This Farmer’s Freedom to Fail

I walked in to the world of farming a bit naive.  Okay, fine.  I walked into the world of farming A LOT naive.

When we first jumped into grass-fed beef at Six Sigma Ranch,  beef seemed simple.  We had a lot of grass (4,000 acres worth), surrounding the vineyards for which the property had been purchased.  The plan was as follows:  Buy a handful of cows.  Add a bull.  Get more cows.  Disassemble and deliver to customers.  Repeat.

After a few weeks it became obvious that we needed to move the cows around.  Having never been much of a horse person, I did some homework and found that some cattlemen (the really smart ones, obviously), saved themselves the trouble of boarding a 1000lb+ equine by acquiring instead a trained cattle dog, a particularly charismatic type of border collie with an eye to stare a 2,000lb bull into submission.  A quick Google search revealed a breeder and trainer (who will remain anonymous to protect the nearly innocent), and Isaac the border collie joined the family.

Our new partnership, I envisioned, would leave me waiting at the gate while Isaac silently collected the cattle from acres of hillsides and installed them into the cattle trailer.  I worked with the trainer a few times, paid a surprisingly large sum of money for a 40lb dog, and went on my way to find the herd.

At this point I’ll summarize a lot of details into a few sentences:  It didn’t work.  Those guys that move hundreds of cows with dogs?  They understand both cows and dogs.  And they’ve spent thousands of hours learning to do so.  Me?  I expected the dog (and the cattle for that matter) to work like a remote controlled car.  They didn’t.

Lesson learned?  Make room for some failures.  Design them small, with limited chance of fatalities.  Enjoy, and reflect.  Sir Richard Branson, the epic entrepreneur of hundreds of companies including Virgin Atlantic Airlines, won’t invest  into a company with an owner who hasn’t failed at at least three businesses.  Why?  Because they learned.  They got back on the horse (no pun intended), and they tried again.