weight (14 stone). I can’t imagine.

And it is probably my fault. I don’t want to pay $100 for a spade. I want to buy a $20 shovel and use it like a spade, then complain loudly on the internet when it breaks.

So where does that leave us?

I don’t know about you but I could do a better job of caring for my tools. I could take time to clean my unbroken shovel and wipe the blade with an oil rag. I could keep the edge sharp. I could rub a little linseed oil on the handles of my tools. I could do a better job of keeping them put away (following behind my children…). Even my horrible post-industrial tools would be better if I would care for them a little better.

But it can’t just stop there. There are tools I use regularly and for hours on end. And I’m not talking about my chainsaw. We butcher chickens with hand tools. My best knives were given to me by an elderly man. His father was a butcher. My new knives don’t compare to those old ones. I prefer a high-carbon steel blade to a stainless steel blade. By that I mean I prefer working to sharpening. And in this case, I can buy near replacements of my old tools cheaper than their modern, stainless alternatives.

So where does this chapter leave us?

It may be as simple as this: Make an honest evaluation of your land, your size, your strength, your ability and your preferences. What are your needs? Now, what tools best fit your needs? Maybe you do need that $100 spade to help you double-dig your garden beds. Or maybe you don’t need to double-dig your garden beds. Maybe you need to mound up layers and layers of compost instead. That’s a different job, requiring a different tool. One sized to fit your body mechanics. One that does not overextend your reach or overtax your strength. One that makes work easy. Fun even.

How much is that tool worth? How many junk shovels and sore backs do you want to buy? Can you do a better job of deploying your resources? I’m sure Mr. Henderson would say something about Scottish opinions on relative scarcity.

The Farming Manual: Studying Farm Work

TheFarmingManualThere is no limit to the work that needs to be done. Reducing the effort involved in one task means I am free to pursue another task…not that I will ever be out of work. Less time spent caring for cattle each year means more time sitting on the couch with my family reading books. Or more time throwing stuff away. Or more time reading books about throwing stuff away.

So how do we reduce the effort involved? It is more, Henderson suggests, than merely the application of common sense in an organized way.

…with livestock something more is involved than the dumping of a certain quantity of food in the right place at the correct time.

It is possible to devise dry-mash hoppers and automatic water troughs for pigs which only need attention once a week. By their adoption it might be possible to reduce the labour charge from 365 hours to sixty-five in the feeding of 365 pigs annually. But if the system permitted each pig to waste 2 oz. of food daily, either down its throat or on the floor, the saving would be entirely wiped out. Also if the man failed to notice a bunch of pigs which were off their food in time to isolate them and prevent an outbreak of disease it might be calamitous. On the other hand, if a little reorganization of the work did give him time in which to study the pigs no time could be better spent.

That is a much longer quote than I normally share and may be more than is fair to Henderson. I can’t reprint the book. However, that quote sums up what we need to discuss today…with this slight change. Henderson later says,

The ultimate test is not the time or mileage saved, it is the stock units which can be efficiently managed.

Well, yes. But no. The ultimate goal is not more animals. The ultimate goal is not more money. The ultimate goal would be more like safe and efficient management of animals we enjoy utilizing our land, earning us enough return that we can spend time with those we love most. Don’t get me wrong, I like money. But, given the choice, I would pick more time with Julie and the kids. And if I didn’t like the animals I wouldn’t have them.

And in achieving these goals we may find our infrastructure is not what we need. That our fixed, specialized buildings should be replaced with general-purpose, portable structures.

We are all too familiar with the ranges of brick and tile pig-sties of an earlier generation, which seem a sin to destroy, but are quite out-moded.

That applies directly to me. What can I do with my hog floor besides keep hogs there? And I really can’t keep hogs there efficiently. Not efficiently enough to make it worth doing. (Look for a post in the near future).

Julie and I waste a huge amount of time dragging and draining hoses to water stock. We should have spigots everywhere. Lighting everywhere. Solid roads everywhere. We put hay in the loft of one barn just to spend the winter throwing it down and hauling it to another barn to feed the cattle. What is the sense in that?

A careful analysis is then made on the basis of: Why is it necessary, Where should it be done? When should it be done? Who should do it? and What is the best way to do it?

