Reading Journal 2015 Week 6

So what’s the deal? What’s with all the books?

Some years ago (maybe 2006?) Pastor Mark used a Charlie “Tremendous” Jones quote in a sermon. I’ll just let Mr. Jones tell you in a couple of clips.

Here is the quote pastor Mark shared:

That’s what it’s all about. I would encourage you to find more of his materials and give them a look. Apparently he had a spare house to hold his library. Julie just rolled her eyes.

I’m making a few formatting changes each week trying to make this more of what I want it to be. I don’t think I need to publish an in-depth review of everything. Sometimes I just want a record of what I have read.

This coming week I plan to read Malabar Farm. A friend sent me a spare copy she had. I’ll be pressed to get through that book as it looks meaty and Spring is upon us. Chicks will arrive on the 17th. I still don’t have pigs. We are putting garden in a greenhouse but otherwise we are a little behind on our work list. My reading time is suffering.

Farming Manual by George Henderson

What is the book about?
How to get it done by the man who got it done. The Farming Ladder is Henderson’s overall farming philosophy wrapped up in a neat little package. The Farmer’s Progress is more detail focusing on getting young farmers started. This book is more about Henderson as an older farmer passing on hard-won experience. He is detailing everything from training youth to work efficiently to training us in hedge laying. There are things that just don’t transfer well via text but I’ll save my criticism for later in the post.

Is it a classic?
Yes. All three of his books. I don’t care how many aluminum cans you have to pick up to pay for these books. Buy them. Read them. Treasure them. Not kidding.

Will you read it again?
Oh, yes. Several times.

Does it belong on your bookshelf?
Get the other two books first. A reader linked me to a .pdf of this book but the file was structured so facing pages were presented both at once. There may be a way to present single pages but it was beyond me…and beyond frustrating. I couldn’t read the .pdf on the screen of my phone. So I bought the book. And it wasn’t cheap. So my long-winded answer is that I didn’t find the .pdf readable so I had to get a physical copy to read. And it will now live on my bookshelf forever. Your shelf? How much of a completionist are you?

Can you relate a favorite passage?
Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Start at five o’clock and do an hour’s work until breakfast time. An hour for breakfast and start again at seven o’clock. A twenty minute break mid-morning with a  glass of milk, fruit or a scone. A good meal at midday and a rest until one o’clock. Half an hour for tea at four-thirty. Another two hours’ work, followed by a light meal will complete the day without any sense of exhaustion at any time. If one rests on Sundays between the mid-morning break and tea time, it gives you a seventy-two-hour week, and if every hour is properly planned and organized the output of work will justify the effort involved and will leave a sense of quiet satisfaction and achievement. The work must also be planned to give variety and interest, one would not want to hoe sugar beet for seventy-two hours. From labour health, from health contentment springs.

Well, that certainly fits with last week’s ideas from Elon Musk but I like his notion that you need a variety of work throughout the day. There are certainly seasons when it is appropriate to work 10 hours on a single task but every day for a few months? No thanks.

The habit of reading, and deriving knowledge from books, is essential for any young man who wishes to go far in farming. It is worth studying how to read quickly. A practiced reader will read the introduction carefully, which should describe the purpose of the book, and then flip quickly through and make brief notes on the sections which will merit closer study. In some books there are whole chapters which may be skipped altogether. The skill in quick reading lies in directing the eyes between the lines, and it will be found that whole phrases instead of individual words are being taken in at a glance.

But all you read are mere theories until we have tried them out in practice. Whatever comes to us, good or bad, is usually the result of our own action or lack of action.

So work hard and read a lot.

At a later point in the book he is talking about seeking maximum efficiency as we move toward mechanization on the farm. He points out that it costs

£4 to the acre for custom combining, often leaving a lot of grain behind on the ground (one grain to the square foot is 4 lb. to the acre), and then a further charge for baling the straw – if weather permits.

And later,

Nine-tenths of the crops we grow are cashed in through animals.

You know what I want? I want an hour to drink coffee with George Henderson. I know he is frugal but he’s suggesting we build a rick with our grains. Why? Because that’s a cheap way to store it. Sure, why not. But then what? Well, you have to thresh it. OK. So what if you have to combine 3,000 acres of wheat? Well then, we’ll use a machine and leave some on the ground.

Have you ever seen a corn field in the fall? Around here they get the corn (maize) out in September most years. We get a warming spell in October and the fields that haven’t been plowed will look like they have been replanted with corn. Not just the end rows where the corn head knocked the stalks down leaving whole ears in place, the whole field. Terribly wasteful. But it makes more economic sense than putting an army of people to work gathering $3 corn out of the stubble.

And if 90% of the grain goes to livestock anyway, why not let the livestock glean the fields? They’ll add fertilizer while they are there.

So, Mr. Henderson, I await your answer. In the meantime I’ll try a few things out on my own. I understand it is easier to transport one pound of pork than to transport three pounds of corn. That’s why so many farmers around here have confinement hogs. I get it.

After a lengthy chapter on human anatomy to help us understand and observe why we need to work certain ways he closes by saying,

A person who would take exercise in preparing for farm work will find there is nothing to equal walking with a good posture.

