Category: Business

Rules of Thumb for Ranching

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.

Twelve Steps to Amazing Grazing – Part 1

By   /  May 13, 2019  /

This article comes to us from Matt Poore and Johnny Rogers. Amazing Grazing, in addition to being something we all aspire to, is state-wide, pasture-based livestock educational initiative of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, coordinated by Matt and Johnny coordinate.

These steps aren’t just 1-2-3 and you’re done. We’ve all started down this road, and these are some ideas to help us keep going.

One day last winter as we drove to Roanoke  for the American Forage and Grasslands Council Annual Conference we talked at length about why more people don’t adopt better grazing management techniques. We realized it might be because we have been practicing Adaptive Grazing Management for so long we forget how we got started.  Advanced graziers sometimes turn off novices because what seems obvious to the experienced is a brand new concept to folks just getting started.  It is clear, however, that more and more farmers are interested in starting the pursuit of “Amazing Grazing”.  We get a lot of questions about how to get from a traditionally managed farm to a place where you can see “Amazing Grazing” in action. It doesn’t happen quickly, but changing your management approach can turn a system around and begin the soil health building process.  Here is a twelve step plan that can help you along the journey.

Step 1.  Decide you are ready to become a critical thinker and to manage your farm using ecological principles.

Most of us have grown up with a production system that uses a lot of hay and other purchased feeds, is based on continuous or very lax rotational grazing, and that has a focus on a single part of the system, the animal.  We have been taught a lot about nutrition, reproduction and genetics, as well as showing animals, but relatively little about managing the complex and dynamic pasture ecosystem. When we get in a drought we hold onto the animals, buy more hay, and allow the pastures to get overgrazed.

The truth is that if you spend a lot of time feeding hay in winter, making hay in summer, and worrying about running out of grass during droughts, there is a better way.  Your farm is an ecosystem that includes you, the animals, the forages, the soil, and the water cycle and a million other connections.  Once you see it as one system, you have a chance to observe and then guide the system in a direction that benefits your production and personal goals.

Do you want to shorten the hay feeding season, grow more forage with less inputs, and improve your lifestyle?  All that is possible, but Adaptive Grazing Management can only work if you admit you don’t understand your system but are willing to spend the time and energy trying to figure it out.  The truth is no one really understands these systems, but there are many of us that have decided to devote a lifetime to observing all parts of the system, making management decisions, critically evaluating results, and adapting our management to improve those outcomes.

One key thing to be aware of is that Adaptive Grazing Management means you will spend more time on your feet and less time on equipment.  While new remote sensing technologies are being developed, there is no substitute for walking pasture, feeling it under your feet, and spending time putting up polywire and closely observing your cows. The exercise you get from this activity is well balanced and low impact, and can really improve your health and well-being.

Step 2.  Surround yourself with like-minded graziers.

After you decide to embark on this endless journey to Amazing Grazing, you need to have a support network. We need to keep our current friends, but understand there will be peer pressure to go back to the old ways of doing things.  Obviously it is mentally easier to turn on a tractor, spear a bale of hay and deliver it to a hay ring, than to have cows strip grazing behind a single strand of polywire. You may become known among your peers as “that loco guy that spends all winter moving that silly little string”.

The best way to succeed is to make a new peer group that has similar goals to your own. Finding them is easy; just attend an Amazing Grazing Workshop or other educational event and engage the more experienced participants with questions. Experienced Adaptive Graziers are very likely to attend these educational events and you will find them amazingly open with sharing their ideas and practices.

Another issue with the way many of us were raised is that we were always in a competitive environment.  Competition can be a good thing as long as we have the correct target in mind. Learning from each other about practices that improve our land and profit margins should be our focus instead of bragging about weaning weights at the coffee shop.

Adaptive graziers tend to be open and sharing, and approach life more as a collaborative journey than as a competitive one. As you develop and grow your skills you will see opportunities to host educational demonstrations and workshops, so take advantage of those opportunities to lead and expand your network.

