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Agproud Q3 Passion

Question 3 of the Goodman 88

What are you passionate about?

That would be so easy for anyone to figure out if they followed me for a day. The words that follow will not do justice to how I feel, but anyone who is passionate about something understands that. My top two, are my girls (wife and daughter), and cattle.

I have done many blogs on the cattle biz, and have mentioned my girls in a few also. So I think my writing reflects the two things I’m passionate about.

I’m going to shift gears here for the time being. This question, gives me an opportunity to respond to another question I’ve been asked lately, and tie them both together. Some people have been wondering why I decided to start writing again.

Here’s the reason. My wife is in Rotary, and every week they have a speaker come address the group. Around the first of the year, one member of Rotary who works at the local hospital had one of the docs come give a speech. This doc is more of an activist, that’s what she most recognized for in the community, and she abuses her title as doc to give herself credibility.

The speech was centered around, how animal proteins are bad for human health. She had many baseless points bashing animal agriculture, which my wife shared with me. I won’t list them all here, but one is worth a mention. She pointed to other countries and how agriculture there is shifting away from livestock production. She had a catchy phrase “Dairies for berries”, which she used as she was telling the group how Finland got rid of its dairy farms and converted them to berry farms. I used Google to look for ag jobs in Finland, and what do you know, dairy was at the top of the list for hiring workers. I did another search on dairy numbers. It turns out they do have fewer dairies, but they have just as many cows. Just like here in the US, the farms have gotten bigger. This activist twisted the facts.

This kind of B.S. is nothing new, and really doesn’t rattle my cage much. Here is what did. One of the people in the group (not my wife) reminded her that there is a lot of animal ag in our county, and asked her what she thinks all the area farmers should do instead of raising livestock. The response was, that we will just have to adapt. Times are changing and we’ll just have to change with them or get out. Leaving the impression that she just doesn’t care, and that it’s not her problem

As bad as I’d like to give my two cents on that response, I won’t do it at this time. That would take this post down another rabbit hole and make it too long.

I’m used to seeing things on the internet from groups that want to put an end to our industry, but this was a first for having it happen right here at home in real life. That did it. That was all it took to get my fingers back on the key board. Raising cattle is all I’ve ever wanted to do since I was a little kid. There are many generations of farmers in my family tree, dating all the way back to the 1400’s! I want my daughter to be able to make the choice to farm or do something else. That activist took a big swipe at two things I’m passionate about.

As part of pursuing my passion I am going to write about it. I am going to do blogs that will shake things up a bit. For example, I think the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program needs an upgrade. I am going to do more posts on how I use agriculture as a, hands on classroom for my daughter. I’m going to do posts that will educate the general public about the cattle biz, like the one I did on “slaughter trucks”. And I’m going to talk to the media, for the last several years I have refused to do any interviews.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Agproud 2

The second question on Ryan Goodman’s list:

Write about the basics of farming and ranching.

We can have all the discussions possible about the different practices in production agriculture. As I stated in my response to question one, we are in the business of growth and promotion of life. Thing is, it all hinges on one thing: Profit.

To some farming is a hobby, and therefore profit does not matter. For most of us farming is a business, and profit is to a business as breathing is to life. If there is not a profit the likely hood of losing the farm is high.

I spend time everyday looking over market reports. I have them bookmarked on the computer, and on my phone. I just scroll, click, and boom, I have access to weighted averages from cattle auctions all over the United States. Marketing skill is the number one contributing factor to profitability, so it is essential to always be up on this. Since I sell and buy, pot loads every month I must know what is going on with the cash markets.
One thing I do every month is what I call an autopsy. I go over every aspect of my business. Today my business is whittled down to my “hedgehog concept”, the one thing I’m best at. I used to have many more different enterprises. I believed I needed them for diversity, and at the time I did need them. My hedgehog concept became evident to me, through these autopsies. It was clear that I should devote more resources to it and disperse of the other enterprises, making the best use I could of my resources. I look at things like my return on assets and return on investment, and even the time/labor I committed to them

As a result of these monthly sit downs, I know exactly what my break profit cost of gain is, on the cattle I own. Notice I said break profit, and not break even. You can go broke breaking even, so I always include profit as an expense. My salary is figured as an overhead expense to the business, and I figure profit as a direct cost.