I like square bales of hay. I hate loading them into the loft. How could I keep hay at the cattle barn? I could put a loft back in that barn but, again, I hate loading hay into the loft. What if I kept bales at ground level under a portion of the roof? The building is not set up for that. What would it take to correct the setup? How much easier would feeding the cattle be if we could carry a bale no more than 15 or 20 feet?

Henderson spends the rest of the chapter illustrating his efficient building design and farm layout, discussing the merits of his approach with an emphasis on designing routes for harvest equipment or manure delivery to any field. In an earlier book he says they try to haul 600 loads of manure and spread it across the entire farm.

I have a lot of manure to haul and I have a number of fields I can’t begin to hope to cover with manure from the barn.

While I may have given the reader the impression that we are a horribly inefficient operation and feel a measure of conviction while reading Henderson the truth is we are a horribly inefficient operation and I feel a measure of conviction while reading Henderson. And, while I would love to tell you more about it, the sun is coming up and I have to take a bucket of water to the chickens in the greenhouse, walk to the cows and evaluate the remaining pasture, open the chicken house (next to the cows), give the chickens a half of a bucket of water from the cow’s trough, walk to the pigs (quite near the cows) carrying a bucket of water from the cow tank, feed the pigs, walk to the barn to feed the milk cow, drop a fresh bale for the calves in the calf pen across the way, stop at the grain bin for a bag of chicken feed that I will then carry on my shoulder 1/4 mile back to the greenhouse where I started.

Could that be better? Yes. But not a whole lot. Not on foot when the well is broken anyway.

But today the well gets fixed. And that will save all of us a lot of time.

The Farming Manual: The Mechanics of Labor

TheFarmingManual

Some years ago when I thought I was an athlete I made a day trip to Kansas City to visit Coach Rutt. Coach had several programs that utilized bodyweight and, otherwise, minimal equipment: pull-up bar, rings and sand. The “Rutman mile” was popular in CrossFit circles for a while (10 years ago) and it was simply this: Carry your bodyweight in sand for a mile in under 15 minutes.

I came close.

In this chapter Henderson discusses the capability of the human body, its often untapped potential and ways we limit our capacity by lack of training. What is possible?

…the very experienced stacker [of wheat sacks] …can carry at least three times his own weight without difficulty. The world record is 1 ton 18 cwt.

A sack of wheat, Henderson says, is 18 stone…252 pounds.

In the old days, the carrying of a sack of wheat up the granary stairs was the qualifying task by which a youth was entitled to consider himself a man.

Well, let’s see…39 years old, 175 pounds and can’t imagine carrying the equivalent of 5 feed sacks at once…not a man by that measure.

I struggled to carry a single hundredweight in my first week on the farm. I studied those who could, and within twelve months my master would set me to carry all the grain from the threshing machine in the standard four-bushel sacks, and which in the case of beans, peas or vetches would be 19 stone – in those days approaching two and a half times my own weight.

Most of the athletes who journaled their attempts at the Rutman mile (Kelly Moore comes to mind) found it almost impossible to lift the sandbag from the ground. Henderson suggests it is better if you receive the bag from a starting position around shoulder-height.

Think of an athlete preparing to perform a squat. Head up. Chest out. Core muscles tightened. Squeeze your cheeks. You lift the bar with your shoulders. These are things you will remember hearing from your coach. “Knees shoulder width.” Your coach will explain the physical motion and will correct your motion to prevent injury as you train for higher weight.

Let’s hear from Coach Henderson:

It is sometimes necessary to take a sack from a height from which it is not possible to take it across the shoulders, and in which case it must be carried down the back, and can be done in perfect safety providing the knees are close together and the stomach muscles are contracted before taking the weight. To have the legs wide apart and the body muscles slack is to court an injury either to the back or stomach.

Notice his emphasis on the core. Keep your back and stomach tight throughout the motion. Henderson is writing this chapter to train farm athletes. I have joked about CrossFarm many times. This is why. Farming for a high level of output is an athletic endeavor. Every morning is a foot race to feed, water and add bedding. Then there are other chores. Put up hay in time to shower and go to a social gathering, slaughter 300 chickens before customers arrive. Cut, split and stack that tree before the next storm arrives. These are very much similar to CrossFit’s idea of timed workouts. How much work can you perform safely in a given period of time? But instead of making metal go up and down we are making cows happy, customers happy or keeping the wood stove going.

