Rules of Thumb for Ranching
Compiled by Steve Moreland, March 23, 2017
This subject has come up on Ranch Talk on the Ranchers.net Bull Session. Here are a few axioms that have been passed on through the years. Others might find them to be of interest.
A theory I heard just lately is that the cost of five months of rented summer pasture should be equal to a third of what a steer calf is worth at weaning time. If the calf is worth $900, a third of that would be $300. $300 divided by five months would be $60 per month.
Always keep your best heifer calves.
Don’t keep kicking a dead horse. If something isn’t working, kick the habit.
Have a rigid culling program on cows in the herd. If you have to give them extra attention to get a calf sucking, graft the calf onto a better young cow and say adios’ to the problem cow.
Good nutrition trumps high-falutin’ genetics.
Never sell hay, especially if there is any chance you might come up short for your own cattle before green grass.
Uniformity helps to achieve premium prices.
If you are sitting in a pickup waiting for a cow to have her calf, park sideways to the cow and try to act nonchalantly disinterested. If the pickup is facing the distraught cow, she regards the headlights as “eyes” staring at her.
My dad and other neighbors always used to say that you should half your hay left by the first of March. Of course in those days it was a lot harder to haul in stacked hay if you ran short.
An hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon.
Glamour tends to dissolve in sweat.
One old neighbor that my dad worked for as a young man would say each evening before supper, “Well, we didn’t get much done today but we’ll give ‘er hell tomorrow.”
It’s easy to cut a big strap if you’re using someone else’s leather.
If the sun is shining, take along a coat. If it’s cloudy do what you want.
The only way to move cattle fast is to move them slow.
It’s amazing how dumb a cow can be. What’s more amazing is how many cowboys can’t outsmart a dumb old cow.
A good cowboy on a poor horse can get a lot more done that can a poor cowboy on a real good horse.
A boy is all boy; two boys are half a boy; three boys are no boys at all.
The two most critical weeks of each year for grass and hay production are the two middle weeks of May. If you can get some rain and sunshine and no late freezes during that time period, the rest of the summer usually goes quite well.
An extra inch of rain takes the place of a lot of management.
Substance over style.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Always keep your cattle saleable. If cattle in good condition are worth a premium if they are offered for sale, they are worth that same premium if you own them. If you have to sell them for some reason, they will command a good price.
Extra feed on hand, whether it be left-over grass in a pasture or year-old hay, is always an asset and not a liability. It is just as good as money in the bank, and you don’t have to pay income tax on it.
You can’t starve a profit out of a cow.
The best insurance is a fat cow going into the winter.
Fat is a pretty color.
A good horse is never a bad color.
It is easier to pull a chain than to push one. Often times the same principle applies in moving cattle. A feed pickup in the lead can save a lot of whooping and hollering and exasperation at the rear of the herd. If a bunch of cattle won’t cross a bridge, try stringing out a little cake in front of the ones in the lead.
If a bunch of cow/calf pairs won’t cross a barrier such as a bridge or slippery ice, rope a calf around its neck. When it bellers, its mother will come and bring many of her bovine buddies with her. Pull the calf across the barrier, and the rest will follow.
Portable corral panels are very handy. Often times a panel or two in a strategic place can make cattle sorting a whole lot easier.
An ounce of rain is worth much more than a pound of hail.
A job well done is a self-portrait of the one who did it.
A sign in an implement dealer’s store that holds merit: “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on our part.”
The best cow dog in Cherry County resides on our ranch. He stays in the house yard digging up petunias while we work cattle.
Very often a dog that shows up at a cattle working screws things up as much as if three hard-working cow hands had not come at all.
Chinks look cool, but if the wrestler on a calf’s head is wearing them, the fringe tends to be very much in the way of the workers who are vaccinating, installing ear tags, ear marking, implanting or dehorning.
If you think a horse might buck and give trouble, try leaving the spurs off of your boots. Often times, the extra inadvertent poking that a horse gets from a rider trying to stay on, only further antagonizes the horse and makes them buck harder.
A brand put on properly gives extra insurance that it will be easily seen for the rest of the bovine’s time on your ranch. This is your stamp of ownership, so apply it the best you can—not too deep but not too lightly. A brand that does not blotch is an extra bonus.
DISCLAIMER: All of these rules of thumb have served well through the years except for 2016. It seems like last year none of these rules worked. But this has always been a “next year country,” and I have high hopes for 2017 and beyond.
Feel free to add to the list, or to debunk some of my theories.
Some of these ideas vary greatly from those of others. I am not trying to offend anyone, but only offering food for thought.