Ranching from a Firefighter’s Perspective

We've never seen the water this high!  #diamondhillsfarm
leaving the farm

I am proud to say that I am a volunteer firefighter in the city of Hudson, New York.  I have spent over 5 years as a firefighter in New York state and before I go any further I would like to give a salute to all of my firefighter, police officer, and paramedic brethren out there who in these difficult times are often overlooked for their sacrifice and dedication.

Way back in firefighting school when we were learning the basics our instructor introduced us to the essential ingredients to start a fire.  At the most basic level, a fire needs 3 things to begin and to perpetuate.  Those ingredients are known as the fire triangle and the sides are comprised of oxygen, heat, and fuel.  Remove or disrupt any one of these elements of the triangle and the fire will be extinguished.

It is my experience that ranching is built upon three equally important factors and all the sides need to be present in order to have a successful business.  In the case of ruminate animals, those factors are pasture management, business planning, and animal husbandry

On the first side we have animal husbandry.  The phrase encompasses a lot of things but if we break it down to its core we can define it as the ability to care for your animals.  Animals require different inputs depending on their life stage and understanding this and learning how to offer those things in the most natural way possible is the epitome of animal husbandry.  Do all animals require shade?  No, but then again, neither do humans.  Good animal husbandry requires you to find the balance where you are able to provide shade to animals when it is most critical during the season while protecting your shaded areas from over grazing.  The skill of animal husbandry is not something you can learn in books and of the three sides of the triangle, it is the most reliant on observation and experience.  Watching how your animals behave and react in extreme weather conditions can help you to understand their behaviors and needs, so the next time you get caught in a storm out in the pasture stop and take some time to observe how the animals react to gain a better understanding of what you can offer them to make them spend less time stressing any more time eating.

Business planning is the next side of the triangle.  This is a skill that is often neglected by beginning producers and it is easy to understand why.  For most of us balancing books and typing out projection sheets is not what we consider to be fun but it is as essential to our success as fuel is to the fire.  This is a learned skill and I have found that like with most things, the more you practice the better and faster you will get.  Business taxes originally took me around 10 hours but after a few years I have shaved it down to around four.  This is where some additional instruction can go a long way.  Business planning is not an intuitive skill and real world experience is difficult to come by.  Cornell offers all types of webinars and business planning workshops that can be rewarding beginners and experts alike.  Business and marketing is constantly evolving and it is up to the producers to keep ahead of the curve.

Rounding out the third side is what I would consider the support of the triangle, pasture management.  I like to emphasize to beginning graziers, no matter what the species, that they are grass farmers.  I like this analogy because it focuses on the real issue when thinking about pasture and animal management.  The health of your sward is directly related to the health of your animals which is related to your product, consumer satisfaction and ultimately business success.  Being a good steward of the land requires attention to detail and attention to destruction.  Managing animal pressure, rest periods, water conservation, and waste management all play a factor in nutrition, parasite issues, reproduction efficiency, and even quality of life.

So there you have it.  Firefighting has taught me innumerable life lessons and provided me with technical understanding of how fires work.  Much like a flame itself, business requires certain components to keep successful and relevant.  In the case of farming, these components can be labeled as animal husbandry, business planning, and pasture management.  Take one away, and the whole system falters.

Maybe you have a different opinion or idea on this topic or would like to learn more about the services that Cornell Cooperative can offer to strengthen any one of these skills.  If so you know what to do.

Jbd222@cornell.edu

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