Step 3.  Do a preliminary analysis of your system resources.

Start with aerial maps of your place. You can get these off the web or from your FSA or NRCS office. Evaluate the acreage in each pasture and evaluate pasture condition. The best way to evaluate your forage stand and pasture condition is to do a “point step” analysis which involves randomly walking the pasture, periodically writing down the species of plant you are stepping on (or bare ground), and writing down a preliminary condition score from 1 to 5 (1 = bare with almost no productive forage and 5 = as good as it gets with a diversity of strong and desirable forages and no bare ground). Do this on at least 100 points and get the average for the pasture.

Were you able to identify all the major desirable and undesirable species? If not then reviewing the common weeds and pasture plants would be advised. (Here are some resources to help you with plant ID.) Was it easy for you to call out a condition score?  If not then take time to learn more about this topic. Condition scoring can be a complex subject, but also it is a simple concept you can learn to monitor continuously once you really know your pastures.

Take soil samples from each pasture to determine the pH and soil nutrient levels. Once you are practicing more intensive forms of Adaptive Grazing Management many of the manure and urine nutrients will cycle and reduce your need for fertilizer, but, if you start with low pH or low nutrient levels, you will need to correct them to get the system working. From this systematic approach you can start to better understand your pastures, what the balance of desirable and undesirable species is, identify weak and strong spots, and which pastures will give a bigger response to improved management or complete renovation.

Step 4.  Upgrade your electric fences and electric fencing skills. 

This is a critical step because Adaptive Grazing Management requires animals that are well trained to temporary fencing. You’ll need high power levels and good fence trouble shooting skills to make that happen. With traditional management and multi-wire perimeter fences, having some power on the fence some of the time may have worked, but it will not work with Adaptive Grazing Management. You need to understand the theory of how electric fence works, and how to use a fault finder to find shorts and keep power on the fence high. Bluntly, if you don’t maintain power on electric fence, animals will not respect temporary fence and you will likely abandon the journey to Amazing Grazing. (Here are all the OP articles on electric fencing. We’ll be adding more in coming issues!)

Step 5.  Train your animals to respect a single strand of wire.

It is critical that your animals have a high level of respect for temporary electric fence.  Electric fence is only a mental barrier, and that is played out to the extreme with a single strand of polywire.  However, once animals are well trained to it, it opens up a whole new world based on “The Power of One Wire“.  Those benefits include improved forage management, easier movement and gathering of animals, ability to flexibly exclude sensitive areas within pasture, and to respond to perimeter fence damage resulting from natural disasters.

To train the animals, set up a single strand of polywire on tread-in posts about 18 inches inside of a pen or a small pasture. It is probably better to use a small pasture because it is more the setting where the animals will first encounter polywire cross fences. The key to the training period is that there is plenty of power on the wire. We would recommend a minimum of 5 kilovolts. You might do some feeding under the wire so animals are close to it, and you also might use the trick of attaching a strip of aluminum foil with peanut butter on it to the wire to attract deer and teach them what polywire is too. It will take a few weeks for this preliminary training period, and then the training goes to the next level with a single strand cross fence.

This is Part 2 by Matt Poore and Johnny Rogers. Here’s Part 1 if you missed it.

These steps aren’t just 1-2-3 and you’re done. We’ve all started down this road, and these are some ideas to help us keep going.

Step 6.  Start cutting individual pastures in half with polywire.

The place to start with Adaptive Grazing Management is to divide each permanent pasture in half, with cattle entering the half with the water source whenever you rotate pastures. This change alone will lead to being able to double your stocking density and improvements in your system. We recommend using some rigid fiberglass or plastic posts on the ends (and potentially within the line) in these initial temporary divisions because animals, especially wildlife, will still be in the training process. Setting it up so it will not be easily torn down is good to start with, and as you repeat the process again and again you will learn how to make it stronger and more resilient to tear down using only tread in posts. Now you will also start to develop your skills at looking at a grazed sward and determining when to take down the division fence.  An average stop grazing height of 2-4 inches in all systems is not a bad rule of thumb, a little on the shorter side for bermudagrass-based systems (2-3 inches) than for fescue-based systems (3-4 inches).

