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2016 Financial Conclusions  RSS feed

 
Travis Johnson
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Well as we prepare to ring in the new year tonight, I thought I would show some interesting data regarding my family finances. I want to show this because I think it displays to others the importance of keeping good records and how knowing where your money is spent can shape how to better serve your family in the future. Keep in mind we are a family of 6, with 2 adults and 4 daughters ages 3, 9,10, and 11). In this example, I have only broken down the food into sub-categories, but I have every major expense further broken down like I did food, and if asked will gladly share. I say this because of my commitement of late to share in the hopes that others can be encouraged, or draw upon what I have done to further their farms.

Charity: $1846.71         6.72%
Vehicle: $5360.01         19.52%
Home Build: $1991.53         7.25%
Energy: $1287.21         4.69%
Utility: $1229.90         4.46%
Med. Insurance: $1264.48         4.60%
Clothing: $376.96 1.37%
Presents: $770.44 2.81$
Food: $11,080.32 40.34%
           Grocery:        $8,641.82        78% (of food budget)
           Fast Food: $1374.13        12% (of food budget)
           Family Dining: $785.57 7% (of food budget)
           Dates: $278.80 3% (of food budget)
Recreation: $437.48 1.59%
Other: $180.45 .66%
Medications: $140.67 .51%

For instance, it is blatantly clear that we do not give back to charity nearly enough. A Paltry 6.72% means we need to spend more in 2017, but since that money must come from somewhere, we need to figure where to cut to increase spending here.

Food would be a great place. If anyone deserves to be beaten up for not providing enough for my family, it clearly shows here. 40% of our expenses is spent on food, yet we have everything to grow our own from equipment, manure, land base and even know-how; we are just lazy and don't have a big enough garden. Furthermore, look at how food is broken down. Don't you think we should at least spend less at fast food chains and maybe a little more on dates to solidify our marriage? Just a thought! Jeesh....

Vehicles are a bit skewed this year because we had some big repairs, and because we live in a VERY rural setting. Due to us being a blended family much driving is required due to visitation with their biological parents (our ex-spouses). This is one reason we spend a lot on fast food too; we are always in the car!

Home construction seems high at 7%, but it really is not because we own our home and thus are always building. Because this builds equity in our home readily, our house is probably worth $15,000 more this year then last year just because we have a really nice kitchen now. This is an example of great return on investment.

The opposite of that is utilities. While we are spending $1229.90 cents on electricity, phone and internet, the return on investment on alternative energy is enlightening. Even if we went off-grid, we would only be saving $937.25 which is the cost of electricity. That is a very expensive investment for what we would save in return. Better to spend our efforts on producing more food for ourselves.

Energy is not very high percentage wise, but since this consists of 90% propane to heat our home, installation of a wood/coal boiler could alleviate that cost rather quickly and for a low return on investment.

I will make a note on insurance, that is it is only medical insurance. We own our houses so we do not have insurance on them, and and insurance for our cars (liability only due to owning them as well) is coved under vehicle costs. Medications are such things as cold medicines and aspirin; stuff like that.


So from all this, three changes are automatically made for 2017:

  • Install wood/coal boiler to reduce energy consumption,
    Raise more food to lower food expenses.
    Reduce spending at fast food restaurants.

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    Troy Rhodes
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    You are 841% ahead of the typical family with no plan and no idea how they spend their money.  Kudos to you!


    As a blended family, I sympathize and understand the whole transportation/logistics and the easy fast food that usually comes along with that.

    Cooking as a life skill is a place where many families could improve, us included.

    I will say that canned fruit (often with cottage cheese) and home made hamburger jerky have just about ruined my fast food habit.

    My stuff is so much better than their stuff.

    Do a little google on healthy car snacks and try a few experiments.  Spaghetti in an insulated container?

    One of my co-workers almost always packed a lunch at work.  But she had a little red and white checkered mini-tablecloth, and real silverware.  She made eating her lunch an event.

    My wife really gets after me if I don't plan ahead and make some home made jerky before a road trip.


    The only other constructive idea I could offer is your lack of insurance for the house.  I would shop that around and see if I could get at least some minimal insurace that would mostly replace the house in case of fire or flood or tornado.


    Could you pay for it out of pocket if you lost your house next week?  Or would it set your life plans back a decade? ...?


    As a libertarian, I totally respect your freedom to not have any, but is it wise...
     
    Travis Johnson
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    Yeah I hear you on the home insurance. It would be nice, but very expensive in Maine (what is not right...the most expensive electrical rates in the country, the highest taxes, yeah you get the idea). The biggest problem is that this is a commercial farm and they insist on insuring it as such. I tell them they are just a few "pet sheep", but one look around and it is pretty easy to tell that they might be more then a few pets grazing in the pasture! I do have a few houses so if this one did burn or something, I would have a few options, one being right across the street so I manage to live with myself. But I am not arguing with you, it would be nice.

    Lately the wife has taken to stopping at a grocery store and letting the kids pick things from those salad carts most grocery stores have. That has been working well. It is a huge time-suck though because you cannot just zip around the drive-thru and get what you need and go, it takes time to get in and out of the car, wade through the store, etc. It is really tough for us because the kids are in the car every other weekend 3 PM to 7 Pm which coincides with dinner, and it is a stinking 175 mile trip one way for them, only to do it again Sunday night. That is my fault though, I married their Mom a state away.

    (Due to the kids, we could not actually be together for the first 4 months of our marriage due to custody arrangements, but all that is worked out now, just a lot of traveling).
     
