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Learning Opportunities Are Everywhere

By Dwayne Summach, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist

March 2017

During a recent visit to a couple of farms, one producer stated, “The available resources on any farm are unique and the ability of the farm manager to utilize those resources as efficiently as possible is the underlying key to success.”

I am going to relay some of those unique resources that are available and could be applied to any operation in Western Canada.

Genetics – Every livestock operation has a defined set of genetic resources available. The differences between operations can be quite contrasting. The thing that really stood out for me on these visits was the operations had identified what the end result was they wanted to have, and were taking their existing genetic resource in a definite direction. The key here was both production units had a goal in mind and measurements were being taken to see if their management decisions were getting them closer to, or farther from, their stated end goal.

Overhead – The two operations I visited were a stark contrast in overhead. The first operation kept overhead requirements low by minimizing facilities and equipment. This operation did spend more time erecting and moving temporary fences. The second operation had more overhead – there was a barn built out of flax bales, used silage plastic and drill stem. The corrals were used just at calving time, but during this time, silage becomes the main feed source. This overhead cost is spread over a large number of cows (nearly five times as many as the first operation) and much of the equipment cost is shared in conjunction with a large grain farm base.

Human Resources – Both operations placed a high value on their human resources. Skills and abilities of individuals are developed and training – both formal and informal, is encouraged. Wages at both places took into account the work being done and the alternative opportunities (oil and gas sector) that their labour force could participate in.

Their Brand – not the one applied to the animals, the one that engages consumers. Both operations have a web presence and devote time to sharing their story.

Technologies – Cameras surveying calving pens with night vision capability and alarms to send an alert to a cell phone when the boiler runs out of coal, the water trough gets low or any number of remote sensing possibilities. A simple clamp system that allows drill stem and sucker rod to be turned into a substantial corral in a couple of hours. Using battery powered impacts to drive portable wire rollers.

The decisions producers make every day do one of three things; make their operation better, maintain the operation or may be detrimental. Taking some time to reflect upon your past decisions and determine which of the three categories your decisions fit into helps to make sure your future decisions take you in your desired direction. Asking someone from outside to evaluate your operation can be daunting, but it often identifies opportunities for improvement.

Learning opportunities are numerous and can be as simple as taking a day to go visit another producer to tour their operation. Attending various workshops and seminars can also generate ideas that may be appropriate for your operation. Formal training sessions such as Canadian Total Excellence in Agricultural Management receive high praise from past participants for providing practical tools to improve their management of their operations.

Contact your local Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture Regional Office for assistance in identifying the appropriate resources to assist you in making your operation everything you envision it could be.

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