Over the summer, my Dad sent me a copy of Home Economics by Wendell Berry, my favorite author. Included in this collection of 14 essays is one entitled "A Good Farmer of the Old School," in which Berry describes the farming operation of Lancie Clippinger, who happens to farm with horses. Mr. Clippinger's approach to farming emphasizes choices - choices between technology and labor, between conventional and organic techniques, between crops and livestock. My friend Allen Edwards emphasizes looking at returns to labor versus returns on investment when analyzing farm enterprises. In many ways, this is the same approach.
In thinking about our sheep operation, we've decided to spend our time moving fence and irrigating pasture rather than purchasing expensive grain. This is a trade-off for us; in essence, we're trading our labor in moving fence and pipe for the faster gains we'd get by purchasing outside feed.
We are currently feeding locally grown alfalfa to our lambs to improve their gains. We've made this choice to free up additional feed for the ewe flock going into the winter. Again, we've tried to structure our business to maintain options - within seasons and from one year to the next.
Wendell Berry writes that "mental paralysis and economic slavery can be instituted on a farm by the farmer's technological choices." I think the key for us is to choice technology (like electric fencing) that increases our flexibility.