    Dennis Clover
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    wow thats a good breakdown. i wish i am disciplined enough to have such details.
    i would be able to learn a lot from my spending.

    for now, looking at your spending, i can guess that my car spending is probably around or higher than yours.
    really need to cut down on unnecessary car transportation
     
    Elizabeth Rose
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    This is amazing that you have kept such great detailed record keeping. Kudos! Have you heard of Open Book Financing? It basically turns your expenses into a game. I heard about it through the food co-op Wheatsville in Austin Texas. They use a white board to keep all costs and sales transparent, and to give employees at every level a feeling of ownership. Example: Wow! I can see if we sell ONE more popcorn tofu sandwich, we hit our goal for the month and we all get bonuses/get to see our manager dress up as an elf/etc, I can put in this tiny bit of personal effort for a huge team victory. It might be a fun way to get the family involved and having fun; if you can "win" the game by eating less fast food, that's way better than feeling tension or stress over not buying one more hamburger. Anyhow, super great reflection and feedback. Inspiring!
     
    Charli Wilson
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    That is amazing record keeping! If I looked at mine I've no doubt I'd be dismayed at how much gets spent on 'tat'.
    (And you've reminded me I haven't sent my usual New Year charity donation yet, so I should do that!)
     
    Travis Johnson
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    I tried a few commercial products for maintaining everything, but it just did not work, so I ended up creating my own on Excel. I know there are better programs, but this is what I knew so I just went ahead and did it. I call it Fiscal Flock because I am a sheep Farmer.

    The biggest issue I noticed was that being a farm, I have lots of money tied up in stuff, yet since a bank wants an updated Assets and Liability page...and they are only a snap shot in time...I needed a way to automatically update that Asset and Liability spreadsheet all the time. Like if I buy 10 sheep...my livestock value goes up, or if one dies, it goes down. It took me awhile to figure out, but ultimately I got it down so that by just doing a few daily inputs, it automatically links and updates everything else. This is huge to a farm because today, if a farm has collateral, they can get an operational loan. Lenders love farmers because our investments are so long term and guaranteed, but you have to back up your claims on paper. So keeping track of money by my little system really is a great tool to do that.

    One thing I have always done is keep my debt down, yet banks automatically plug you into some chart because most people do not keep track of their finances. With this I show them...no I am not the average American family with $10,000 in credit card debt, I spend this much every year in food costs! When I bought this farm from my parents, I kept telling the bank that we had no debt, and it was not towards the end that the woman finally looked at me and said, "You know, you guys have no debt, you could borrow 4 times more than you are". I adamantly declined. Just because you can act upon something, does not mean you should. Its nice knowing the numbers to make that decision.
     
    Tj Jefferson
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    Travis,

    If I may ask, what is the loan for? Is this seasonal financing, cap-ex, regulatory expense? I am thinking about alternate financing models and I'm interested in how to get people from where you are to where Gabe Brown is. I have been inspired by his message. If there are others who are actually in production and have input I would be interested in why financing is being used as well.

     
    Travis Johnson
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    Honestly it has been a few different loans and not just one. Some have been operational loans, one was a farm loan to buy my parents farm outright, and of course quite a few grants and programs; all of which has been within the USDA-FSA, a bank that caters to farms and the seafood industry, the small business administration, and of course the USDA-NRCS. I am now growing away from UDSA-FSA loans only because I no longer qualify; not that I am not a viable farm, but because I can get funded through a bank, which is their preferred method. Perhaps you know, but the role of USDA-FSA loans is to help those who otherwise have no where else to turn. I can now turn to a traditional bank and so that is where I must go.

    As for Fiscal Flock, I started it in 2008 and have just kept adding to it, although the last few years I have not added much to it because its pretty much worked itself into a viable program. It is my baby so I just make it work but I am not sure how others would take to it. I also keep it on an old computer in my office that is not hooked up to the internet...it is business only, and as such it runs a very old Excel Program, I think it s Excel 2007 so I am not sure how it would look in new versions of Excel. What I am saying is, I am not a computer programmer, I just fussed with it until it worked.

    A few weeks ago the Maine Commissioner of Ag gave a speech at the Soil and Water Conservation Districts annual banquet and he implored us to "share what we knew." I really took that to heart, and have really tried my best lately to share on here what little bit I know about farming. I have a luncheon with him again this Tuesday, and it would be good to let him know I have tried to do as he asked on several fronts. So if I could help you on this I certainly would. Parts of it I have already shared with the USDA-APHIS regarding the sections dealing with the Scrapie Program. It used to never be computerized, but I worked with the New England Office to change that. The lady down there...now retired...was very appreciative.

    Should you like to do that, feel free to private message me.

    To my fellow Permies Members; please understand that I cannot simply put this on a cloud somewhere and let people download it. It has a TON of personal information on it.
     
    Cody DeBaun
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    Elizabeth Rose wrote: Example: Wow! I can see if we sell ONE more popcorn tofu sandwich, we hit our goal for the month and we all get bonuses/get to see our manager dress up as an elf/etc, I can put in this tiny bit of personal effort for a huge team victory.


    WHAT. Is a popcorn tofu sandwich? My partner is vegan and those are three of her favorite words.

