Sunday, March 6, 2011

Questions of Scale Revisited

Since posting my essay "How Small is Big Enough" ( last month, I've continued to seek the thoughts of others about the proper scale for a full-time farming operation.  I haven't come up with a definitive answer, but several themes are beginning to emerge.

First, it seems that scale is both an economic and a philosophical question.  Perhaps one of the answers is to match economic need with philosophy.  While I need more sheep to pay myself a living wage, I don't want to have so many sheep that I can't do most of the work myself, which suggests that there is some sort of "sweet spot" in terms of scale.  My management skills have improved to the point where I can manage 200 ewes in the same amount of time it used to take me to manage 50.  Following this logic, with the right management systems and skills, I should be able to increase our scale to 400-500 ewes without having to hire outside help.

Second, I have been reminded during this lambing season that even with 130 bred ewes, I recognize many of the individual sheep in our flock - I remember their past lambings and their behaviors.  To me, this is part of being an observant shepherd.  I'm somewhat surprised that I continue to recognize these individuals even as we grow in size.  Perhaps proper scale is that size that provides sufficient income while allowing me to still pay close attention to individual animals.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dan,

    Scale is also the size that works with your family values, i.e., time spent with the kids, time spent with your wife, time spent helping to improve your community. Some families measure success in what extras they are able to provide the kids, some measure it in total family time even though it means shopping at the thrift store.

    I'm fond of saying that a business is the right size as long as it continues to support the values of the family that owns and runs it.

    Some new technology makes managing your brain, er, flock metrics easier. Pictures of individuals can be put on a page with breeding stats that live on your iPhone, for instance, and be readily available in the field. This may make it possible to extend what your memory can hold after three or four nights on limited sleep during lambing season.