Keeping your eggs in many baskets

I took a call this week from a rural development expert from the local council, wanting to pick my brains on how to improve the local economy.

A few years ago, I would have told her that I talk for a fee, but in today’s climate, there’s no reward other than in heaven. So I gave her my ideas, and she in turn told me her family were farming, so she knew what it was about.

We talked about the difficulties of making a full-time living from the farm, and she went on to say her brother had amalgamated four family farms to make one 500-cow dairy set-up, destined for his five and eight-year-old boys.

She told me the borrowings were huge. “But it was the only way to go”.

I could think of a dozen other ways of securing a farming future from four reasonably sized holdings. And using their value as collateral for a huge loan wouldn’t be one. Selling a single product to a single buyer is not an ideal business model: entrepreneurs like their eggs in many baskets.

They might start with one, but when the opportunity comes to invest further, their choice is to diversify. Granted, attention to detail becomes harder, as the business grows.

On the livestock farm, management time is taken up simply looking at the animals in the field, checking to see they are all right, and looking after those which look poorly.

But there are plenty of low-cost ways to improve management, by making the task easier, quicker and less effort — and this week’s drive-over gate is one of them.

Farming means regular visits to outlying grazing fields, in all weathers. Walking out is a pleasant but not necessarily productive way to do the job, and there’s always the bonus of a fresh mushroom or a handful of blackberries as a reward — and stronger legs and less tummy as well.

But most farmers prefer wheels, which need be taken through gates, all which need to be opened and closed en-route. My picture shows a drive-over gate built by a Borders farmer.

Strong enough for a Land Rover, the barrier is stock-proof, and not difficult to make. Jim Sutherland is so pleased with the idea he has applied for a patent.

The 5 x 2 box section main beams need to be professionally bent into a curve, and the frame is braced with four rods. The curve gives it a far greater strength to weight ratio than the standard cattle grid. It fits over a shallow hole. The grid is ideal for ATVs and unladen 4x4s, but a tractor would destroy it on the first trip. It’s a quick means of checking stock using a lightweight vehicle — hence the narrow width.

Outlying stock can easily get neglected when there’s a lot of work going on. Being able to drive from the yard out to each grazing field, go round and check them, and then return, without getting off or getting out is a big advantage, and one which means the stock get the attention they need.

Just the kind of idea necessary for expanding herds — for managers who have their eyes open and get the Irish Examiner, or who read Practical Farm Ideas!


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