    Is anyone familiar with Mint dot com? Your breakdown brought it to mind Travis, it's a free site that will sort your expenditures by categories similar to how you have done it. You can link any plastic you have to your account as well so that when you spend, your Mint account logs it in the appropriate category. Mine even sends me chastening emails when I go over my budget in a given category. Perhaps not of interest to folks with greater concerns about the security of their personal information than I, but it works well for me 
     
    Tj Jefferson
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    I've been thinking about this in relation to the refugee crisis (follow me here). It is much harder and more disruptive to attempt to move people onto new land, than it is (sometimes) to find people who are in a bridge mode and can be supported to reach self-sufficiency/improvement. There are alot of issues with the funding, but there are many people I know who are looking for better return on investment, and some may find that return in a non-financial aspect. Plus, they may be more flexible in what they view as capital (like topsoil/organic sequestration). There are other aspects. Dark Greens may be interested in a backup plan they could buy into. I'm trying to think creatively about people who a) have a working business plan that could be made more efficient/effective with increased resources and b) people with resources who don't have the scale of impact you would have. I will do some research on the subsidy web, I think that is a huge problem in agriculture and so many other areas, but a tough nut to crack. I am working on a diatribe right now, weather is not cooperating for my planned project... Thank you very much for your reply!
     
    Rob Kaiser
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    Travis Johnson wrote:Well as we prepare to ring in the new year tonight, I thought I would show some interesting data regarding my family finances. I want to show this because I think it displays to others the importance of keeping good records and how knowing where your money is spent can shape how to better serve your family in the future...


    Wow!  This is amazing Travis! 

    While our situations are certainly different, I applaud the work you did on your personal accounting!

    I'm trying to improve my own bookkeeping and determine statistics like this for myself.

    Do you use any financial management software or programs?

     
    Travis Johnson
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    Well at first I could not find anything that fit my way of farming, so I made one up myself. It is something I call Fiscal Flock (because I am a sheep farmer) and works pretty well.
     
    Rob Kaiser
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    Travis Johnson wrote:Well at first I could not find anything that fit my way of farming, so I made one up myself. It is something I call Fiscal Flock (because I am a sheep farmer) and works pretty well.


    Can you elaborate?
     
    Rob Kaiser
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    Rob Kaiser wrote:
    Travis Johnson wrote:Well at first I could not find anything that fit my way of farming, so I made one up myself. It is something I call Fiscal Flock (because I am a sheep farmer) and works pretty well.


    Can you elaborate?


    ah...I need to read the thread

    doh
     
    Travis Johnson
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    Rob, don't be so hard on yourself. I have skimmed threads before too and missed out on key things. I was not at all upset, and I will certainly elaborate, I just did not have time in my previous thread in replying to you. However I have some time now, and will gladly elaborate. I am going to try and do this as simply as I can describe, because it is a pretty comprehensive program: maybe 50 spreadsheet tabs working in unison.

    The main goal was to track money, scrapie program information, required information for farm surveys and calculate production. Basically Fiscal Flock is broken down into 5 different major sections in order to do that:

    1. Income and Expenses: about once a week I gather up all the receipts we had throughout the week regarding income and expenses and note dates, items, retail locations, and cost in the appropriate category (more on that later). There is one spreadsheet for each month that gets linked to a year-end tally of income and expenses so I can see at a glance what is happening. It also gets linked to a budget page that averages out the last few years so I can see how I do on a day by day, week by week, and yearly basis. Keep in mind, we are a cash-only type of farm.

    2. Daily Logs: These are forms that I fill out once per day on a host of things. It seems tedious, but it really is not because much of the stuff is just copied and pasted from the day before. By noting the day to day changes, I get accurate information on what is being produced.

    3. Lists: These are the vital lists that add to the total value of the farm such as house hold goods and equipment. The biggest one I consider a "list" is the assets and liabilities page. This is the sum of everything in my program and allows me to see what the farm is worth on a day by day basis. It has to be accurate.

    4. Value Streams: just like in a business I have various products here on our farm and this is where they get compiled. This is different then simple lists because these items are constantly changing. For instance winter feed gets consumed as the sheep eat it. that must be taking into account, and a lambs growth rate is faster in the first 90 days then in from 90 days to 120 days. That must be accounted for. And don't forget forest growth; trees don't grow at all during the winter dormant months.

    5. Worksheets: Because the Value Streams are so critical, but also so complicated, it takes several worksheets to do all the calculations.
     
    Travis Johnson
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    Okay, lets look at Income and Expenses. I listed some on the very first post of this thread, but that was a general overview. This is the Categories and Sub-Categories that I track. Keep in mind, just because they are listed does not mean I use that category. I just post them here in case someone is interested in replicating this.

    Personal Income
    Income from jobs
    Child support
    Government
    Credit
    Other Income

    Farm Income:
    Forestry Sales
    Sheep Sales
    Poultry Income
    Agritourism
    USDA Payments (equip/whip/subsidies)
    Crop Insurance
    Custom Hire
    Other Farm Income

    Household Expenses:
    Vehicles: each one broken down by Registration/Repairs/Payment/Insurance/Gas
    Loans:
    Credit Cards:
    Home Construction: each one broken down by Electric/Heating/Plumbing/Structure/Roof/Decor/Other
    Energy: each one broken down by Propane/Coal/Firewood/Other
    Utilities:each one broken down by Electricity/Phone/Satellite/Cell Phone/Other
    Insurance: each one broken down by House/Life/Health/Other
    Supplies: each one broken down by Domestic/Work/Crafts
    Food: each one broken down by Grocery/Fast Food/Family Meals at Restaurants/Dates with the wife
    Medical: each one broken down by Copays/medicines/Other
    Clothing: each one broken down by Me/Wife/Daughter #1/ Daughter #2/Daughter #3/Daughter #4
    Presents: each one broken down by Me/Wife/Daughter #1/ Daughter #2/Daughter #3/Daughter #4/Other people
    Recreation:each one broken down by Me/Wife/Daughter #1/ Daughter #2/Daughter #3/Daughter #4
    Legal:
    Taxes: each one broken down by House/Personal/Other
    Other Expenses: each one broken down by Me/Wife/Daughter #1/ Daughter #2/Daughter #3/Daughter #4