Step 7.  Stockpile forage in autumn and strip-graze during the winter followed by dispersed hay feeding.

In early summer determine one or more pastures to stockpile for late fall or winter grazing. Here in North Carolina, this might be a mostly fescue field in many areas but could also be a bermudagrass field. Either way, manage the pastures so that the stand is in good shape (either grazed or clipped), and then add about 50 lbs of nitrogen on about September 1, and allow it to grow undisturbed until November 1 for bermudagrass or January 1 for tall fescue. If you’re in other parts of the country check with your local Natural Resources Conservation Serviceor Conservation District office, or with an extension professional to find out what works best for you.

When you start grazing, set up an initial grazing strip that includes the water source and an expected 2 to 3 days of grass.  Once the forage has been consumed you will need to move the fence to allocate enough grass to feed your cattle for the next 1 to 3 day grazing period. Moving cattle daily has many advantages but cannot be achieved in all situations. However, moving fence every three days is attainable and still gives great forage utilization. This is a great learning opportunity for you and your animals, and it seems doing some daily moves really helps you develop the skills of forage allocation. Try moving your cattle daily when you can (i.e. weekends) and resume the every third day move during the week.

Calculate the forage needs of your cows and determine an estimate of how much forage is available to target the length of your moves.  Of course you need to adapt the size of the offering as you go, but having an idea how many acres should be needed each day will give you a good starting point and a way to calculate a feed budget. Learning how to step off the length and width of your paddock will help you calculate the land area and forage allocation.  After you finish grazing all the stockpiled pastures start unrolling hay or rotating hay rings in areas that can benefit from animal impact and increased nutrients.

Step 8.  Start strip grazing with all pasture movements during the growing season.

Once you are into spring, continue to use the strip grazing technique, flip flopping two reels so that cows are always on a fresh strip, and keep another 1 to 3 day strip set up ahead of them.  Having the next strip set up will help you save time and offer added security in case your polywire is torn down by wildlife or your cattle As long as you are not in an individual pasture more than 10-14 days there is no need to set up a back fence to keep animals off the grazed areas..  If you see animals grazing in the area they already grazed (back-grazing) then you need to make your strips wider as they will always prefer to graze in the fresh strip if there is adequate forage there.  This practice that we call modified strip grazing will become your key grazing tool and you will use it as long as you are a grazier.  The flexibility in the size of strip you offer allows you to flex with your schedule, and you can also set up multiple strips ahead of time if you have to depend on a helper to periodically move your animals. It also allows you to impact animal performance by varying the stop grazing height.  In general the higher the stop grazing height the higher animal performance but the lower grazing utilization efficiency.  The reverse is true….at lower stop grazing height performance will be lower but utilization efficiency can be high.  On general terms use a higher stop grazing height with growing cattle or thin cows and a shorter stop grazing height with brood cows in good body condition.

Step 9.  Develop a comprehensive grazing plan acceptable to NRCS and other governmental agencies.

As you start to optimize the use of your current infrastructure you will see opportunities to improve by adding additional perimeter fencing, watering points, and permanent cross fencing. To guide these efforts you need a comprehensive forage and grazing plan that includes existing and needed infrastructure, that determines an animal/forage balance, and that will project infrastructure development to guide your financial planning and application for cost-share funds. There are many opportunities for both infrastructure development contracts, and also management-based contracts for practices such as Prescribed Grazing. This comprehensive plan will need to be facilitated by a trained planner that can help make sure the plan is acceptable to all agencies involved, and also will be a key for you to keep on a long-term plan for your system.

Step 10.  Implement additional upgrades to infrastructure.

As highlighted in your comprehensive plan, start to improve your watering system, upgrade perimeter fencing and add cross-fencing.  This infrastructure improvement usually needs to be prioritized and done in stages so that you make major improvements in system function with each project, and so you have time to continue your good management while completing the projects in a timely manner.  Full implementation of the comprehensive plan will take many years or even decades, and the plan must be revisited and updated as you go through time.