Every month I do a budget for the upcoming months. I gauge the accuracy of my budget during the autopsy. I have been doing this for years so I have a good feel for what each month will be like. While doing this I also do a projected cash flow for the upcoming months. This is useful for long term and short term planning.

After completing these tasks I find it much easier to go out and do the day to day tasks. I am not worried about my account balance, or what the market may do, I do not fear having to talk to the banker, and the demons of fear do not come into the bedroom at 2 am, waking me up. Knowing everything is in check allows me to focus with a greater intensity on the wellbeing of my animals, and any other tasks that I need to complete.
Looking after my business is the foundation of what I do. When that is stable I can build from there. One thing I do to reinforce the foundation is to read several business books every year.

Another basic is how you see yourself. If you see yourself as a broke farmer, then that is what you will be. If you see yourself as having a growing, thriving operation that is making a profit then that is what you will have. It is not quite that easy though. The people that see themselves as being a success and firmly believe it, without doubt, are the ones who are willing to go out and learn the things that they need to, in order to make it happen.

I understand this may be a different direction than most would think when responding to this topic. Feeding the livestock, or putting seed in the ground are basic necessities too. You can do those for someone else as an employee, but if the employer doesn’t do the basic task of looking after his business, that employee may be out of a job sooner than later. As capital intense as agriculture is you simply just can’t out earn stupid.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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My Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Six or seven years ago I was asked to be part of an interview that included several other producers from around the country. The topic was focused on young producers and what our competitive advantage was due the region we each lived in.

It was mostly they typical stuff you’d expect. One guy mentioned he had a longer growing season and could easily double crop. The gal from the Flint Hills had access to some of the best grass on the planet. Pasture rent is cheap in Kentucky. One lived where urban sprawl was taking over but she was using that to sell direct to the consumer, giving her a huge profit margin.

When it came my turn I think the interviewer expected me to mention things like, Nebraska having a lot of crop ground and raising mountains of corn for feed. The ethanol industry was really gaining momentum here, and at the time they had some difficulty getting rid of distillers grain, making it a bargain. We have strong cash markets here, and we have packers.

I skipped over all of these and said my competitive advantage is my ability to learn faster and adapt faster than my neighbor. She did not like this response. I guess it didn’t fit her theme. She tried pointing out to me all the things mentioned in the previous paragraph. I dismissed them, and stuck with what I had said.

The interview was in both print media and online. My part was left out.

Today I was sorting some cattle and for some strange reason I recalled a quote I read in the Pharo Cattle Co. weekly newsletter. “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” ~ W. Edwards Deming. While I was thinking of that, for some reason I remembered the interview from years ago.

While I continued sorting cattle these things were rolling around in the back of my mind. All the reasons she listed off are definitely advantageous to those of us in Nebraska. While these things have certainly helped grow the cattle biz here, they do not make us immune from failure though. Some people still go broke. Change is not necessary, survival is not mandatory

I spoke wrong during that interview. Most people that I know that went broke have 4 year degrees. Some got good really good grades. I did not. I have enjoyed success in the cattle biz. They did not. It’s going to be difficult to argue who is smarter. What I should have said my sustainable competitive advantage is, is my willingness to learn and adapt faster than my neighbor. We all have the ability, few have the willingness.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Slaughter Trucks

A year and a half ago we were on vacation when I noticed a bunch of gooseneck trailers all turning the same direction at an intersection. I told my wife to follow them and they lead us to the local salebarn and it was auction day. My wife waited in the café while me and my daughter, who was three at the time, went out back to view the cattle. We walked back across the parking lot to the café, and my daughter asked me “daddy, where are all the Peterbilt’s?” I told her that calvies don’t ride to town in Peterbilts in that part of the country. “Well, if we buy some calvies today we will need a Peterbilt to get them home.” Was her reply