    Farm Expenses: (this follows the Schedule F Form to make tax time easier to calculate)
    Car and Truck
    Chemicals
    Conservation
    Custom Hire
    Depreciation
    Legal
    Feed
    Fertilizer
    Freight
    Gas
    Insurance
    Labor
    Pension
    Rent
    Repair
    Seed
    Storage
    Supplies
    Taxes
    Utilities
    Veterinarian
    Other





     
    Travis Johnson
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    On the Daily Logs, which is broken down into 4 spreadsheets based on quarters: Jan-Mar, Apr-Jun, Jul-Sep, Oct-Dec, I have columns for the following for every day of the year. This lists what I have, what I am consuming, or what I am producing on a day by day basis.

    Sheep Production:
    Mutton
    Lamb
    Adult Wool
    Lamb Wool
    Pelts
    Freezer meat (how much of our own lamb is in our own freezer)

    Livestock Housing Info:
    Sheep Free Range Hours
    Lamb Free Range Hours
    Chicken Free Range Hours
    Duck Free Range Hours
    Sheep in Confinement Hours
    Lambs in Confinement Hours
    Chickens in Confinement Hours
    Ducks in Confinement Hours
    Number of eggs
    Egg percentile (number of eggs divided by number of birds to get egg to bird ratio expressed as a percentage per day)

    Labor:
    My labor hours
    My Wife's labor hours
    Other peoples labor hours

    Overall Production and Harvest:
    Corn produced
    Grass silage produced
    Grazing grass produced
    Stored feed
    Forest products harvested
    Mining products quarried (Gravel/Sand/Slate)
    Home Goods (we build home furnishings and sell them)
    Home Improvement (increase of farms overall net worth due to additions and improvements)

    Feed:
    Feed fed out
    Grain fed out
    Pasture consumed
    What the dry matter goal is based on number of sheep
    Plus/minus of dry matter consumed compared to goal

    Energy Consumption:
    Firewood
    Coal
    Propane
    Diesel
    Electricity

     
    Travis Johnson
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    The Lists pretty much just consist of everything we have in our house and its approximate current value, and our equipment. It is pretty self-explanatory.
     
    Travis Johnson
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    The Value Streams get incredibly complex. I currently have six value streams that I track:

    Forestry
    Crops
    Mining
    Sheep
    Poultry
    Agritourism

    Forestry is by far the most complicated because to get an accurate idea of what this farm has for forest products on a day by day basis, I must calculate how much wood is growing, how much I harvest, and how much is lost to natural decay and windthrow. This took me months. Basically I took the inventory that my forester took in 2014, then added the data to a spreadsheet based on the entire forest, and then each individual stand. Those are then broken down by species...so by carefully calculating growth, tracking how much I harvest, what I harvest and where I harvest it, then adding in a certain percentage for natural loss; I can get an accurate idea of how much wood is in my forest overall, how much is in each stand, and how much I have based on whether it is hemlock, spruce, hardwood, etc. It was a huge job to do, but so worth it!

    I then took that same approach to crops, because like trees, they only grow during certain times of the year. Mining is based on what is in the ground based on surveys and what is removed of course, and the sheep and poultry is based on the information linked from the daily logs. Agritourism is pretty much based on my renter who swaps labor on the house in lue of rent, so I track that and see if the amount of improvements done justifies a lack of house rental.

    It all seems daunting, but Excel does all the automatic updates. Now that it is created (over a few years time) it only takes a few minutes per day to fill out the daily log, a half hour a week t fill out the income and expenses stuff, and the rest just kind of generates itself from all the links.

    And all this gets put finally onto the Asset and Liabilities page to give me a total net worth of the farm
     
    Dennis Clover
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    Travis Johnson wrote:The Value Streams get incredibly complex. I currently have six value streams that I track:

    Forestry
    Crops
    Mining
    Sheep
    Poultry
    Agritourism

    Forestry is by far the most complicated because to get an accurate idea of what this farm has for forest products on a day by day basis, I must calculate how much wood is growing, how much I harvest, and how much is lost to natural decay and windthrow. This took me months. Basically I took the inventory that my forester took in 2014, then added the data to a spreadsheet based on the entire forest, and then each individual stand. Those are then broken down by species...so by carefully calculating growth, tracking how much I harvest, what I harvest and where I harvest it, then adding in a certain percentage for natural loss; I can get an accurate idea of how much wood is in my forest overall, how much is in each stand, and how much I have based on whether it is hemlock, spruce, hardwood, etc. It was a huge job to do, but so worth it!

    I then took that same approach to crops, because like trees, they only grow during certain times of the year. Mining is based on what is in the ground based on surveys and what is removed of course, and the sheep and poultry is based on the information linked from the daily logs. Agritourism is pretty much based on my renter who swaps labor on the house in lue of rent, so I track that and see if the amount of improvements done justifies a lack of house rental.

    It all seems daunting, but Excel does all the automatic updates. Now that it is created (over a few years time) it only takes a few minutes per day to fill out the daily log, a half hour a week t fill out the income and expenses stuff, and the rest just kind of generates itself from all the links.