But it all hinges on safety and technique…not just strength or size or weight.

Hi. My name is Chris. I am 39 years old. I am 6′ tall, weigh 175 and don’t have an ounce of fat on my body. I can easily deadlift 300 pounds. I commonly carry two feed sacks at once.

Let me introduce you to my lovely bride. She is not 39. She is 5’9″ and weighs significantly less than me. She couldn’t deadlift 300 pounds to save her life. She irritates an injury in her right shoulder if she even thinks about carrying a single feed sack or a half-filled bucket of water.

What is the difference between Julie and me? When dealing with a 50 pound sack our weight, height and age difference don’t enter the equation. Julie carries it incorrectly.

You may have balked when I said that but let me suggest you think again. Julie is under more muscular strain carrying a basket of wet towels to the clothesline than when she carries a feed sack on her shoulder. It’s not weight. It’s technique. Normally she carries the basket in front of her body, pushing her center of balance way out in front, leaning back to compensate. And you should weigh a basket of wet towels sometime. You might be surprised what you are doing to your back.

Julie carries a feed sack on her right shoulder. Every time. She leans way to her left. Every time.

I either carry a sack on each shoulder or I alternate the shoulder I carry the sack on.

But Henderson says this is incorrect. I should center the sack across both shoulders. Maybe that’s a way I can help Julie.

And I need to help Julie. I need to coach Julie and our children…training them to be farming athletes. And if you are concerned that Julie can’t keep up with me physically:

Manure loading is considered to be one of the heaviest jobs in farm work, but with a little study it is no more than a physical effort which can be enjoyed. During the war, farmers were warned that they should not expect land girls to load manure. With suitable training a woman can compete quite easily with a man of similar weight. Intelligent application, as any woman can demonstrate, can compete with brute force in nearly all farm work.

This is a chapter on coaching. Coaching body mechanics, coaching technique and coaching tool selection (shovels shovel, spades dig). Work can be fun. It is always work but it should never hurt. If you are hurt, focus on healing and while you heal up, try to analyze what caused your injury. Are you lifting or carrying incorrectly? Are you using the wrong tool? Do you sit with bad posture at your desk job for hours on end?

I have some room for improvement. How about you?

The Farming Manual: The Reason For The Work

TheFarmingManual

Preface
Chapter 1: Teaching Farm Work

Q: Why are we doing this?

A: Well, to make money. To pay our taxes and buy new shoes.

That, my friends, is not an inspiring answer.

Have I oversimplified the big picture? Did I make an assumption? I thought everybody knew. Henderson is laying out his class syllabus in this chapter but I was entirely struck by the big picture…and its implications. As we read chapter 1, Henderson shares a list of ways he evaluates potential employees. He watches to see if they are working and then says:

The ability to judge distance, detail and object, are very important factors which can make all the difference in mastering a craft.

I obviously want to focus today’s post on the object of the operation.

…can he explain the reason for the operation – which is to give every plant the maximum opportunity for development in relation to the total number which must be left to ensure an adequate yield from a given acreage.

My kids, I’m afraid, can not explain the object. In their minds we have cows because dad wants to have cows. While that is not entirely incorrect, there is more to it. We have a given amount of meadow. I can spend a huge amount of time keeping it mowed or I can mow it with cows. Cows, like any other mower, require maintenance. But they also reproduce themselves and taste great. So our object, using Henderson’s framework, is to give every cow the maximum opportunity for development in relation to the total number. Where Henderson requires judgement of plant spacing, we require judgement of daily grazing allotment.

But that still doesn’t get to the heart of the matter because we could have a very nice house in town if we wanted. Instead we have a not very nice house way, way out of town. Way out of town. Like way out.

Why? And why cows and not sheep?

Maybe the question should be changed from “Why are we doing this” to “Why are we doing this?”

For a couple of reasons. First, cows make good economic use of our land. As long as we get rain and sunshine we will have grass. It’s pretty cheap and the cows like it. Add in a little bit of management and you win. The second reason is not about cows. It’s about us. It’s about who we are, deep down.

