Consider overall operation to succeed

Victory in warfare can be achieved by adopting the best strategy available. Good generals constantly refine their tactics on the battlefield until the enemy gives up.

It’s no surprise then, that planning is a big part of holistic grazing guru Allan Savory’s theory of holistic management, because as a military officer, he led soldiers in the bush war in the 1960-70s in what became Zimbabwe.

Many ranchers neglect the critical need to examine their operation, looking for the weak links. A common excuse is that they can’t predict the future.

“You can just imagine if you were the commander-in-chief, and you went out to one of your generals and asked, ‘what’s your plan?’ ” said Don Campbell in a presentation on holistic financial planning at the 2008 Manitoba Grazing School.

“If he said, ‘well, war is pretty uncertain. We don’t have one. We’ll just see what happens,’ you’d replace him immediately.”

If the future is uncertain, as it is in today’s troubled economic times, that’s even more reason to have not just plan A and B, but also C and D, said Campbell, a second-generation rancher and holistic management teacher from Meadow Lake, Sask.

If calf prices were fixed at $2 per pound, nobody would need to plan, he added. But markets fluctuate daily.

One way for a cow-calf producer to overcome uncertainty is to sell the calves early in the year and then adjust spending over the remaining 10 months to avoid dipping into the red.

“If you go about it the other way, spending money for 11 months and you come to the end of the year and you say, ‘oh! My income is down,’ you can’t do anything because you’ve done it backwards.”

Good managers plan, monitor, control and replan, he said, adding that carrying through with financial planning requires discipline.

“In order to benefit, you have to implement those plans. Those who implement them the best benefit the most. The ones who choose not to don’t get any benefit. That’s just the way life is.”

Planning for financial success in ranching means controlling or cutting investment costs where necessary, he said. New equipment is one potential sinkhole.

Campbell challenged participants to think seriously about how much they may have invested in things that rust, rot or depreciate. He singled out the bale processor, noting that cattle did just fine before the tool was invented.

“Now you see guys who’ve got 30 cows and they’ve got a bale processor. I talked to an old-timer once, and he said, ‘I don’t mind making the feed for the cows, but I’ll be darned if I’ll chew it for them.’ ”

Profitability means taking a hard look at the overall farm operation. Cut out the fat, even in good times, so when something unexpected hits like BSE, the blow isn’t fatal.

Ranchers who fail to succeed financially may be their own worst enemy. Successful people never look at themselves as victims, he added. Instead, they do whatever it takes to improve and achieve their goals.

“What stands between you and financial success? I’m going to suggest that it’s you. It’s your attitudes, your mind-set, where you spend your time, how you think, who you associate with. All those are things you can change and do better,” Campbell said.

“If your business isn’t going good, don’t just keep going and hope that it gets better. Change it to make it better. Get some education, get some tools, work with somebody. Start immediately.”

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