I think that’s pretty good advice. Go take a walk. It’s February 8th today and the weather is particularly spring-like. In fact, I may have entirely missed the maple sap. We spent the entire day outside yesterday and it was great. We walked to the woods in the corner of our property, cutting thorny sprouts along the way, hoping to find deer sheds (too early). But all six of us, my brother in law and my two nephews were out in the mud, climbing on hay bales, crushing ice under boots and having a good time. Go for a walk. Even if you’re not a farmer.

Who should read this book?
Read through the table of contents in the .pdf. The book is honest about the subjects it covers. If you want to read Henderson’s detail on hedging, feel free to read what he has to say. If you want to learn about hedging though, this book won’t get it done. Watching YouTube might get you a little closer. But you’ll probably have to find somebody to work with for some time to really get it down. Reading this book was, for me, less about the content and more about gaining a better understanding of George Henderson.

Take home messages:
Mr. Henderson read everything he could and, as this book shows, worked to bring it all together. It’s not enough to read for entertainment. It’s not enough to read for information. You have to, as Mortimer Adler points out, read for understanding. Henderson understood.

I think that’s the message to get here. Read beyond the borders of your specific interest. See what else is out there, see how it relates to what you already know and get a better picture of the whole. I think Henderson could see a bigger world than I can at the present time. But I’m working on it.

Article of the Week

I don’t like the “X of the Week” subtitle. I’ll work on that.

Julie and I have subscribed to Graze for several years now. Our friend with the dairy, Steve, recommended it and said he easily recovers the cost of the publication each year. So we did. And I agree.

This month’s issue (Volume 22, No. 2) has an article by Gabe Brown detailing his transition away from a high-maintenance, high-cost of maintenance herd to a low-maintenance, grass-based herd. Basically, Gabe pulled the plug on the herd and kept the survivors. I highly encourage you to read it. In fact, I make it a point to read anything of Gabe’s, though I don’t hold his word up as gospel. He just seems to say interesting and thought-provoking things.

Anyway, he pulled the plug. I’ll quote a little bit here but I want you to make it a point to read the article…somehow. OK? Promise? Pinky-swear? OK.

You have to decide what’s not necessary to your operation. In ours it was all vaccines, de-wormers, pour-ons, grain supplementation and as much hay as we could eliminate in our environment. We got rid of all of them cold turkey, all at the same time.

OK. Great. Now, skip forward.

I’m not going to kid you: That first year, the conception rate averaged less than 50%, which tells you just how wrong our cattle were for what we wanted to do.


But here’s what the article doesn’t tell me…and it’s important. He lost 50%…of how many? A few weeks ago I read the King Ranch book. He talked about keeping 6 heifers out of 1000, culling the rest. Similarly, Phil Rutter talks about hoping to keep 8 of the first 5,000 hazels he plants. So I might suggest that Brown wasn’t aggressive enough. But I might also suggest HOLY TOLEDO! Half of his herd!?!?!?!?

Let’s play with that for a minute. Just a minute, I know you have other things to do with your day. I have 13 cows. Next year, following this plan, I would have 6…plus 3 heifers. What’s the cull rate on the second generation? Was I lucky enough to stop at 50% the first year? Maybe if I had cattle numbered in the hundreds or thousands…I don’t know.

It does seem that this is the time to take my medicine. But I have heard Ian Mitchel-Innes say that you need 300 cows before you close your herd. So what do I do between now and then?

The best I can.

I have to raise my cattle to the best of my ability, selecting bulls with a background on grass. I may even need to cross-breed my herd to increase the value of my calf crop, bring up fertility and take my herd closer to grass. Whatever I do, I think it’s a hoot. And I’m glad you are here with me. Let me know if you are taking the same medicine.

BTW, I recently (within the last 4 months) read Man, Cattle and Veld. Zietsman had very similar feelings but would keep non-performing heifers in his herd to keep mob numbers up. He just wouldn’t keep their offspring for breeding. That’s the approach I’m taking. I don’t like Snowball. Mrs. White and 27 didn’t breed until they were 3. I’m happy to have their calves but I won’t be selecting future bull calves from them because they were late to mature…mostly because they are so danged tall. But this year 70 is going to have to go. She appears to be a non-breeder.

Let’s talk a little more about my cow herd in my post about reading books. I want small cows. I want small cows. I want small cows. Small cows. Not short cows. Not tiny cows. Small. At least in the eyes of my neighbors. Small. There is some concern that if you breed heifers too early you’ll stunt their growth. So what? Why do we care if my cow weighs 1,000 pounds and is frame 4 instead of 1300 pounds and frame 5? We haven’t changed the genetic potential of her offspring, just the expression of her own genetics. So I raise my replacement heifers on grass and they do appear to be a little smaller than other heifers I bought last summer with similar birth dates…but those similar heifers were given corn.

Why does this matter at all? Because every day a cow eats a percentage of her body weight. The more they weigh the more they have to eat. Mrs. White eats a lot. By shrinking my cows I will need less grass to maintain my herd lowering my production costs and, potentially, increasing my output…I just have to make sure my calves have the potential to be everything the market demands in terms of size and weight.

And I think that’s just the kind of change Mr. Brown was talking about.

Please give me some feedback on this post. I read a lot. Like, a lot, lot. I like to share with my readers when I find a book that helps a farmer out. But I also like to be entertained so I include links to movies and music. Fun books too. Please let me know if there are questions I can answer for you or if you have any suggestions to help make this format more meaningful.

Also, let me know if you are doing any of the reading with me…even if you are running behind. Share your favorite quotes. Tell me if I missed the point.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.