Our well went out at the barn two days ago. Right now we are hauling water from my house to the barn using the tractor. This is in no way an ideal situation and uses a lot of time. In the near future dad and I (or maybe just dad) will replace the well pump. It will be a cold winter day. Screws won’t turn, plastic will be brittle, old wiring will fail. But we will soon have it fixed. Then something else will break. That’s how it goes.

Will we break too? I hope not. I hope we are able to stand against the tyranny of our 40 year old infrastructure, becoming stronger and more resilient with each problem. Cue the fife and drum because we are part of a brotherhood of American farmers!

I guess, in a way, we have cows because I want to have cows. Because, like Oliver, I am not content to sit in my city apartment between sessions at my job. I want more! I want fresh air, hard work, strength, fitness along with cold toes and crushed fingernails! I don’t feel that these things make me more of a man than you. I don’t compare myself to you. I compare myself to me. I think these things make me more of me!

But I have gone astray. I’m reading a book, not delivering an Oliver speech.

Oliver is, I think, useful in discussing the book. If you are familiar, Oliver approached farming with books. His neighbors farmed because that’s what they had. They knew what they knew and did what they did, shaking their heads at Oliver’s “modern, scientific” farming. In the show, the two rarely got together and that, Henderson points out, is a mistake.

To acquire any skill expert demonstration and supervision is essential right from the start, and the object should be accuracy, correctness, ease of movement and then speed. All skills need time to be assimilated, and are the better for it. A few days of good training in one season will put you far ahead in the next year.

Rather than ask his neighbors, Oliver put his nose in books and leaflets. Only once in a great while did he bother to look elsewhere, usually to the clouds. Some years ago a real farmer friend set me straight on this very topic. I read a lot of books. A lot of books. But I had very little experience to back up my book learnin’. In conversation with Dave I could only contribute what I had read and I had read a book on any topic we could discuss. Now, Dave is a reader too. But Dave is a real farmer and at the time I was not. He pointed this distinction out. “I read a book! I read a book! I read a book! Well, Mr. Book, can you butcher a hog?”

Well, Dave, I read about it in a book. But it turns out that there isn’t a book on butchering that will teach you what you can learn from Dave in about 20 minutes. And, as Henderson pointed out above, that experience with Dave has percolated over the years. It gave me a solid foundation of learning upon which to build. That first pig was a slow process on a cold day. Now we go much faster.

Since the focus of this chapter is about teaching, not learning, I should point out some things about the way Dave taught me. Dave shot and stuck three pigs in succession then hung them from the loader bucket to bleed out. I watched (somewhat horrified). Three pigs. Dave worked on one, explaining what he was doing. Dave’s son worked on another, explaining nothing. The third pig was mine. I got a lot of help.

What a happy memory. It was so cold! We let the pigs hang overnight and packaged the meat in the morning. The kind of cold that makes your knuckles ache (Henderson has some advice about cold weather in this chapter too). But happy work with people we love.

A happy man is more an halfway to being healthy. Happiness is as good an indication of mental health, as a thermometer is of physical health. A happy worker has no worries, for he is far too busy to worry about problems which do not concern him directly. An unhappy worker magnifies his grievances, and their poisons settle in his muscles to add to his troubles.

Again, this is a chapter about teaching farm work. I suspect Henderson is including this detail in an effort to help you evaluate potential farm help. In a similar way, our pastor, when we were kids, told us to be sure to marry a happy person. And I found, during the lengthy interview process involving numerous candidates, Julie to be a happy person. So I hired her. And it seems to be working out pretty well. And we are, together (mostly Julie) teaching our children to be happy people…who will marry happy people.

We are nearing the end of the chapter and I guess it’s time for me to answer my own question. Why are we doing this?

The greatest service we can render anyone is to teach him to love his work, and to find in it contentment and happiness. … No farmer could spend time better than in devoting ten minutes a day, on his daily rounds, to stimulating each worker to the desire for knowledge by arousing his curiosity and interest in the things about him.

I seek to stimulate my children’s minds – and to engage my own – all while doing work we love surrounded by nature’s beauty. That is why we are doing this…which is to give every child the maximum opportunity for development in relation to the total number. It is important to remember this when the well pump breaks…or when other things go wrong.

