Los Ojos, 1 April 2018
This week we’ve continued the spring work – mainly building and repairing infrastructure as we prepare to receive more animals and move those that we already have from the receiving pens out to pasture. The construction itself isn’t bad – I’m not what you’d call one of the world’s great carpenters, but what I build is functional, and the animals don’t generally complain about my 85° corners.
More challenging than the physical construction is the task of figuring out the specifics of our management plan – at last count we’re stocking … let me see… at least six different classes of animals, each with its own distinct set of requirements and correspondingly different effects on the ranch ecosystem. It’s a fascinating problem, a mix of short and long-term planning based on multiple variables that we can only ever have a best guess at (How much water can we count on this year? How hot will this summer be?).
In some ways, it’s very simple: give them what they need, and animals will live and thrive on their own (often in spite of their human stewards’ best efforts to help). In other ways, it’s a bit more complicated. We have to balance today’s needs (newly weaned piggies coming tomorrow and it’s snowing, so we need shelter/feed/water/space for them) at the same time as we build toward a ten-plus-year vision (what we build or prepare needs to be multi-use, flexible, long lasting, and enhance the overall health of the system). Add to this a little bit of cash constraint, and you can see that there’s scope for the exercise of ingenuity.
It’s not rocket surgery, and we’re not the first ones to tackle these problems; we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to figure out how to adapt solutions that already exist to our specific context – it’s the difference between an engineer and a scientist.
I like the challenge, and I like that there’s no right answer – the animals and the elements will out-crazy even the craziest plan, so we live in a continual cycle of plan-prepare-execute-evaluate-adapt, with the emphasis on adapt. Everything we do is an experiment, and we’re never allowed to forget that the value of planning is not that you produce some ideal airtight plan, but that you prepare to act when things don’t go according to plan, whether that means neutralizing threats or capitalizing on unforeseen opportunities.
It’s rewarding to see a plan work as intended – but for my money it’s even better to have your plan fall completely apart and come up with solutions that work on the fly. In the first instance you get to feel smart, but in the second you stand a fighting chance of learning something valuable. Keep checking back with us and we’ll let you know what kind of what valuable lessons we’ve been learning.