Surviving Profitability

Written by Ron Freeman on April 19, 2014

What direction are we going?

Are we going to be led?

Or are we going to be leaders?

Are we going to listen to those who are not actively involved in raising cattle?

Or are we going to believe the thoughts of those that are?

For many years I have tracked our movements as an industry. My conclusions probably will not find friendly ears. As an industry we have moved away from rational clear thinking to ideologies and concepts created in Boardrooms and Classrooms. We have become so entangled in numbers, statistics and measures that good sound cognitive processes are non-existent. We have forgotten how simple cattle raising can and should be. We have forgotten that cattle need but four things. Good grass, clean water, a mineral program designed specifically for our grass environment and a manager who cares and understands about how the first three interact.

This is not a new concept. It has been around since time began. It is a concept that finds its origins in Nature itself. Its precepts are tested and infallible. It is a system of evolution that when left alone genetically strengthens its participants. It is a system that is correct and without failure even in the absence of man. It is holistic. It is a system that illuminates and magnifies processes that enable profitable outcomes to exist. It is a system that enhances not only the well being of the cattle and the environment, but also the well being of the individual.

But for most cattlemen this system has all but been forgotten. Many have been led away by the promise of profitability through the expenditures of off farm and ranch products. Developers of these products and marketers of their philosophies have appealed to the basic human frailty of greed. Through the use of their products and philosophies they have created a need by the cowman much like an addiction. Cattlemen have allowed a genetic alteration to occur within their herds where the end result is dependency.

This cycle of dependency didn’t happen over night. It was a slow progression away from simple cattle economics to the promise of bigger profits through bigger weights at weaning. We began to build the size of our cows to accommodate larger calves. But along with this weight increase, came also bigger appetites. Commercial feed fueled the seemingly inexhaustible nutritional needs of these new behemoths. The more they ate. The more they required.

We began to sacrifice easy calving for assisted births. Highly inheritable traits soon began to appear with shocking regularity. Foot problems, eye problems and parasitic infestations became common place. Natural immunities were forgotten about or lost in the stampede for greater profits. Disposition problems appeared which resulted in the need for bigger facilities with which to confine and restrain our cattle.

When spring calving didn’t result in heavy calves at weaning, we started winter calving. Health problems due to this unnatural breeding cycle surfaced. New drugs were developed to combat these problems. We have university cattlemen telling us that the cow can no longer provide enough colostrum at birth, so we must administer it to a new born. They also want us to implant calves for faster growth. When conceptions rates fell, we simply vaccinated them to stimulate estrous. When this also was ineffective to the desired degree, we developed body scores and nutritional requirements.

As the cycle of dependency intensified problems associated with it were exacerbated at an alarming rate. We could no longer think on our own or interpret what we were seeing developing in our cowherd. Common sense was consumed by the fog of corruption and greed. It rolled over the American cattle producer and enveloped the independent mind that had built our industry.

We were now lemmings following as we are told. Buying what is put in front of us in the name of profitability. Without question we believed Corporate America and their Land Grant University mouth pieces. Our power of creative reasoning was diminished by the paper trail filtering out of the University system. Real world scenarios were being replaced by University controlled tests supplemented by corporate dollars.

In a recent article, a University professor wrote that production efficiency was directly related to how well we administered the necessary drugs for healthy calves. Could the loss of calves in the upper Midwest been prevented this past winter? We can’t change the weather or stop snow storms. We can administer a little common sense in our management plan and calve on green grass when it’s warm.

Can we return to a time where experience is the greatest teacher and common sense the greatest guide? Can we shed this skin of dependency? The degree of your dependency will be determined by the depth of your involvement in these concepts. The more you believe in them, the more you will rely on them; profitability will be an elusive unattainable goal.

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