Does your maximum production approach affect your ability to produce well into the future? This blog discusses some principles for a sustainable approach to farming that can be applied daily.
The goose and the golden egg
One of Aesop’s fables about the goose and the golden egg explains an important principle of how greed often overreaches itself. It illustrates how wanting much, ends up in wanting more and eventually loses all.
The story: One morning, a farmer discovered that his goose had laid a golden egg. The next morning another golden egg had been produced by his goose. Every day the goose would produce one golden egg and the farmer sold it and became rich. Until one day the farmer grew impatient and thought to cut open the goose and harvest all the eggs at once. Of course, his plan was unsuccessful. When the farmer cut open the goose, he found zero golden eggs and no longer had the goose to produce them.
In the book The 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen R. Covey uses this analogy to explain that true effectiveness is a function of two things: what is produced (the golden egg) and the capacity to produce or the producing asset (the goose). The idea being you cannot have indefinite production without taking care of your production assets. And you will be more effective in the long run, in doing so. Sometimes it is more cost-effective to maintain the condition of your producing asset than replacing it. And sometimes it is entirely irreplaceable – think about our planet.
Soil is an asset
Soil health is very important to us and we hope it is important to you as well. A healthy soil is a balanced ecosystem teaming with life. In a healthy soil, the natural processes and phenomena such as decomposition, mineralisation, recycling, competition, and symbiosis are all active in abundance. These processes support healthy production of pastures and/or crops. Investing in the soil can be expensive but be encouraged that you will reap the benefit of your investment. Investing in good fertility and managing for soil life will result in good production (golden egg) and an increased producing capacity (the goose) for the future.
Looking at soil health from a different angle, let’s talk about conventional tillage. Carbon and minerals are held in clumps of soil particles that are further glued together by filamentous fungi and glomalin. Soil organisms work to release these nutrients that are bound up. By feeding and excreting, the microorganisms make the nutrients available to plants. Naturally, this process results in a constant supply of nutrients to the plant. However, tillage breaks these clumps by mechanical means, releasing a large amount of carbon and other nutrients at once. This means there is plenty of food for soil organisms and there is a sudden influx of microbial activity that feeds on it. This is what gives the short-term “positive increase” in yield after tilling the soil. However, whenever you till the soil you knock back the production capacity of the soil for the next harvest. It is quite literally like cutting open the goose trying to extract the golden eggs. This is because the carbon and nutrients in the soil are depleted and the renewable nature of the process is broken.
Milking your cow
Aesop’s fable can be directly applied to how you take care of your milking cows. Cows are producing assets. And yes, they are replaceable, but not without a cost. The cost of neglecting your cow’s condition will be accounted for, either in lower production of milk or a higher replacement rate. I have seen that our farmers are very aware of this dynamic and are good at managing their cows’ condition. This is just a reminder that efficiency is not only measured in production per animal, hectare, or live weight. efficiency also improves with increased longevity of cows. With increased efficiency comes less cost and more profit.
Patience in grazing
Remember this fable and principle next time you organize your grazing schedule and manage for farm cover. Eating away at your cover might be a solution in the short term but the impact and resulted cost on the productive capacity of that soil needs to be considered and weighed against the short-term gain of the available food from that camp. In some cases, resting now will mean better productivity later.
Efficiency and sustainability require attention to both production (the golden egg) and the productive asset/capacity (the goose). Without looking after the goose, you cannot produce. And just as well if you do not take advantage of the golden egg, you may not have the means to look after the goose.
This brings us back to the basic principle of stewardship. We want to ensure that we don’t degrade the condition of the land because of our management. Instead, we want to ensure that the land will be conserved (or improved upon) for the next generation and generations to come after that. Thus, ensuring food security and profitability for the future. So, remember don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.