My experience convinces me that very few boys, and even fewer girls, know their own ability. It is something you have to teach them. It surprises many of them, and with delight, to learn how capable they are. But they must be given carefully graduated responsibility at first to see they do not fall down on the job in the early stages. Later they may blame themselves bitterly for the things that go wrong, then we have to help and comfort.

Yeah. Well, maybe I won’t screw up my grandchildren. I have a lot to learn on this topic. Fortunately, I have a better resource than Oliver, Henderson or Dave at my disposal. I have my dad who tolerates my ridiculous notions. I hope the final quote for this chapter is soothing to him.

But how worthwhile it all is, to earn the friendship, the affection and the respect of the young. To have the privilege of listening to the younger generation telling us how they hope to put the world and farming right. Few will dispute it has often gone wrong. It is a tremendous thrill to share with youth their passionate desire to make the world a better place, both for themselves and those who will follow after them. They will not fail if they only pass on the message that work is something to be enjoyed, that work is good for you.

Henderson’s Farming Manual: Preface

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Ah, that old book smell. The smell of a book that has been gathering dust for decades. Dust in little balls across the top of pages. You scrape it off before you open the book, hearing the binding crack as you do…wondering if you are making a mistake waking this old book from its sleep…hoping the pages won’t crumble as you turn them.

This book is not one of those in part because it has been preserved chemically. Do you remember the smell of mimeograph paper? Libraries tend to use some sort of disinfectant or bug spray or something that smells like a mix of mimeograph and moth balls. Our friends at Frinton-On-Sea apparently love the stuff. I get a strong whiff with every turn of the page. Maybe a headache too.

Frinton.jpg

I would love to invite you to read this book with me but it’s a little hard to find. There are a few online libraries that offer it or you can find it on several online retailers. It isn’t cheap. I’m too embarrassed to remember what I paid for my copy but at the beginning of January, 2016 there is one on Amazon for $114.

In a way, I’m reviewing this for you to save you from a $114 mistake. On the other hand, I really don’t do book reviews. I share with you as books change me. Both of Mr. Henderson’s prior works are still working on me and I have high hopes for this book as well. This book may contain one idea that is well worth $114. If so, it is money well spent.

Henderson spells out his reasons for writing in the first paragraph of the preface:

I will try and explain the bare mechanics of the process [of farming]. Not in the sense of mechanized farming, but of the human machine on the land and its application to work.

He further justifies the work by lamenting the loss of labor on the farm saying work is being completed by children and elderly men. If you can find anybody to do the skilled work it is likely they are “an elderly man with his best years behind him.”

Stacking

 

Three generations of Jordan spent four hours shoveling manure prior to a heavy rainstorm at Christmas. Dad drove the loader tractor. I worked, directed and instructed as the children helped. Henderson laments in the preface that he sees young men driving the tractor while old men are doing the heavier work. So far so good. But then he lays it all  out.

Management also is passing into the hands of college-trained men who have no manual skill with which to instruct those who serve under them, and to inspire them with a joy in work which makes hours, wages and conditions of secondary importance to the pleasure and interest which may be found in the work.

The pleasure of shoveling manure. Yes, pleasure. I know exactly what he is talking about. Nobody wants to shovel manure for the sake of shoveling manure. When was the last time you jumped for joy that you could clean a litter box? But I want to keep livestock. I enjoy our livestock. And this is the price. I want happy, healthy, clean, dry livestock. This is the price. I shovel manure and bedding. I try to find efficient and effective ways to accomplish this work but I also try to just stand there in the barn and enjoy the cattle. I don’t look forward to completing the work. I look forward to having healthy livestock. See the difference?

The tragedy of it all is that given the skill, and the high output which comes from skill, agriculture is the happiest and pleasantest of all occupations, performed under conditions of fresh air and sunshine, and with proper direction and efficiency it should be possible to find in it a reward comparable with anything which can be earned in industry.

Well, now, Mr. Henderson. Things may have changed. Generally, I agree with what you are saying…hence the farm. But not entirely. I am in little danger of losing a limb at the office. There is little chance that an agitated co-worker will crush me at my desk as I sit in a squishy chair and air conditioning. But I have less chance of catching a communicable disease on the farm than I do in the office, a point you made earlier in the preface. There are no free lunches. But I do agree, generally, that farm work is pleasant and fulfilling. Database optimization is less so.