Step 11.  Continue to refine your skills, be persistent and tenacious.

It takes 5 to 10 years to really see the benefits of Adaptive Grazing Management.  The road to “Amazing Grazing” is challenging because you are dealing with a very dynamic system that is upset by many environmental factors.  With time your system will become more resilient to drought and flood, as a result of improved soil health, but that happens gradually and you have to be patient.  When the first drought hits, realize that the most critical principle in Adaptive Grazing Management is to avoid overgrazing at all costs.  When pastures are all down to the stop grazing height, pull cattle into a sacrifice area and feed hay.  Don’t get discouraged and abandon what you have started!  As soon as the rain comes you will be amazed at what you see compared to your neighbors that continued to graze all pastures through the drought.

Also, understand that it is not uncommon for temporary fence to be torn down when you are early in the game.  Don’t get frustrated and quit….observe, learn and adapt.  Was it low power, lack of training, or a physical failure (corner failed?) that led to the malfunction?  As your skills develop  your system failures in the temporary fence will become rare events, but they can still happen even in the best of systems.

Step 12.  Observe your system and continually improve your management skills.

One thing we love about Adaptive Grazing Management is that we continue to be challenged to learn at a more rapid pace even after all these years.  We realize   that there is knowledge in every mistake  and from every curve ball that nature throws our way. But, no problem or failure is without opportunity. The road to Amazing Grazing is a journey without an end.  Once you have been practicing Adaptive Grazing Management for several years you will realize that you really don’t get to Amazing Grazing, but you can get close to it if you are tenacious.

Continue to attend educational events and as you mature in your understanding of your management, and share that with other producers.  Adaptive graziers with a positive collaborative attitude are a very positive role model in our industry.  Share your grazing excitement with young people, either your immediate family, or through other youth programs.  Teach Adaptive Grazing Management skills to the next generation when they are young so that it is not a new concept to them when they start making the management decisions.

We welcome you on the journey to Amazing Grazing!

There are many producers that have started using Adaptive Grazing Management and are on the journey. It works out to be an exciting and mindful life trying to figure out where we fit into this complex ecosystem.  No matter where you are on the twelve step plan, review the steps and make sure you are on track.  Whether you are at the steps where you are just trying to gain awareness, needing to improve your electric fence skills, learning how to take and interpret soil samples, or needing to develop a comprehensive grazing plan we hope you’ll keep on reading On Pasture and looking for educational opportunities that will serve you well.

Want To Keep It? Then Build It To Sell It.

by Dave Pratt RMC

Stan Parsons wrote, “If you want to be a cowboy get a job.” A business owner’s job isn’t to put up hay, work cattle, or build fence. It is to build a business.

We hire employees to produce results that contribute to customer and owner value. When business owners hire themselves to work in their own businesses, it’s different. You might think that by hiring yourself you’ll save money, but owners should be paying themselves whatever it would cost to replace themselves. Like their employees, business owners should be fairly compensated for the results they produce, but they need to produce different results than their employees.

Rather than focusing on customer and owner value, business owners must focus on documenting how the business produces customer and owner value. They need to create systems through which others can produce those results consistently.

In the E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber explains that the true product of a business is the business itself and that the primary purpose of creating a business is to sell it!

At first you might think these principles don’t apply to ranching. I doubt that when the next generation assumes ownership of the family ranch, it’s with the intention of selling out.  But if your ranch is a business, Gerber’s principles do apply.

Imagine you have a truck that you’re going to sell. Before you put a “For Sale” sign in the window you’ll probably tune it up and wash it. You might even get it looking so good and running so well that you have second thoughts about selling it.

Gerber isn’t insisting that you sell your business. He is suggesting that you treat your business like that truck, tuning up it up so that it runs so well that you could sell it. But, because it runs so well, you decide to keep it.

