Meetings, conference calls, listening sessions, trainings and even more meetings… There never seems to be a shortage of gatherings about something. At some point I get numb with so many activities and places to go. And then there is the guilt for choosing one over another. How about the looks and whispers by your colleagues and fellow farmers for not showing up and participating.

It is a tough challenge indeed, deciding what to do when family, farm and fossil fuel obligations take precedent. I also have reservations on trying to figure out which “expert” will be worth listening to, over staying home with my wife and children. These thoughts creep up, as you dodge animals on some dark, winding, unknown road home.

There was a time, some years ago, when I absolutely had meeting burnout. It came at a time when I should have focused on the business at hand and not run around to events just to be part of the club.

It seemed at that time, clubbing at farm meetings was the thing to do. Meet the same people, usually men, who should have been home, eat the same crappy, listless, un-local food and listen to the same ole song and dance about getting more “efficient” by a highly educated professional with limited farm background. It seems funny to write this down and look at it in black and white. Boy, I wish I had that time back!

Throughout my history of checkered get-togethers, one assembly of seasoned experts (farmers) has always tickled my fancy. That fancy is a simple pasture walk or sojourn among the waving blades of grass with passionate graziers. Since I am partial to the pasture “thang” I guess it’s a natural fit. I can’t remember one outing where I didn’t take some useful tip home with me.

That nugget of info may have come at the beginning, middle or end of the walk or triggered an Ah-Ha moment on the way home that would lead to a sleepless night. Learning about what actually works is refreshing amongst the glossy ads of a magazine. I can attest that farmers can be brutally honest about such things when you’re on their land vs. some hall somewhere.

If things don’t work quite right, or the strategy needs to be refined, they usually make an on-farm adjustment or grab some duct tape to complete the task. Stuff you rarely see in print which are invaluable to the local conditions.

I have learned more about the right kind of float valves to use, graining strategies, square footage costs of laneways, mob calf-feeders, frost seeding, paddock sizing and seed selection then I can shake a stick at. Over the years, I have tried countless porta posts and polywires, gate handles, water tubs, composting strategies, fence chargers, marketing ideas, handling facilities, fly tapes and repellents, medicines and finally, the overarching pasture management system itself. All this learning attributed to someone out there on a farm trying to make the best of it.

This year’s installment for tip of the year is a kid’s Super Soaker squirt gun – $14.95 for two devices at Toys are Us. Huh? What? That’s right, a highly technical pasture dispensing tool. I picked up this idea from a very resourceful Amish farmer, who like me, hated to run animals through a chute and add lots of stress to his herd.

He was successfully treating pinkeye with a homeopathic remedy called Bright Eyes from Agri-Dynamics (another tip) sprayed in the eye through the gun from some 20 feet. I tried it. It worked, especially if I did it twice a day. It wasn’t without its challenges however, as cows can become very weary of the “stalker” and there was frustration with sighting in the gun, which tended to waste some product.

Like any good farmer in this story, I also took this application one step further and used the second weapon to administer remedies specific to cows with lame feet. A momma cow with calf can be quite sensitive to stress so having some distance and no corrals was a good thing. This strategy worked too.

Being blessed with healthy animals means I don’t have to do this stuff very often but for isolated incidents it worked great. If you had many cases, it might be better to go the usual route. I can tell you the savings in time alone made the idea worthwhile to try. Just yesterday my friend borrowed some treatment and set off to give it a try. I hope he has good luck and a better aim than yours truly.

The value of on-farm exchanges with real farmers trump most other venues of higher agricultural learning, in my opinion. It is amazing to me after all these years in the field to see how darn resourceful the farming community really is. I think I have read somewhere that studies show people learn better from each other than from being “power pointed to death” at any meeting.

I take my role in asking for or pushing for this ground-up higher learning experience to be fully complemented by tasting what the local farmers have produced. The premise of feeding them and they will come rings true, especially if it comes from your community. Food ties all the messages and ideas for the love of farming together. I don’t think you can have one without the other. I would add that a bad meeting with great local food is better than a good meeting off the farm without food.

In the words of Daniel Kline Jr., “pasture walks and homemade ice-cream are a beautiful thing.” Maybe it is good to go to another meeting after all!
For more of Troy Bishopp’s musings visit his website at http://www.thegrasswhisperer.com.