Farm work is something to be enjoyed…because it is creative. There is so much scope for initiative, pride and interest that we…never give up or think of retiring.

I agree. So does Gene Logsdon as he wrote in The Mother of All Arts. But I can say that of all of the jobs I have had since I left food service behind in my youth. Construction? Creative. Training? Creative. Server administration? Totally creative. And that’s a big part of what draws me into each of those and away from changing tires on tractor-trailers. I don’t do well with mundane and routine. I would die on an assembly line. Heck, I have a farm and a job that both leverage my creativity and still I blog as a creative outlet.

But he finishes the above paragraph by pointing out that it is soothing to perform farm tasks we have mastered when our soul is troubled. And I agree. Julie and I have been through some stuff this fall. There is something entirely therapeutic about getting up early and doing chores. Hello chickens. Hello pigs. Hello cows. Check water, check feed. Count heads. Look at eyes, ears and noses. That part is the same every day and those simple actions pulled us through some hard times. Though I enjoy my job in town I found the servers I work with to be unsympathetic and uninspiring on our bad days.

He finishes up by admitting that it is ambitious of him to attempt to teach farm work with a book. But even if he only accomplishes helping the reader find a starting point…

Julie’s right shoulder is always sore. Is she carrying a bucket incorrectly? Probably. A bale of hay? A sack of feed? Is this an issue of technique or just a lack of strength and conditioning? Maybe both. But I hope we gain some insights into how to address the issue by reading this book. I don’t mind rubbing my wife’s shoulders but I do mind a lifestyle that is damaging to her body.

And that is exactly the problem this book sets out to solve.

I hope you can find a way to read and discuss it with me. I’ll do my best to make it meaningful in case you can’t find a copy.

Marriage, Mortgage and Faith…Reading Journal Week 34

My blog and I can’t seem to get together these days. I still farm. I still work. I still carry a stack of books around with me everywhere.

Recently I was talking to some co-workers about “rich people” saying you probably have no idea who they are. You only notice the flashy jerks but that doesn’t mean they are all flashy jerks.

So who are the millionaires really? That question was answered by The Millionaire Next Door by Stanley and Danko. Stanley goes the next step to find out what’s going on between a millionaire’s ears to separate them from the pack in The Millionaire Mind. This week I read The Millionaire Mind.

So back to my question. Who are they? The introduction covers that well enough. I’ll just pull a few quotes.

  • I am a fifty-four-year-old male. I have been married to the same woman for twenty-eight years.
  • We live in fine homes in quality neighborhoods, but only 2 percent of us inherited all or any part of our homes and property.
  • Some of us have inherited a portion of our wealth…61 percent of us never received any inheritance, financial gifts or income from an estate or trust.
  • 97% are homeowners
  • …with small outstanding mortgages
  • Nearly 50 percent of our wives do not work koutside of the home.
  • 90 percent of us are collage graduates.
  • Many of us play golf and/or tennis on a regular basis. In fact, there is a strong correlation between golf and level of net worth.
  • We became rich without compromising our integrity. In fact, we credit our integrity with significantly contributing to our success.

I’m pulling just a few examples from a lengthy list but I want to focus on three ideas: Marriage, mortgage and faith. I simply don’t have time to cover the book in depth today. I STRONGLY encourage you to read both this and the previous book, The Millionaire Next Door. Julie and I first read them in 2002 or 2003 and they made a big impact. Reading them again later we find them to be even more impactful…the path ahead is more clear now.

Marriage:

Millionaires do everything differently including how they pick spouses. There is a joking quote in the book that says,

Given the choice, I prefer to be physically attracted to a woman who is intelligent, honest, unselfish, well-adjusted…

So there you go. He breaks it down into qualities that lead to a successful marriage according to millionaires:

  • Honest
  • Responsible
  • Loving
  • Capable
  • Supportive

These words describe my wife well…not that my 18-year-old self had a clue what he was doing. But those are words that describe “spouses”. How did they describe potential mates?

  • Intelligent
  • Sincere
  • Cheerful
  • Reliable
  • Affectionate

Again, Julie.