Most ranches are not sold as businesses. They are sold as collections of very expensive assets. A business is more than the hard assets it owns. A business includes the systems through which those assets are used to produce customer and owner value, including cash flow and sustainable profit. It is the owner who is responsible for creating those systems.

Those systems might be step-by-step procedures for working cattle at branding, sending out a client newsletter, or holding WOTB meetings. The system could also be a simple checklist for making operational level decisions (e.g. When do we move the herd to another paddock? What are the selection criteria we use for bulls?).

Want to keep the business in the family, generation after generation? Then build it as though you were going to sell it!

Productivity Isn’t About Time Management. It’s About Attention Management.

“Time management” is not a solution — it’s actually part of the problem.

A few years ago during a break in a leadership class I was teaching, a manager named Michael walked up looking unsettled. His boss had told him he needed to be more productive, so he had spent a few hours analyzing how he spent his time. He had already cut his nonessential meetings. He couldn’t find any tasks to drop from his calendar. He didn’t see an obvious way to do them more efficiently.

“This is going to sound like a joke, but it’s not,” he confessed. “My only idea is to drink less water so I don’t have to go to the bathroom so many times.”

We live in a culture obsessed with personal productivity. We devour books on getting things done and dream of four-hour workweeks. We worship at the altar of hustle and boast about being busy. The key to getting things done, we’re often told, is time management. If you could just plan your schedule better, you could reach productivity nirvana.

But after two decades of studying productivity, I’ve become convinced that time management is not a solution — it’s actually part of the problem.

For most of my career, the most frequent question I’ve gotten is: “How do I get more done?” Sometimes people ask because they know I’m an organizational psychologist, and productivity is one of my areas of expertise. More often they’re asking because they’ve read in a New York Times article or a popular book that I get a lot done.

But the truth is that I don’t feel very productive. I’m constantly falling short of my daily goals for progress, so I’ve struggled to answer the question. It wasn’t until that conversation with Michael that it dawned on me: Being prolific is not about time management. There are a limited number of hours in the day, and focusing on time management just makes us more aware of how many of those hours we waste.

A better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes.

Attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places and at the right moments.

According to conventional wisdom about time management, you’re supposed to set goals for when you want to finish a task. I decided to try it for this article. The target was 1,200 words, so I sat down at 8 a.m. and gave myself three hours, which would allow me to write at the leisurely pace of six words per minute. I then spent the next six minutes writing a grand total of zero words, staring at a flashing cursor. The only task I completed was a Google search of whether the cursor was named in honor of all the writers who have cursed it. (Yes, I know you’re mocking me, you poor blinking excuse for a rectangle.) Then I wondered how many words I actually type per minute and took a typing test. I wasn’t happy with my score, so I took another … and another.

Eventually I got frustrated and shifted to attention management. E.B. White once wrote: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” But in my research, I’ve found that productive people don’t agonize about which desire to pursue. They go after both simultaneously, gravitating toward projects that are personally interesting and socially meaningful.

So instead of focusing on how quickly I wanted to finish this article, I asked why I agreed to write it in the first place: I might learn something new when synthesizing the research; I’d finally have somewhere to point people when they ask about productivity; and it might help some of those people. That led me to start thinking about specific people who might read this, which reminded me of Michael. Boom.

Often our productivity struggles are caused not by a lack of efficiency, but a lack of motivation. Productivity isn’t a virtue. It’s a means to an end. It’s only virtuous if the end is worthy. If productivity is your goal, you have to rely on willpower to push yourself to get a task done. If you pay attention to why you’re excited about the project and who will benefit from it, you’ll be naturally pulled into it by intrinsic motivation.

Attention management also involves noticing where you get things done. I grew up in Michigan, and when I went back there for grad school, I tried to convince a friend from the West Coast to join me.

“It’s too cold and gray,” she said after a visit during a snowstorm. She then went off to Stanford. That next Michigan winter was the coldest, grayest season I could remember, and I have never been more productive. There was nothing to do but work!

