Simple Life

My great uncle Clint Whetter farmed a mile up the back road from our farm in southwest Manitoba. He was the youngest of four sons, a U of M Aggie and World War II veteran. He was on a bomber crew that flew 58 operations over Germany. Having to protect his stuff from three older brothers, get himself through university and follow the RCAF standard operating procedures likely all influenced his character because, man, he was organized. He had a wall on his shop painted a glistening white with a hook for every hand tool. And, for the pièce de résistance, every tool spot was outlined in black marker so he knew where each tool went and, most importantly, whether it had been put back. As a kid, I would marvel at that wall with 90 per cent awe and 10 per cent ridicule saved for really anal people.

I didn’t fully appreciate the value of that wall until 30 years later when I watched Swede Ove Karlsson talk about the “Lean” concept at FarmTech 2020. His presentation included a photo of a tool wall with hooks and black silhouettes just like my dear uncle’s. Light bulb.

Karlsson emphasized that taking a few hours to clean up the shop, organize the inventory and set up a tool wall can save lots of time and frustration in the future. The “Lean” concept is not quite a Marie Kondo level of clean up, but it does encourage us to look at the hours we spend in a day and see which ones provide value to ourselves and our customers and which ones are wasted. The definition of “wasting time” will be different for each of us. I would argue that spending more than five seconds looking for a pen is a travesty, but spending an hour going for a walk is essential.

Simplicity was a sub-theme for a virtual presentation I attended later in the year. My colleague Brittany Dyck, senior manager, canola utilization with the Canola Council, invited me along for a webinar she hosted to promote the use of canola meal in Canadian dairy rations. The guest speaker was Daniel Scothorn, a Nova Scotian who coaches dairy managers on nutrition and more. His business mantra: “You need to start with good rations, but coaching takes the business to the next level.”

At the core of Scothorn’s recommendations is to keep it simple. “I’ve seen dairy diets with 30 to 40 ingredients, but cows evolved on three feeds – grass, dirt and water,” he says.

With that as a start point, he works with dairy managers to rebuild their feed regime. In his coaching, Scothorn starts with the basic question, “What are your goals?”. When he has the answer, he asks, “Why is that goal important to you?” Then, to keep adding value to customers over the months and years, he has a routine set of questions that he repeats with each visit.

They are:

  • What’s important to you today?
  • Before I walk through your herd, is there anything I should pay special attention to?
  • After I walk through the cattle, are you able to spend 20 minutes reviewing my observations?
  • The last time I was here, you said ________was a problem. Is this still a problem?
  • Let’s review your current feed costs. What do you think about your feed choices?

Being organized and almost ritualistic with his questions, Scothorn has what could be called a “Lean” approach to coaching, coaxing critical thinking and better decisions. Simple, but effective.

He also has this gem that I have to include: “Ask yourself, is it acceptable to be 90 per cent right? Because the final 10 per cent is going to cost a lot of money.”

When I think back to uncle Clint’s tool wall, I realize now that I should focus on my “90 per cent awe” and strive for the simpler life that demarcated tools can provide. The other 10 per cent, the ridicule for anal people, is a wasteful thought that has cost me a lot of time looking for pens and screwdrivers and keys.


For more on the “Lean” concept, read the Business Management article in this issue.