    And all this gets put finally onto the Asset and Liabilities page to give me a total net worth of the farm


    interesting classic modern accounting approach to all the valuable assets around us =)
    i wish more people and businessess will take a better holistic approach then just cut down and harvest all the resources.
    im understanding that your approach will measure how like a tree harvest for timber will reduce the monetary values of, for example, extra fruits and etc?
     
    Travis Johnson
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    You make a very valid point and our vast timber resources is one of the reasons I left my lucrative job at a shipyard and moved into full-time farming.

    About 3/4 of our farm is forest, and while we have a few sawmills, shingle mills, have it enrolled the Forest Stewardship Counsel and the American Tree Farm System, the forest products market in Maine is incredibly bad right now. A few years ago there was something like 75 paper mills in the state, now it is only 6 and four in which are too far away to truck wood too. Sawmills themselves are closing and we export most of our good wood. That is pretty bad when you consider the value of that much wood.

    But sheep farming is different. The market right now is VERY robust. Adding to that is the value of tillable land, which is more valuable then even house lots here in Maine. When you do the calculations, forest is not worth a whole lot; about $70 an acre per year. Now this sounds low...and it is...but it is because those trees have to take so long to grow. A lamb, well they grow incredibly fast, so the feed an acre of land provides has much more value.

    Forest: An acre of forest grows about 1 cord, per acre, per year on average. At $70 a cord, that is only $70 dollars.
    Lamb: An acre of lamb can sustain 10 lambs per year at a modest $100 equals $1000 per year
    Hay: An acre of hay ground can produce about 10 hay bales per year on two cuttings, and at $35 per bale that is $350 per acre

    But that is value based products, a farm appraiser looks at things differently.

    Forest: Mature forest, unharvested is worth $1200 per acre
    Tillable Land: Tillable land is worth $3500 per acre

    In 1900 90% of my farm was field, and due to the influence of the forest industry, it made sense to let the fields grow back into forest. But back then horses could slog through these wet fields, something that could not be done when steel wheeled tractors came onto the scene. Now the situation has reversed, and with tractors with 4 wheel drive, positraction and even tracks, we can take marginal fields and make them very productive again.

    BUT...

    These are all powerful reasons why I should clear forest into field; it dos not mean everyone should. The economics for other people may be different.

    One thing to keep in mind about sustainability though, is that  it does not do any good to have non-profitable farming methods if the farm gets lost back to overdue taxes (or a bank foreclosure) and the property gets put into house lots. I am a lot like Gabe in that I am trying to save the family farm by using non-traditional ways to keep it profitable. Now if trees lived forever we would be having a different conversation, but ultimately they mature and die. I am 42 years old so I will never live long enough to clear my whole farm off, nor would I want to, but getting the ratio of acres of forest to acres of field reduced makes sense.
     
    Tj Jefferson
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    Your example is very inspiring! I think often people underestimate the mental energy it takes to realize undervalued assets, and you have done so marvelously. Big kudos, you are doing this differently than others and providing an alternate method. My family has been farmers on other people's land historically, and there wasn't an impetus to invest in alternate strategies. I am truly humbled by seeing how much effort you have put into this.
     
    Travis Johnson
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    You are very kind with your words, and I thank you for that!

    I guess the biggest thing I get regarding my farm is that because we are a full-time farm, people think an accounting system is too big for them, but I am here to say that it is not! When I started Fiscal Flock I had...can you believe this...only 4 sheep! I worked full-time at a shipyard and my ex-wife was a teacher. Yep it is true, and even now it may seem like "Poultry Value Stream" is some big endeavor, but it is actually only 10 ducks and a few chickens, mostly for our own use and the rest we give to charity. (If you do the math on the eggs you will see 1250 eggs over a years time is only an average of 3 eggs a day.) The point is, we GREW into it, and when I was ready to do bigger things on the farm, I had the data already to support my future plans. That is the key to talking farm business. If they handed loans out to everyone that wanted to start farming, they would be giving them to half the population, but they only want to deal with farms that are already producing...a farm needs to back that up with data. It does not matter HOW MUCH a farm produces; right now the US Farm Bill is very helpful to small and micro-farms, but the farms have to be producing food for the national food chain. Again it does not have to be truckloads of food per week, but contributing something.

    When I started Fiscal Flock, I just could not find anything out there that worked well. Quicken Books and whatnot was great at accounting, but it did not dovetail well with the livestock records I wanted to keep. And while there is great livestock tracking systems out there, they only tracked livestock genetics. I wanted both...and then it just grew from that nucleus of an idea.

    I'll be honest, some of those value streams are not huge revenue makers...like agritourism, but I rent two houses and it is making some money, but I envision hat getting much bigger in scale when I get a cabin online and some other ideas. And those ducks and chickens, oh my I am merely answering the age-old question, "isn't it just cheaper to buy eggs at the store?" (Yes it is, by my eggs actually have flavor that is worth their cost). But the ability to track that stuff is in place so as I get more chickens and ducks, or do more with agritourism, its already in place.

    Years ago I worked for the railroad as a Safety Coordinator and I quickly learned that preventing injuries was not what I was hired for; there was a reason my boss was the Chief Financial Officer and I shared a office with the company attorney...it was liability control. I quickly learned that saying, "doing this could prevent x-amount of hand injuries per year" meant nothing to them, but as sad as it was, when I said, "doing this could prevent $230,000 in hospitalization costs", they listened and I got what I was after. I simply had to talk in terms they understood. With farming it is the same way. It takes A LOT of money to farm, and to obtain that you have to talk their language: money and production. A good accounting system, for the Permiculturist/Homesteader/Micro-Farmer should to keep track of this stuff from the beginning if they ever want to morph into full-time farming.

