Many of us at some point have aspired to become a business owner; a large portion have taken action. And as we all know, many of us have failed. Perhaps you’re one of those that have taken a few tumbles along the way. Hindsight is 20/20 they say and I’m inclined to agree, but our foresight can be much improved by learning from the mistakes of others. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in multiple business ventures and would like to share a paradigm shifting solution to business operations by using my little farm as an example.
Now I know most people are two or three generations removed from the last family member that knew the difference between a disk harrow and a spring tooth harrow, but the concepts are the transferable across most business models.
In 2015 I started managing my grandfather’s cattle herd. Being a guru of anything sustainable and pure, I set out to ensure that 1) the beef was free from any chemicals and 2) that the soil grew richer each passing year through nutrient cycling (grass passing through cows and returned via manure). That last part can be tricky, as cows can destroy land if managed improperly. It is imperative to maintain good ground cover with the grasses to ensure bare soil doesn’t bake, wash away or get blown away.
Enter the world of management intensive grazing. I can’t possibly cover all the details here as entire books have been published on the subject, but the concept is that the cows are confined to small temporary paddocks made with electric fencing and moved every day. This gives the grass ample time to recover and grow tall without the cattle constantly trekking back to the same spots and clipping the most desirable species down to the ground. If left to their own devices, cows will always overgraze good plants and leave the weeds and before you can blink twice you’ve got a field of weeds and starving cows.
Now this is the obvious part yet so many of us haven’t made the revelation: you have to nourish what nourishes you. I’m no longer a cattle farmer. I’m a GRASS farmer. Now obviously I can’t sell grass. Who could eat that? I sell beef but the minute I put my emphasis on grass productivity, the beef productivity follows suite. All my business decisions are now focused on grass productivity rather than individual cow performance.
Look at your business model very carefully. Don’t focus on the product, technology, tools, or equipment. Those are just expenses that help you achieve your goals. Look at the very basis of your business. For many of us contract or employed labor provides a service to our customers. Give your team a big hug and a bonus and let them know they’re appreciated. Foster what you can’t easily replace. It is your backbone.
Newman Turner once said that the most productive time a farmer can spend is to “lean against a fence post and observe.” Take a step back and look for a paradigm shift. Focus on what matters. In fact, maybe we should carry this over to the personal relationships we have with our friends and family. Life can’t be divided into isolated parts but yet it is a whole made up of shared parts. It’s time we look at the big picture.