Everyone calls livestock haulers a different name. Some common ones are, Bull hauler, cow mobile, punch hole, bull rack, pot, and evidently as we saw around Christmas time slaughter truck

First lets make one thing clear, slaughter does not take place on these trucks, just in case there is someone gullible enough to think that. There is no refrigeration to cool the meat which would be essential for the slaughter process. Second, livestock have to walk off that trailer in order to be sold. If an animal can not walk off that trailer under its own power, by law, it can’t enter the food supply.

There will be that one fateful day in every critter’s life when it will take that ride to a packing facility. Most of the hauling these trucks do, does not end at a packer’s door.

Most of the hauling that is done in the cattle biz is transporting the cattle to different phases of production.
On my operation in particular, these trucks haul cattle to my place from an auction where I purchased the cattle. Some of the cattle will stay in the home pens and some go out to pasture for the growing phase. I will sometimes hire a big truck to haul them to pasture for me. It would take me ten or more trips with my pickup and a big truck can do it in two. This gets it done quickly and greatly reduces the stress on the cattle, since they don’t need to be sorted off into small bunches all day long while I haul them.

When I decide its time I will load these cattle onto a Pot again and have them shipped to an auction where they will be sold, and then loaded again to go to a feed lot.

Think about this. These cattle have been hauled several times to different locations and there has been nothing but growth and promotion of life.

Some people use these trucks just to haul cattle out to summer pasture and back home in the late fall.

The trailers have many different features, all designed for the comfort of the livestock, convenience for the driver, and safety.
Since its winter time I’ll start with the panels the drivers add to the side of the trailer. These panels are made of plastic and are corrugated like card board. They simply slide into holders on the side of the trailer that hold them in place. This keeps the air warm inside the trailer. Their body heat warms it up. Even when it well below freezing, you will have to take your coat off once the trailer is half loaded. They are that effective! The driver will stop and check on the stock from time to time, and if need be he can add more panels to make it warmer, or if he determines they are getting to hot he can remove some panels to regulate the temperature better, and make it more comfortable for the stock.

This load came
 in at sunrise on a cold morning.  The driver used panels to insulate the trailer and keep the cattle warm

This load came in at sunrise on a cold morning. The driver used panels to insulate the trailer and keep the cattle warm


The truck and trailer has an air ride suspension, which makes the ride smooth and comfortable. To help make the rid more comfortable the driver will avoid braking hard. Show the animals some respect and don’t cut off a livestock truck, okay.

Drivers will often times put down some wood shavings or saw dust before loading. This does two things. One it reduces the noise of the animal’s hooves on the aluminum floor, and second, it helps to absorb moisture. This prevents the floor from getting slick, so animals don’t fall down. A good driver can feel it when an animal lays down, and he will stop and get the animal back up, so other animals can’t step on it and cause injury.

There are ramps on these trailers to get the animals into the different compartments. The guys that haul most of my stock have ordered these ramps to be a little longer. These longer ramps are less steep, which is easier for the stock to get up and down. There is also funnel gates inside the trailer to guide the animals where to go.

Each compartment has a gate to close it off. Some of the bigger compartments have gates in them to make them smaller. This allows stock to be kept separate for ownership, or to keep bigger animals separate from smaller ones. This prevents the big ones from injuring the small ones. All these gates have a slam latch. What that is, is a latch that automatically locks when the gate is slammed against it. This is for safety, so an animal can’t hit the gate and cause it to come back and hit the driver. Think about it, if a 1400# steer hits that gate hard it can seriously injure the driver. I’ve even seen trailers where there is a release latch on the outside of the trailer so the driver never has to get in to open them.

Some trailers have roof hatches. They will open these, to help let the hot air escape out the top of the trailer. Again this is for the comfort of the animals. On chilly mornings I have seen steam coming out the top of those roof hatches. By allowing the steam to escape it won’t settle on the animals, which may cause them to get a chill later, if they get soaking wet and then cold.