    BTW: Did you know there is no such thing as a farmer to the USDA? We are "producers" to them. And the USDA will not give out grants for "barns", but they do fund "covered heavy use areas with end walls"...what you and I, and everyone else...like...everywhere...whoever lived...call barns?!! Its all knowing the terminology!
     
    Dennis Clover
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    really inspiring to go through all the replies as well.

    thanks for your hard work on this financial conclusion. must really learn own finances and strengthen one's brain in solving problems
     
    Travis Johnson
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    I think one of the misconceptions regarding this thread is that my farm has everything together, and I assure you that is just not true. Oh there are many areas I need to tighten up on; both physically...as in specific aces on the farm, and time wise. I do think Fiscal Flock could be a tool to help in those areas.

    Without question, this website is helping in that endeavor with the basic premise that "the problem is the solution."

    But please, please, please do not think I have it all together because I assure you I do not. In fact the older I get, the more work that is done on the farm, the more experience I have as a full-time farmer, the more I realize how little I know. People have no idea just how much I look to Thelka McDaniels, Anne Miller, Paul Wheaton, R Ranson, Mike Jay, Roberto, Joseph Lofthouse, and others. The issue is, I am not sure how I can convince them I truly need help, and just how to glean the necessary information out of them. It is not just that I have issues to address; I have a lot of issues! And these issues are specific in nature!
     
    David Livingston
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    I think you are being a bit hard upon yourself as you seem to have your act together more than many others
    There is no perfect place like there is no perfect person ( a title without claimant for at least 1300 years ) it's how we cope with change that important I think and dealing with nature , change is the only constant . Resilience is hope in coping with change .
    Watching and learning from others increases our resilience I believe as others  watch and learn from you , in a way is it not what Permies is all about?

    David
     
    Travis Johnson
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    I have been told quite a few times that I am too hard on myself, and it is probably true. I don't see that changing because I can very easily get ego-centered...which I have shown on here inadvertently from time to time. That does not bode well for encouraging others and using some experience I have in farming to help new farmers enrich their lives through agriculture though. I try...to be humble, but honestly it can really go against my own self-nature.

    One thing any farm can do...regardless of size...is assess resources and try to utilize those unique resources to being part of the solution.

    One thing I am working on now is the problem of a patch of forest I am clearing into a new field. Because I am conventionally logging it, I am removing the boles but am left with a fair amount of limbs and tops. I can mulch this with a rented excavator and mulching attachment, but that is $15,000 or more. My idea now is to mechanically generate hugelkultur's with this excess wood. I have a bulldozer, which is essentially weight and traction, and a welding ability. By fabricating the proper implment I am hoping to turn a problem...30 acres of brush that would be problematic to remove conventionally...and incorporate it into the soil by machine.
     
    Tj Jefferson
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    Travis, based on the amount of area and the tools available (and I'm just asking out of envy), could you make a large suncatcher hugelberm with a heat sink pond in the middle by piling all the brush and then pushing dirt over it? The hugel will decay into a berm with decent drainage, but that might give you a nice area to grow some stuff you wouldn't be able to, and get rid of your brush. I know the guys down here bury all manner of brush doing building site excavation, I'm just thinking of doing it intentionally. You would have to push it up from tip of the berm and gradually build a ramp to the top, but I am sure you have the skills to do it. Would be a couple full days' work. I don't have a bulldozer, but if I did I would definitely build up and make some nice earthworks. I have little ones from my shovel and hobby tractor. I'm not sure how big a pond would need to be to have fish and not just grow mosquitos, but given the rocks up there you could totally make the rocks a heat sink on the south side of the berm to make a sweet growing area. (see awesome cartoon for depiction). Brown arrows are dirt relocation, but would actually be pushed to one side of the structure and then on top with the dozer ramp.

    Don't ever make excuses for your tendencies. Work toward your strengths and be mindful of your weaknesses, and work to prevent them from undoing you. Nothing wrong with that, anyone who has self-awareness at all has to do it. It's being human...
    swampswale.jpg
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    south facing opening
     
    Travis Johnson
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    Yes, I actually can do that, now I think. Technically it is against the Swampbusters Act, but considering the vast changes that will be taking place on January 21st, I am pretty sure it will no longer be enforced. That is because topography wise, it would be possible to do what you suggest. I tried to doodle something up, but really could not even replicate what you did. Still, hopefully you can follow me on this by looking at your own drawing.

    Basically the area I am working is divided into thirds going from top to bottom in your depiction; all sections being about 10 acres in size. The first top section was tillable field back around 1900, but allowed to grow back into forest. The middle section is rather wet and swampy and is old growth forest having never been in agriculture.  And the bottom most part is a bit steeper, a beech ridge, and has never been in agriculture either.

    Both the top and the bottom are about 20-30 feet higher in elevation so that the water drains into the middle section. BUT I am at the height of land, so this area I am working literally is cut in half left to right (North and South) into two different water sheds. The North and south sides both are the start of two different streams and running in two different directions.

    My plan now is to clear the land of forest obviously, then cut channels so the water drains into the center. Then this water will travel to the North mostly where I will construct a berm to check its flow too much with a weir. This will be at the top of a steep ravine, dropping about 100 feet in about 200 feet. With the soil smoothed and planted into grass, this should shed the water much quicker then forest, and ultimately be captured for a micro-hydropower set up that will eventually power a off-grid cabin for guests or me and my wife (when we give this house to one of our kids and let my poor wife get a rest from cleaning a huge house finally).

