SALLY McNabb was using the damp, cool weather to clean up after Christmas and to try to get the house back to normal.
There was a pile of junk in the laundry, including a large quantity of wire coathangers. Sally asked her daughter, Kirsty, to take the hangers and the other rubbish to be recycled, but noticed that Kirsty was playing with one of the hangers.
Kirsty was holding the hanger in one hand, upside down by the hook and, with her other hand, she was pushing and pulling the hanger on its base and side bars.
"Look, Mum, when I change the shape of any part of the coat hanger the rest of the hanger changes shape as well," Kirsty said.
Sally asked what the relevance was. Kirsty explained it was a metaphor for the farm.
"You cannot change one thing on the farm without it impacting on everything else," she said.
"We put lambing back a couple of weeks to get better weather, but have trouble finishing the lambs.
"We autumn shear because we spring lamb, but we have to manage the flies through the summer.
"We spring lamb (and calve) so we can achieve the optimum stocking rate, but carrying the young animals through the summer is more difficult.
"Autumn calves are sold in the January sales, but ours are never ready.
"We drench less, to avoid developing drench-resistant worms, but live 'on the edge' with worm management in wet years.
"We need smaller mobs in smaller paddocks, to achieve the best lambing percentage, but bigger paddocks for cropping."
Sally tried to cut in, but Kirsty was in full flight.
"We use stubble retention to increase organic matter but that allows the mouse population to increase," she said. "Everything we do to improve the performance of one aspect of the farm has a cost, either directly or indirectly and progress seems to be so slow.
"We need a silver bullet."
This time Sally was able to get a word in.
"When we started to take over the management of the farm from Ted, everything was stuck in a time warp," Sally said. "He had been a good farmer in his day, but his day had passed before your father and I became involved in decision-making. The development of the farm has been a continual work in progress.
"Your father and I have bought into the business, worked hard to increase the profitability of the land Ted owns, bought more land, fixed this house and educated you and your brother.
"We started with high debt and now, with this long run of decent years and prices coming together, we are getting the debt under control, but yes, it is all connected and it has been slow.
"There are no silver bullets."
As Kirsty stopped playing with the coat hanger and went back to cleaning up, she reflected, to herself, that the coathanger theory was sound: all things on the farm are connected and changing anything impacts on everything else. She also reflected that if you change a coathanger too much, it won't hang clothes.
- Mike Stephens is a consultant with Mike Stephens and Associates.