One outfit that hauls most of my cattle, has sprinklers on their trailers. They use these mostly for pigs. On a really hot day they can hook a hose up to the sprinkler and cool down the inside of the trailer. If you know pigs you can bet they will find the sprinkler and get a drink while they wait. These guys have pulled over and hooked up a hose to cool down loads of stock. Sometimes they do it while waiting in line at a packing facility. Think of that. The pigs are waiting to be unloaded at a packer, and the driver is still doing all he can to make them comfortable, even in the last hour.

I recently saw a trailer that had an airline going inside the axels. Then it goes to the rim so the driver can pump air into the tires. This is convenient for the driver and is a safety feature for him, other drivers on the road and the livestock being transported.

I am now at 1200 words and I have not even written of the safety features that are in place for the drivers protection. When you stop and think of all the thought that has gone into the design of these trailers from a safety and convenience standpoint it seems silly to call them slaughter trucks.
As one final thought, I have seen the videos the animal rights groups have put out. Most people get distracted with the point of the video, and never really look at what they are watching. Most of those trucks are old models, and the people are often times wearing clothes form the sixties or seventies. Both the trucking industry and livestock industry have made huge strides since that time period

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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AgProud Q1

Some time ago Ryan Goodman made a list of blog topics. I thought this was one heck of a list, and thought, if I started blogging again that I’d take a swing at it. My finger tips are back on the keyboard, so here goes. (Not all 88 of these are applicable to me, but most are)

Question 1) What is your role in agriculture?

The simple, broad answer is “the growth and promotion of life”. That is what anyone in production agriculture does.

To be more specific, I own and operate a backgrounding/stocker operation, as my main enterprise. What this means is I purchase young calves, most of which are not weaned, and I take them through the growth phase of their life. The calves are then sold to a feedlot.

While the calves are here the main focus is on their health and well being. I will give them two rounds of vaccinations, make sure they are free of parasites, and address any other issues they may need. Other issues may be dehorning, castrating, or just making sure they get the vitamins and minerals they may have been lacking prior to coming here. It may be a surprise to many people just how many calves are lacking in something. For example, the hair around a calf’s ears can tell me if it’s copper deficient or not. It’s my job to identify this and get them what they need. Getting their nutrient requirements in balance gives their immune system what it needs.

Receiving a load of long haul bawling calves.  I immediately begin taking the stress off them

Receiving a load of long haul bawling calves. I immediately begin taking the stress off them

Part of the regular routine is to make sure all the animals are drinking, eating, resting, and exercising like they should. If the cattle do those things the likely hood of a problem is slim, and they will perform better.

Some of the calves I buy will stay in a feedlot pen. Others will go out to grass during the spring to fall months. I use a rotational grazing system, using temporary electric fence and a portable water system. Without getting specific here, this system plays a vital role in the health of the environment. When properly managed grazing is in place it compliments the natural cycles, such as the water cycle and mineral cycle. I have only been using this system for a few years, and have already seen species of plants come back without being reseeded, and I’ve seen an increase in forage and wildlife, such as deer and game birds, in these pastures.

One got on the wrong side of the wire

One got on the wrong side of the wire

An important role I have in agriculture is to get my little girl involved. She just turned 5, and like any other kid her age, she wants to learn. I feel it is essential to pass along knowledge, skills, and life lessons to her, as she is ready for them. Since agriculture deals with life cycles, we have a great hands on classroom for her.

A December pasture walk with my little girl.

A December pasture walk with my little girl.

Another role that I oddly find myself in, is a teacher. It seems like every year more people reach out to me for advice on something, most of whom I’ve never met. I’ve been contacted by custom grazers, feedlot managers, cow/calf producers, college students, and even extension researchers. And if I can’t help them with their questions I know who can. I was even asked to contribute to Chip Hines’ latest book “Cow Country Essays”

A seminar I was asked to speak at

A seminar I was asked to speak at

There are other roles that I play in production agriculture. My dad is a crop farmer so I help him, when he needs it and I am free. I have a haying enterprise, and sometimes do some order buying for other cattle feeders, and stocker operators.