Sure enough, a series of studies led by Julia Lee (now at Michigan) show that bad weather is good for productivity because we’re less likely to be distracted by the thought of going outside. Researchers found that on days when it rained, Japanese bank employees finished transactions faster, and on days when the weather was bad in America, people were more efficient in correcting spelling errors in an essay. With that in mind, I deliberately waited to start writing this article until the day after a snowstorm, when the melting slush outside my window was not appealing.

My favorite part of attention management is the when. Most of our productivity challenges are with tasks that we don’t want to do but that we need to do. For years, I thought the way to handle those tasks was to do them right after the most interesting tasks so the energy would spill over. Then my colleague Jihae Shin and I ran a study in a Korean department store and found that when employees had a highly interesting task, they actually performed worse on their most boring tasks.

One possible reason is what’s called attention residue: Your mind keeps wandering back to the interesting task, disrupting your focus on the boring task. But in an experiment with Americans watching videos and then doing a dull data entry task, we found support for a different mechanism: contrast effects. A fascinating or funny video makes the data entry task seem even more excruciating, the same way a sweet dessert makes a sour vegetable taste yuckier. So if you’re trying to power through a boring task, do it after a moderately interesting one, and save your most exciting task as a reward for afterward. It’s not about time; it’s about timing.

I’m guessing your goal is not just to be more productive — you probably want to be creative, too.

The stumbling block is that productivity and creativity demand opposite attention management strategies. Productivity is fueled by raising attentional filters to keep unrelated or distracting thoughts out. But creativity is fueled by lowering attentional filters to let those thoughts in.

How do you get the best of both worlds? In his book “When,” Dan Pink writes about evidence that your circadian rhythm can help you figure out the right time to do your productive and creative work. If you’re a morning person, you should do your analytical work early when you’re at peak alertness; your routine tasks around lunchtime in your trough; and your creative work in the late afternoon or evening when you’re more likely to do nonlinear thinking. If you’re more of a night owl, you might be better off flipping creative projects to your fuzzy mornings and analytical tasks to your clearest-eyed late afternoon and evening moments. It’s not time management, because you might spend the same amount of time on the tasks even after you rearrange your schedule. It’s attention management: You’re noticing the order of tasks that works for you and adjusting accordingly.

Paying attention to timing management also means thinking differently about how you plan your work. I love Paul Graham’s suggestion to divide the week into “maker days” and “manager days.”

On manager days, you hold your meetings and calls. On maker days, you block out time to be productive and creative, knowing you’ll be free from distractions that would normally interrupt your flow. Unfortunately, few of us have the luxury to manage every week that way, which means we need to find ways to carve out maker moments.

 

Time management says we should eliminate distractions altogether — not just interruptions from other people, but also the times when we interrupt ourselves. If you’re getting sucked into social media, you’d need to stop cold turkey. Attention management offers an alternative: Be thoughtful about the timing of those distractions.

When I was in middle school, I lost a whole Saturday to watching TV and I felt pretty disgusted with myself afterward. But I didn’t give up TV. I made a rule: I would only turn on the TV if I already knew what I wanted to watch. I’ve adopted the same policy on social media: In times when I could be working, I only log in to share content. I save scrolling for windows when I couldn’t be getting anything done, like waiting for a flight to take off or cooling down after exercise.

Most of the writers I know wait for maker days to start writing, believing they need at least four or six hours to dig into a big idea or a complex problem. But there’s evidence that binge writers actually get less done than people who write in shorter bursts. You can make meaningful progress in surprisingly small intervals: When graduate students were trained to write in 15-minute intervals, they finished their dissertations faster.

If you’re trying to be more productive, don’t analyze how you spend your time. Pay attention to what consumes your attention. I’ve just looked at the clock for the first time since I thought of the story about Michael. It’s 10:36 a.m., and I’ve gone about 500 words over my target. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the past 156 minutes were a good use of my attention — and whether the past few minutes of reading this were a good use of yours.

