Holistic Financial Management on our Farm

A few months ago I started taking a Holistic Financial Management class that is changing the way we run our farm.

Back in November I applied for a mini grant to take the Cornell Small Farms Course in Holistic Financial Planning. They offer a ton of courses over there that are worth checking out.

Over the last six weeks I have been in weekly webinars and working through homework to set holistic goals and management practices for our farm.

If you are looking for a way to set goals for your farm that take into account your family, environment, lifestyle, and community as well as your farming, this might be for you.

What is Holistic Management?

Holistic Management was developed by Allan Savory over thirty years ago. When looking at a farm business from just one view, as the business, you can lose track of other important areas of your life.

Taking a holistic view of the farm includes integrating your family, the environment, relationships with others, and your person life and goals.

When we manage our farms and finances with these areas of our life in mind, we are better able to make choices that will ultimately become profitable and sustainable.

holistic planning book rough and tumble farmhouse

Is Holistic Management hard to do?

It’s a little tough to get started, but after you get the fundamentals down and sort out all your paperwork it is fairly easy.

Who is Holistic Financial Management for?

Crop farmers, ranchers, vegetable producers, dairy farms, all could benefit from integrating holistic planning into their farm enterprises.

What are the basic steps to Holistic Management?

Setting a Holistic Goal

First we developed a holistic or Farm and Family Goal. This is a crucial step in the process. As you come to decisions, you will repeatedly come back to these key values to help make the best overall choice.

This process is simple but takes time. Gather whoever are the key decision makers and important participants in your farm. Might be a spouse, business partner, children, etc.

Start listing out all the things that are important to you. Then ask why is this important? Keep asking the why until you have whittled it down to a clear simple statement. Then, explain HOW you will achieve that.

family photo rough and tumble farmhouse
Our family takes priority over everything else.

Holistic Goal Examples

Here are a few examples of ours.

We make time for family and friends. We welcome family and friends to our farm. We establish farm systems that allow us to leave it. We use a calendar and clear communication within the family to plan visits.

How this looks: We have large feeders to stockpile hay, multiple waterers, solid fences, animals that take care of their own babies, etc. so we can leave the farm for a day or two and trust it is cared for. Wall calendar and a weekly whiteboard planner to keep track of our plans. We take time to talk as a couple about our schedule extended and family plans. Guest room ready for company.

We educate ourselves and others. We look for ways to learn and be better stewards of our land and animals by reading, finding mentors, attending conferences, etc. We share our knowledge with others freely.

How this looks: We take online courses, attend conferences, do research, talk with experts, etc. If an opportunity arises to offer a farm tour, teach a class, etc. we do our best to share what we know.

We take family trips. We keep a farm system that allows us to leave it. We budget in advance of trips. We keep good relationships with friends and neighbors, helping when we can so they can help us in turn.

How this looks: We rarely turn down the chance to farm-sit for friends and neighbors. We care about them and their farms, so they in turn care about us. We keep everything as streamlined and self sustaining as possible so it is easy to ask others to look after the place. We budget in advance of big trips.

Steps in Holistic Financial Planning

After we established our goal, we were able to move through the ten steps of holistic financial management. This is a very brief overview. For each step we had worksheets, questionnaires, and other resources to help us complete the process.

  1. Annual Assessment – Taking a look at what your income/expenses were last year.
  2. Establish Net worth – This one is sobering but essential to see where you are at financially.
  3. Planning Income – Going through the year, you make projections for what your income will be.
  4. Determine Planned Profit – What will you actually profit?
  5. Do an analysis for all your enterprises- Are they profitable?
  6. Plan, sort, and prioritize expenses – Take a look at what your farm expenses are and sort them into top priority, must-pay, and things you can be more flexible on.
  7. Balance an Annual Plan – Plug in all your numbers and hopefully you have a balanced plan. If not, what needs to change?
  8. Asses Monthly Cash Flow
  9. Asses Project Net Worth- Using your new plan.
  10. Develop a monitoring process for your plan.
selling eggs at co-op rough and tumble farmhouse
Dropping off our first eggs for sale at the co-op.

How can I get started with Holistic Financial Management?

Thankfully there are free resources you can download (in exchange for your e-mail) at Holistic Management International.

There are courses you can take, like the Cornell course listed above.

The HMI website also has some manuals you can purchase for around $10 a piece.

If you don’t want to dive too deep into this whole process, an important starting place is to simply make a Quality of Life Statement or a Farm and Family Goal as I talked about above.

Get your partner and maybe even your family together. Sit down and write out all the things that are important to you. Then dig in deeper. Why is that important? Keep asking the why until you are down to a core value.

Every time you make a decision on your farm, look at that list of core values. Then weigh your options. Which decision is going to bring us closer to achieving these goals and values?

What changes are we making with our new plan?

Taking this course was a solid reality check into our beginning farm business. Truly we are a homestead with dreams of being a profitable farm.


One of the first decisions that we made as a result of this course is to sell our first registered Nubian doe. She makes great kids and has many qualities we appreciate, but she is a bad mother. This doesn’t allow us to milk share with our goat kids.

If the kids can’t stay on their mom to milk her for us from time to time, we are not able to get away for a night or two. That puts strain on my family, as we value visiting our extended family who lives a few hours away.

The importance of being able to leave the farm now and again outweighs the benefits of having this goat. So the decision was fairly easy to sell her.


We have our sow, Iris, and her pigs from last year (two are headed to the processor next month). We determined that raising hogs to butcher is no longer a good option for us for several reasons.

  • Space – We don’t have enough space to move them to fresh pens as often as necessary. This goes against our responsible land management value.
  • Cost- Pigs are EXPENSIVE to rise up to butcher weight, especially since our local feed source closed last year.
  • Time Limitations – My husband just started a new job and is gone much more than before so we need to reduce my farm responsibilities.
  • Breed– Hogs have always been my husband’s thing more than me, and he wants to raise some kind of pedigreed heritage breed. Iris, our sow, is mixed breed.

We haven’t committed to removing Iris entirely, and plan to crunch the numbers on profitability of selling feeder piglets and keeping Iris temporarily.

iris the pig rough and tumble farmhouse
Iris when we first got her. Such a cutie.


If any of you follow me over on YouTube you are more than familiar with my husband’s goose gang.

Thankfully I have convinced him to find a new home for these girls. Again for several reasons:

  • Messy – They poop EVERYWHERE.
  • Dangerous – Two are complete assholes and they are dangerous to visitors and especially our children.
  • Need a pen – To mitigate the mess and danger we would need to build them a pen which would cost time and money.
  • Lay eggs infrequently – They laid eggs for all of one month last year, I think totaling maybe 20 eggs altogether.
  • Cost money and make no return– We spend money each month on wheat and hay for them. They generate zero income.
  • Winter water- They have a water tank with a heater in it for swimming and drinking which costs electricity, is a pain to change, and has made a massive mess in the coop.

We are just starting out with the holistic financial management process so we still have a lot to learn and a lot to adjust.

It’s a big change, but overall I think our farm will be all the better for it.

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holistic financial planning rough and tumble farmhouse

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