But what’s not in that list? Measurements? Muscles? Money? Nope. So what if you married for money, muscles or measurements and find your marriage to be lacking in cheer, affection and honesty? You might try to become the embodiment of the attributes listed above.

The author goes on to cite research into “normal” marriages.

Dr. Tucker also found that, overall, both men and women would contemplate divorcing a spouse who lost his or her job!

Compare that to story after story of entrepreneurs who listed failure after failure, firing after firing, flop after flop. A whole series of examples of couples saving up, stepping into the unknown, getting their butts kicked by life, dusting each other off and trying again, ultimately succeeding.

I’m moving pretty fast here but Julie and I have been through the grinder and she has always been my biggest fan…even when I’m ready to give up. If we ever accomplish anything together it is because of her. And this book points out the significance of her contribution.

Mortgage:

It’s amazing to read the details on the kinds of homes Millionaires typically owned in 1996. 5 bedroom homes. Nothing huge or opulent. Just a house. But a house that is worth $1.4 million in 1996? Surely there are better deals out there.

Most of us have mortgages, but 40 percent have no mortgage at all. Less than 5 percent of us have an outstanding mortgage balance of $1 million or more. Only about one in three (34 percent) of us have a mortgage balance outstanding of $300,000 or more.

Read that again.

Most of us enjoy living in well-established neighborhoods. There is nothing flashy or even modern about the style of houses in these neighborhoods. Our homes give us away – for the most part they are conservative in style, like our lifestyles.

I have TONS of people in my life who try to borrow 120% of a property’s value so they can lever up their way to wealth. But that’s not what the millionaires detailed in this book did. They were wealthy before they bought. And they bought something that would add to their wealth at a time when they could get a deal. Let me quote a little more from the book. He is narrating with a typical millionaire respondant’s voice:

I purchased my home about twelve years ago, and my family has lived there ever since. The approximate purchase price was just under $560,000. According to conservative estimates, it would sell today for just under $1.4 million.

Compare that to a recent conversation I had with a friend who had borrowed from his 401k to make the downpayment on a home he could just barely afford saying, “You should always buy as much house as you can, right?” I really don’t think so. Dude, you borrowed from your retirement so you could have a big house today. That’s not what the millionaires detailed in this book did. They bought high-quality but distressed properties when sellers greatly outnumbered buyers…and they probably bought them from people like you.

But let’s not talk about suburban palaces. Let’s talk about farms. I mean, this is a farm blog, right? How much money COULD I borrow? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I have a mortgage that is, according to this book, too large compared to my total net worth. What I need is a return on my investment from this farm. I started small. We grew a little. But before we grow any more we need a cash-generating machine to push us onward, not low interest rates. And I think that’s the lesson here. Produce before you consume.

Faith

In the chapter The Realtionship Between Courage and Wealth the author includes a few points about religious faith. He kicks things off early on by talking about overcoming fear. Let me tell you, I know a little bit about fear. I know a little bit about failure too. But I am not afraid. And I am not a failure. These are things millionaires have to remind themselves regularly. They have to build up some level of confidence and courage over time, daily reminding themselves of the truth. Every day I have to remind myself of the truth.

  • I am not an accident.
  • I was made for a purpose.
  • I am God’s workmanship.
  • Even if I fail I have value.
  • I am loved. No matter what.

But what if you were never taught those truths? The book indicates that you will be less likely to accumulate wealth. In fact, there is a positive correlation between faith and higher wealth.

I don’t like to be preachy so I’ll stop with one more quote. One I tell myself often.

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.

Is this a book about farming? No. But this is certainly a book about the majority of farmers I have met. Hard working and frugal with enduring marriages. They struggled together and built wealth over time and, as noted in the book:

There is a strong correlation between net worth and the proportion of one’s wealth that is invested in real estate.

Be sure to read that correctly. He said “wealth” not “debt”. You can’t farm in debt. That’s why I have a job in town.

I think there is a lot of real insight into what it is like on the other side. In fact, I think the truth presented in this book makes the endpoint approachable. The majority of millionaires didn’t inherit money, they didn’t necessarily get top grades in school, they aren’t the best looking people. But they are careful in choosing their spouse and they make that relationship last. They know the difference between risk and opportunity, between wealth and debt. And they appear to be fulfilling their role in creation.

These are goals I can work toward.