What happens if you are cow-rich, land-poor, and your son or daughter hates cows but loves driving tractors? I had a 500-cow dairy farm where one boy was into the cows, and the other boy did the field work.
The issue that was a red flag to me was the fact that most of the field work was contracted out, and the only thing that one son did was planting and big square baling. Custom field crews did the haylage, silage and combining. The farm had no heated shop. Yet that was all he did.
They owned new tractors and had the oil changed at the dealership. Who knows what Jack did for the majority of the winter? Occasionally he did odd jobs if he got a call from his father to thaw out a water bowl, but that was it. Essentially, Jack did the jobs on the farm that he wanted and left the rest to everyone else to do.
It’s fine to accept the fact that you hate cows. But if your business is making milk, then you’ve got to do whatever it is you’ve got to do to make that business viable. Jack was lucky that his brother loved the cows and doing the herd management work.
But that still left a lot of other work that had to get done, and by pretending to be a cropper, Jack was only doing 20 percent of this work. The farm had double the employees it should have and was falling apart because Jack wasn’t pulling his weight.
You can’t drive a tractor for a glorified 100 hours a year while your dad and brother are working 80 hours every week. You’ve got to step up and pull your weight. Don’t tell me about the long hours for a few days when you took haylage off.
Show me how you put at least 3,000 manhours in the barn, making milk. I’m not talking 3,000 manhours including your time in the tractor cab. I’m talking on top of that.
Lots of guys are working mindless jobs in the factory sacrificing their souls just so they can live in this country. Every dream job has its drawbacks. Every job. You can’t just pick and choose the tasks you like on a farm; you have to also do the tasks that have to get done to succeed.
For instance, that farm had a dysfunctional employee doing the feeding, and production was suffering because of it. Had Jack taken over the feeding and done a good job, he would have earned his keep.
Sure, Jack might love driving a tractor in the fields instead of in a silage pit, but it was a job that had to get done and done right 365 days a year. Jack could spend five hours a day every day doing the feeding and then filled the rest of his day managing employees and fighting fires.
He could feed cows and crop into the night during spring/summer. Yet he only wanted to be a tractor driver and felt that was a 365-day-a-year role.
If you feel you are too good to do any job on your farm, you won’t succeed at farming. Your grandpa did jobs on the farm he didn’t like doing in order to do what he wanted to do. So should you.
If you want to be a lawyer, doctor or fabulous hairstylist, sever from the farm and live your dreams. But don’t expect the farm to finance your ambitions if you don’t make the farm successful. Don’t expect your brother to get up at 5 a.m. to milk cows while you sleep in order to finance your cash-crop dreams.
If you were an aspiring stand-up comedian, you’d have a day job waiting tables until you made it big. What is wrong with mixing feed and doing the jobs that need to get done on the farm until you are able to rent enough acres to sustain a full-time cropping enterprise?
If you spent 20 years doing work you disliked in order to pay off the majority of the farm’s debt, then it’s your right to suggest that instead of building a new barn, you buy out that aging cash cropper next door and take over the land he rents.
But not before. It’s fine for a partner to envision the farm as being different in 10 years’ time, but you’ve got to get a realistic plan on how to go from A to B. You’ve got to understand what makes you the money today and help your family do everything you can to make more of it so you can finance your dreams.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Mark Andrew Junkin improves how farm families make decisions together in the years prior to farm succession. Get his book, Farming with Family: Ain’t Always Easy! at Agriculture Strategy or call at (800) 474-2057.
ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Fredric Ridenour.
Mark Andrew Junkin
- Management Consultant
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