Which brings me to one more thought: I’m pretty sure there’s an eighth habit of highly effective people. They don’t spend all their time reading about the seven habits of highly effective people.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, is the author of “Originals.” For more on building your career and connections, listen to WorkLife with Adam Grant, a TED original podcast on the science of making work not suck. You can find WorkLife on Apple Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

8 traits for effectively leading the family ranch forward

Want your family business to succeed and transition to the next generation? It starts with being an effective leader.

Amanda Radke | Mar 27, 2019

I received a phone call from a college student yesterday. He was a freshman studying animal science and had been assigned the task of interviewing beef industry leaders to learn about their careers and to gain advice and insights for their own futures in agriculture.

I took the call while driving to a FFA fundraiser where I was speaking, and he asked me a wide variety of questions. What would you do differently in your college years? What advice would you give to a college student wanting to be involved in the industry? Who do you look up to in agriculture? What motivates you in your career? Why is it so difficult to bridge the gap between consumers and producers?

Honestly, the conversation spurred many ideas for future blog posts.

However, one question in particular got me thinking during my road trip. He asked me, “What challenges do you face on your family ranch?”
Admittedly, I had a hard time answering at first. Our problems seem so “common,” and I wasn’t sure which one to pinpoint as a challenge worth noting. Do we communicate well? Is our transition plan solid? Does our multi-generational business operate as smoothly as it could? Is there room for improvement?

I decided to go the route of transition planning. Depending on the day, my dad will say he’s retiring in one year or 15 years. To me, that uncertainty is one of the biggest challenges my husband and I will face in the upcoming years.

We certainly don’t want to “push” him out before he’s ready. On the contrary, I could use a little more time to get my own affairs in order, so I feel confident and financially secure to purchase assets as he transitions into retirement.

It’s just the unknowing. How soon will we need to be ready? What will a purchase agreement look like? How much can we take on?

In thinking about those variables, I noticed I was placing the burden squarely on my folks to figure everything out. That’s when I realized that I hadn’t necessarily expressed these concerns or vocalized how much or how little we were willing to take on, should my parents decide they are ready to retire.

So I made a goal for myself — to schedule a meeting for all of us this summer. The discussion of this family business meeting wouldn’t necessarily be on the “when,” but on the “hows,” so when the time comes to transition the operation into new leaders — whether that’s six months or six years from now — we’ll know what the plan is and how it will be executed.

I’m sure it will take more than one discussion, but we’ve got to start somewhere, and it needs to start with me. By being transparent in my own goals and plans and by being willing to communicate and walk through all scenarios and potential pitfalls, I hope it will be a seamless transition that leaves the business intact and the family harmonious.

I recently read an article that addresses what it takes to be an effective leader in the family business. Written by Steve Moyer for SKM Associates, the article recaps management guru Peter Drucker’s list of traits that make for a great executive in the business. Although it was written from the perspective of what it takes to be a good executor of an estate, I think it applies whether you’re a Millennial or Boomer producer working with another generation in a family business.

Drucker’s list includes:

1. Ask what needs to be done.

He says, “Get the knowledge you need by asking what needs to be done, and take the answers seriously. Failing to ask this question will render the leader ineffective. Once you know the to-do list, set priorities and stick to them.”

2. Ask what’s right for the enterprise.

“Don’t focus on what’s right for individuals (i.e. owners, family members, employees or customers.),” writes Drucker. “What is right for the enterprise may not be right for individual stakeholders or family members.”

3. Develop action plans.

“Set a plan that specifies results and constraints compatible with family and organizational goals,” he advises. “Create check-in milestones and revise your plan as necessary to reflect new opportunities or insight.”

4. Take responsibility for actions.

“Ensure each decision specifies the person accountable and the appropriate deadline,” says Drucker. “Define whom it affects and whom to keep updated and informed.”

5. Take responsibility for communicating.

6. Embrace change.

7. Run productive meetings.

8. Say “we” not “I”

Read Drucker’s tips in full by clicking here.