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Due to a recent event that happened here I am going to do some agvocating, so there’s that role.

A tour I hosted for the local Chamber of Commerce leadership program

A tour I hosted for the local Chamber of Commerce leadership program

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Wordless Wednesday

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Posted by on February 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Pitfalls of Good Stockmanship

I can’t ever stress enough the importance of great stockmanship. Over time as I have improved my skills I have noticed there are a few pitfalls

People will get mad. I was helping a registered cattle breeder prepare for his bull sale. He wanted to catch a special cow to have on display for customers to look at while they were selecting the bulls they wanted to bid on. A group of us consisting of myself, the owner, two hired hands and his daughter set out to gather in this cow. I evaluated the circumstance I was in. Most were athletic and in great shape. Since he thought he needed all of us to get this cow I just knew this was going to be a track meet. I was right. When they finally gave up and decided to head in for lunch I slipped behind them all to get the cow. No one noticed I did this since they were too busy complaining about her and hatching a plan to catch her after lunch. They were all eating when I came in the house. When asked what took me so long to get there I informed them that I got the cow in. Man, the boss and his daughter were upset. My actions were not mean to one up them, but it appeared to be taken that way

You will do things by yourself. When people figure out that you are capable of doing it yourself, or that you can do it better by yourself they will just stand back. I have one driver who does not get out of his truck anymore when he comes to load
You will gain weight, and get out of shape. Before I met Bud and Eunice Williams and learned from them, I used to have problems getting cattle to go where I wanted them too. This lead to me running and getting a lot of exercise. I no longer get all that exercise and started to put on a few pounds. I now have to commit myself to using a treadmill that I strategically placed in front of the TV so I can watch Netflix

Bud Williams and I

Bud Williams and I

Your vet will suffer. After improving my stockmanship skills, I have fewer pulls. Fewer pulls means I use less antibiotics. This reduced my vet bill. I wonder if I should be concerned, he has three kids to support after all.

You lose bragging rights. People who do not have good stockmanship skills get hurt. They are always telling some story of getting run over or kicked. Some even love to show you their “badge of honor”. With good skills you will not have a cast or bruises to show off.

People will think you are lazy. When you own more cattle than the other guy and he notices you take your little girl fishing on a regular basis, he begins to think you are lazy and do not do much work. He does not realize fast is slow, and slow is fast. I work my cattle slow. That is why I have time to go fishing.

It’s boring. My daughter does not have much interest in riding along to rotate pastures. She is 4 and thinks we need to drive the 4-wheeler fast. It’s boring to just sit there on the wheeler only applying pressure on occasion. For her rolling up poly wire is more fun

It makes you abnormal. Cattle will get out. When they do I guess you are supposed to panic, get mad, and get in a big hurry to get them back in. My neighbor called one morning to tell me I had one out. He called back again in about 20 minutes, because I had not shown up yet and he wanted to make sure I was coming. When he called I was walking up the road with a cigar and a cup of coffee. I didn’t want to spill by being in too much of a hurry

You’re backwards. This one comes from my good friend JG. For years his family did things the same way and had the same problems. He realized the problem was how they were going about moving the cattle. He tried it a different way and it worked. No one else cared that it worked, and saved time and energy, they were only focused on the fact he was doing it differently.

People think you lie. Myself and others that I know who learned from Bud and Eunice, or Dr. Tom Noffsinger, buy a lot of long haul high risk cattle. We do not have near the problems most people would expect. One friend even went more than a year without having one die. Since most people have difficulty weaning their home raised calves without some kind of problem, and pull rates in a big feedlot can range over 40% they conclude you are lying when you say that your pull rate is around 3% to 8%.

To learn more visit these websites

Stockmanship.com Stockmanship.com

Hand in Hand Livestock Solutions Hand in Hand Livestock Solutions

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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