    So my plan and yours is very similar, I am just not sure I can build a pond here on account of two reasons:

    1: I am only working with 4 inches of soil in many spots. I am at the top of a huge hill and can see some 150 miles distant. Bedrock is not far down
    2: Water does not collect here, it runs off. In fact I have no streams that run through my farm, they all start here.

    But I am pretty sure I can build a berm system and weir, which is very similar to what you are suggesting.

     
    Travis Johnson
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    My idea for a mechanized hugelkultur implement started the other day when I noticed a lot of the tops and limbs of trees I cut this summer have started to break down and be buried under the 18 inches of snow we have. In the severe cold, weight of the bulldozer, and sharp grousers it has; when I climb over brush piles it just pulverizes the limbs and tops into mulch. The problem is my tracks are only a foot wide and it would take forever to drive over every square foot of this 30 acre tract.

    So why not build a roller that does the same thing?

    Martin already builds them, and has since 1933, but theirs has a design flaw. Because it is a huge horizontal drum (like a roller used to compact highway asphalt, but with paddles every foot or so welded sideways across it), when it hits a stump, the middle of the roller gets lifted off the ground and does not pulverize the logging debris under it. My idea is to cut big discs of steel, but mount them on pivoting bars protruding off a drawbar...kind of like a corn planter is designed. With heavy weights attached to each disk, as my bulldozer pulls it, the disks roll over the logging debris and breaks that logging debris up. But...when I roll over a stump, just the discs that hit the stump lift up, thereby getting a better mulching action.

    There is a forester rule of thumb here, and probably just about everywhere: Any logging debris, 2 inches in diameter or less, left less than 2 feet off the ground, will decompose in 2 years time.

    So by building this implement, and rolling it over this area a few times a year, in a very short time it should pulverize the logging debris into manageable sizes that nature can decompose. In that way I am letting nature do the work, and I am not pushing debris piles around. At the same time it is adding nutrients to the soil. I won't be removing stumps, but my sheep can graze around them until I reach the 5 year mark when they will pop out of the ground easy enough because they are half rotted and will be 1/4 of the size. After that I can just plow under the mulched and half decomposed logging slash under the soil and essentially have a 30 acre hugelkultur.

    Something kind of like this, but a bit smaller.


     
    Tj Jefferson
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    I made a picture. Maybe it isn't far off. I love earthworks...
    crappytry2.jpg
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    crappy try
     
    Travis Johnson
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    Yes that is just what I was talking about. It may not be quite so hour-glassed shaped, funneling in towards the big arrow more, but it is a minor detail and essentially what you drew.

    When the USDA-NRCS wetland expert came here we had a few difference of opinion on some stuff, the biggest being the depth of soil to bedrock. He figured it was 15 feet to it, but as I drive around with my bulldozer, I am often spinning because my grousers...only a few inches high, are not gripping soil but spinning on the bedrock mere inches below. But to his credit, he has only been here a few times and I have lived here all my life so I have observed more.

    A few things I have noticed over the years is big boulders on top of the ground. When you see that, you have bedrock not far down, otherwise the glaciers would have driven the boulders into the soil, or left them embedded along with the soil, as they passed. The other thing I noticed is that you always find gravel on the Northeast side of a hill. That is because as the glaciers moved south-southwest, they scoured the ground as they went, leaving little soil behind, but on the Northeast side, they piled that ground rock up into banks of gravel. The final thing I noticed is red soil. When you see that, you know the soil has never been in agriculture or logged much. That is because the iron in the topsoil has not been exposed to air, and when that occurs you get rust. Even livestock grazing on a piece of land will churn this topsoil up enough to expose it to the air and cause rusting. Over a few years the iron gets depleted and the red-rusting no longer shows up. Again this is only related to Maine because it is the only place I ever farmed, but you learn a lot by watching. It will really be interesting to see what this new field does on this virgin soil. The wetland expert said it is not worth converting wet soil to agricultural uses, but I am not so sure. More and more, farmland once considered marginal is being productive, and my wettest fields now grow the best grass.

     
    David Livingston
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    More and more, farmland once considered marginal is being productive, and my wettest fields now grow the best grass.

    Climate change maybe ?
     
    Travis Johnson
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    I am not sure.

    I got the benefit of living on the same farm as my ancestors and have access to a lot of their diaries which always told the weather. Last year was a drought year for sure, but that happened in the past too, but over the last 20 years Maine has the privilege of actually increasing its annual precipitation by an extra 5 inches, so it is possible that climate change is working to our favor.

    A lot of it is due to drainage tile...or at least inexpensive drainage tile. A friend of mine who has a big dairy farm, mirrors my farm, only he is on a massive scale much bigger than mine, but is clearing land at an unprecedented rate. He is the leader in taking marginal land (land that is wet) and making it extremely productive through the use of drainage tile. Mine has plenty, but this guy has installed 20 miles of it! Years ago it literally consisted of tile pipe, but now "drainage tile" is just plastic pipe that comes in big 100 or 1000 foot rolls and is perforated to allow water in then drain to daylight at the edge of the field.

    I don't use it so much because it costs money and with sheep farming the profit margin is razor thin, plus my bulldozer makes excellent swales in a fraction of the time as installing drainage tile and allows me to capture, direct, and even store water as I wish. In this case I won't drain it to the outside of the field, but direct it to the center then drain it north to the weir. I have already installed a sort-of-makeshift dam out of earth. I say kind of because it is semi-circular in shape and consists of a road on top of it. I use it now to extract forest products, but that will change to a earthen dam/weir with road access to the backside of my new field.

