At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Assembly line farms

Jethro Tull admired one of his neighbors who, not being able to afford horses or oxen or even a plow, took a shovel to the aisles of his cabbage field.  A small field well tilled produces more profit than a large field poorly tilled, and organizing your land - whether it is as small as a patio or as large as several hundred acres - so that you can do your work well is important.  This concept was inspirational to Henry Ford, the manufacturer, who made a new “mass production theory.”  This theory was quickly applied to farming, through the development of tractors and large feed lots. 

However, since Ford, a new “Assembly Line” theory has been developed by leaders such as Edward Demming.  One practical application of Assembly Line Theory may be made to the keeping of animals.  If animals are looked at as sources of manure for the fields (though they usually contribute more than that to the farm!), you would want to organize your fields to be as close to your pens as possible, organizing pens and fields against the same gate and against the same driveway.  Instead of having large pastures and large fields which are easily worked by an expensive tractor designed to easily convey the manure from the pastures to the fields, an alternative is to have numerous small pens (with a handful of animals) and numerous small fields, easily worked by hand.

A further advantage is in disease control.  If one pen gets an infection, it will not likely spread to another pen.  Because manure may so easily and quickly moved from the pen to the field and turned into the aisles, pens stay cleaner: the same farmer who would need to take a wheel barrow 500 feet will have, in the course of 10 pen cleanings, traveled over 3/4 mile further than a farmer who has to only carry the manure 50 feet, saving 3-5 hours of work, long enough to clean a small pen some 6-10 times.  While a farmer may need to make rounds to the animals over further distance, organizing the pens against a driveway in a line reduces this time: feed, water and other provisions are easily provided for along the line, and may even be stocked near to the area of manure production.

Tractors and other equipment are expensive, and while the costs don’t usually outweigh the benefits, the fields may be adapted to facilitate a tractor, with small pens located throughout a field and large connections between fields that can actually be cultivated as well, and if the farmer wishes to drive a truck to care for the animals, a dirt track can be maintained along the line of pens.  A disadvantage to the system is that it requires many more hundreds of feet in walls and fences, and numerous more shelters, but if the farmer is using recycled materials, this results in no actual increase in cost and the line may be built easily. 

A farm assembly line appears in many respects to resemble numerous microfarms, but coordinated to conserve waste.  In most cases, assembly lines are very efficient with labor, so much so that robotics and other mechanization popular with mass production are less efficient than human hands.  As Jethro Tull noticed, the cabbage farmer with the shovel was producing superior work and profit, but the shovel was not adapted to a large field.  We see today that a city garden is more fruitful than some of the best farmland in the exurbs and rural lands.  A farmer needs a large field, but organizing it to accommodate the shovel instead of the plow is smart work.

The system can be scaled back if labor is lacked, and when it is scaled up, a payrolled farm worker or a very used tractor, or an ox and plow may be acquired so that greater revenues are earned from their work than expended upon them.

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