This time of year I get all kinds of phone calls. High school seniors call and ask me where they should go to college. College grads call and ask for a job or a job lead. Local unemployed people call and ask for a job as a ranch hand. Somebody else will call looking for a bull or some grass calves, or some semen. Who knows.
There are two conversations I find extremely troublesome. The one I will focus on is the youngster who wants to get started in the cattle biz. This ranges from a high school student to a college grad. They will call me with an idea of how they will get started. I bet you can guess the most popular part of the industry they want to get into. The registered cattle biz, followed by buying baby calves and raising them to fat and selling the beef quarters.
I’m not going to discuss these ideas in this blog because that is all they are is ideas. What I do is question these youngsters about their plan. You know what? They don’t have one. Guys you have got to have a plan.
I can ask them what it will cost them to run a cow, or feed the calf. They don’t know. What if the cow comes up open, then what? Where will you get the feed to finish the calf? Where are you going to purchase these cattle? How are you going to market them? What kind of return will you get? Here I would like to point out there has never been a thought about making a profit. The goal is to just get by and hopefully expand over time. I even had one kid tell me he will raise his own replacement heifers because they are free. There is never a mention of budgeting or cash flow. Just a vision of a small feedlot full of fancy black baldy steers, or a pasture of registered cattle with that persons brand on them. I like the clarity of their vision. It makes it appear real to them and that leads them to believe it is achievable.
If there is no plan though, how are they going to make it happen? When I got started in the registered biz I did not have a plan. I thought if I just raised better cattle than everybody else the buyers would just show up. A lot of kids have that same idea. When I started feeding cattle, I had a plan. I know what the calves were going to cost me. I knew what my feed costs were going to be each month. I knew the packer buyers to call and had an idea of how I was going to sell those cattle and I had a plan to buy back replacement calves.
It was the feeding part of my operation that allowed me to quit my off the farm job and raise cattle full time. I think the key was that I planned my work then I worked my plan. I had it written down. When the grim emotions would creep in at 3 a.m. and wake me up at night, I would just stick to my plan and fight the demons off. This kept me from making some irrational decisions based on fear, and things always worked out ok. Not always like I hoped they would. The thing is I made some money and was able to stay in business.
It amazes me every year, how people will get into the cattle biz without a plan, or even without the thought of making a profit. No other industry in the world would try that.