James Herrick: Farmers tend to get lost making marginal gains

We are three weeks into calving at the time of writing – and have already calved over half of our suckler cows.

We have snuck a few out to grass, but a lack of dry meadow land and the ever-persistent rain means we still have a lot of cows and calves inside.

It was the same last year, and I’ve vowed that if we have to hold cattle back in 2025, we will have a serious rethink about our approach.

See also: James Herrick – cattle should be functional not flashy 

About the author

James Herrick
James Herrick is based on his family’s suckler beef and arable farm in Leicestershire. A passionate conservationist, he’s keen on using technology to maximise agriculture’s profitability and lessen its impact on the environment. Away from the farm he likes to compete in triathlons and endurance races.
Read more articles by James Herrick

I spend a lot of time plotting scenarios in my head of what would happen if we changed “this” or tweaked “that”. What would the pros and cons be?

You’ve most likely heard of the concept of marginal gains, made famous by Sir Dave Brailsford’s incredible success with cycling’s Team Sky, winning the 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 Tour de France titles, and turning the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas into household names.

The success of the principle has led it to be coined by nearly every new method, practice, system or piece of tech to hit the market, even within agriculture.

As farmers, we love to make improvements and adjustments to our systems and equipment in the name of “efficiency”.

It’s exciting, and often comes with all the promise of adding up to a noticeable difference. However, that’s rarely the case.

Most farmers are good farmers, but not so many are good at running a farming business.

We all too often get so lost in the weeds with all the little additions, that we fail to notice the glaring issues that would really make a substantial difference to our businesses.

Don’t get me wrong, those little changes are nice to make and no doubt we will all continue to make them, but from now on, I am endeavouring to look beyond the melee of marginal gains in a bid to see the bigger picture more clearly.

After all, Canadian rancher Don Campbell famously said: “If you want to make small changes, change the way you do things; but if you want to make major changes, change the way you SEE things.”