    This is a very long term project, well thought out, and hopefully will net me a lot when it is done for the minimal of cost. We will see.

    I would get pictures for you guys (and gals) however right now there is 20 inches of snow on the ground and hard to see and even harder to walk in. This is a photo taken of the semi-circular dam site just after it was grubbed out. Now however it is 4 feet higher with an earthen dam. Everything on the left is going to be removed and will be a field, where as the wood on the left will be left as this is the start of the steep ravine.

    DSCN4190.JPG
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    Tj Jefferson
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    Travis,

    This is an interesting thread, you are making a living (modest by all accounts) from the land. Most of the posters on here are not in that position. I would suggest that most of us agree that it would be preferable if more people were in your model, but we aren't really doing it. What has occurred to me, and probably wouldn't have if you were not willing to be open about your situation, is that what you are doing is against The Rules. That being said, those of us who follow The Rules should be very careful in judging your efforts.

    You are removing what is a relatively mature forest ecosystem, draining a riparian area, and replacing it with forage, capturing less carbon. BUT, and this is critical, you are doing it on the basis of your knowledge of your land and the historical interaction with it. By doing this, you are attempting to stay on your land, in a relationship with it that goes back generations. Probably not one of my relatives on either side lived in this country when this relationship started, so it is easy to look at your relationship and cast judgement (and I am sure I am not the only one who initially looked through that lens). My family was transient, we had a chicken coop and garden at times and eventually got livestock once semi-settled, but it is like the person who is happily married in their third marriage in their fifties telling people who got pregnant in high school they are doing it wrong. In the historical record, you are closer to a truly sustainable existence! You didn't necessarily pick this relationship, but you are committed to making it work.

    So this is kind of a mea culpa (I have to do this unfortunately with some regularity), I think you have taught me some very hard things. Thank you again, it is good to have some humility built into the day!!!
     
    Travis Johnson
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    Well just to be clear, I have not broken any laws yet, but maybe rules of Permiculture, and even then I am not sure. That is because this is occurring on only 30 acres of my farm, a fraction of what I have for woodlot. I am still part of the American Tree Farm System and still part of Forest Stewardship Counsel; and the foresters set aside this area of my farm for farm expansion on my forestry plan.

    Legally...I am allowed to cut any tree on my farm as harvesting wood is NOT against the Swampbusters Act. I can even legally build roads anywhere within it and remove stumps at will...as long as it is for harvesting wood. The Swampbusters Act only comes into play when I become determined to turn the forested wetland into crops. The ridiculousness of this comes is clearly seen when even permiculture practice makes this illegal. To that end I would not be able to remove the stumps in forested wetland, which is what the center section was determined to be by the wetland expert. I can however, cut the trees and graze every square foot of it; just not grow edible crops.

    Now if this was a young vibrant forest, we would be having a different conversation. First my foresters would NOT ALLOW me to turn this part of my forest into farmland if the wood here was not so mature. Many of the trees I must cut off the first 4 feet of the tree due to rot. Trees just do not live forever, and here, all the trees are the same age. Just because a tree is 6 inches in diameter does not mean it is young; it has just been suppressed in the shade of bigger trees overhead. Its still got 3 inches of rot in the center, just as the trees 4 feet in diameter do.

    A lot of this was mismanagement. For years if we made a hole in the canopy, we freaked out. Logging was pretty much limited to cutting wood for taxes, our own use, or Christmas. When we did cut wood, we went by the mantra "always cut the junk wood and you will always have good wood." So we cut fir and spruce for the paper industry, sold a few loads of wood, and basically culled wood letting the nice logs grow up. Now those nice logs I drove around for years are dying due to old age. Sadly the wood market is gone though, and they have little worth. This is not just a short term glut in the market...woodland has no value.

    But it could be worse, I could have a logging contractor come in and cut this wood and make 1/3 of what I am now in money. Instead I am doing it myself. This is part of the big plan. I need more sheep...period. But before I can get more sheep I need grazing, winter feed and housing. Last year I built a new barn and have the housing. I have plenty of winter feed with existing fields, but only if I get more rotational grazing in. So right now most of my farm income comes from logging the area that will be pasture. Then in 12 months or so, I will be able to get more sheep and rely more on lamb sales and less on logging. Now debt is not always a great plan, but to get my numbers high enough, I will need to take out a loan. While that will be around $50,000, it sounds worse then it is. Since I own my house, equipment, have no loans on my barns, sawmills or tractors...and will only have an operational loan on some livestock, its like having a new truck payment. I can handle that, especially if the influx of sheep will get me to producing more lambs. In farming terms, $50,000 is not a lot of money when based on what the farm is worth overall. Right now there is plenty of money availed to farmers...as long as there is collateral to secure it. Note I did not say having good credit...I said collateral.

    So that is the big plan. Get rid of some mature forest, get more open land, raise more sheep, direct the water to a micro-hydro plant and build a off-grid cabin. By the time this all is carried out, our kids will want our way-too-big home and the wife and I can settle down where it is peaceful...and easily cleaned.


     
    Tj Jefferson
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    Sorry I wasn't clear. I was referring to the Permiculture "rules", which are put in writing by people who don't walk in your shoes. Sorry, I reread it and I should have been clearer. Did not in any way suggest you are not doing it legally or even ethically. In fact this is a situation where I have had to examine my ethics in light of the real world!

     
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