I would love to hear what has worked for your family in effectively running business meetings, guiding conversations and making meaningful and lasting decisions for the operation and the family. Please email me your advice to amanda.radke@informa.com. Thanks!

Is Average Good Enough for You?

Kit Pharo – Pharo Cattle Company

As silly as it sounds, average is good enough for most cow-calf producers.   In agriculture, average is breakeven.   Below average producers are losing money.   The only way they can stay in business is to subsidize the farm or ranch with outside income.   Above average producers are profitable.   A few are extremely profitable.   They are profitable because they do things differently from status quo (average) producers.   They have a distinct competitive advantage.

Most PCC Customers are well above average.   Many have doubled or tripled their profits.   They are focused on production per acre – instead of production per cow (bragging rights).   They are using ultra-low-maintenance bulls – instead of the status quo, high-maintenance bulls everyone else is using.   They know stocking rate affects profitability, or lack thereof, more than anything else.

Ag economist Danny Klinefelter explains how you can get a competitive edge simply by rejecting the status quo.   That’s right… by rejecting the status quo!   Klinefelter says, “The only truly sustainable competitive advantage today is the ability to learn and adapt faster than your competition.”   Click on the link below to listen to what he has to say.

Reject the Status Quo

Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing is never the best way to manage a business.   In most cases, it is the absolute worst way to manage a business.   If you are part of the status quo herd, you will never be above average – and you will never have a competitive advantage.   Dare to be different.   Dare to be a Herd Quitter.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t try to compete.”   ~ Jack Welch

EMOTIONS ARE REAL: MANAGING THE EMOTIONAL REALITY OF TRADING

The market is an auction. The purpose of an auction is twofold: to provide an environment where buyers and sellers can come together; and to provide price discovery. If a farmer retires and you go to the estate auction, there is one seller—and the more people who show up, the more potential buyers you have. Every buyer has a number and the ability to bid what they are willing to pay. The auctioneer facilitates the discovery of price for each good. The auctioneer is operating as an agent on behalf of the seller—they are trying to get as much out of each item as possible. Good auctioneers get lots of people to show up and they also get people bidding.

This is an important analogy to be able to apply to the world of commodity and equity trading. If you’ve ever been the person at the auction to pay way too much for something, you know that emotions can get the best of you in the moment. But the fact is that over time, an auction is the most effective and most efficient way to discover the value of something. That being said, in the short-term auctions can be overrun with emotion. You may see something selling way too cheap—which indicates there is a lack of buyers or more likely too many sellers. The flip side is when you see someone paying more for an item on auction than they would have paid to buy a new one at retail! Auctions are the best price discovery over time, but emotion will get them out of whack in the short-term.

Just like an auction, the market is made up of the emotion of its participants

  • Regret: Quite paralyzing. The price of the commodity gets to a level that isn’t quite what we were hoping for and then it suddenly falls. At that moment we now know what we COULD have had for our commodity if we had acted…but we didn’t. Now suddenly our brain shifts into what we think the product should be worth or what we would be willing to accept. But in reality, the commodity is worth what it is trading for today. The best antidote is drafting a script for our future actions: “What will I do when price starts falling?”
  • Greed: This usually plays out in the market as a case of “Perpetual Price Dissatisfaction.” If corn is $3.60, it’s wanting $3.80. When corn gets to $3.80, I now will only accept $4.00. It’s a failure pattern of saying to ourselves that UNTIL I get a higher price, I won’t be happy. The failure of this is that it’s never a high enough price for us to be satisfied. We end up kicking the can down the road until we’ve run out of time on the calendar and we now have to act. How can we counteract greed? One way is to make smaller decisions, more frequently instead. The other tool can be using targets. If I have a good handle on either my projected profitability or, after harvest, my actual profitability—I can reduce my greed factor by using price targets and placing orders at the elevator or in my commodity account. It takes out the risk of wanting to wait until tomorrow to see how price acts and get just a little bit more.
  • Fear: Can be a significant motivator for people. There’s a concept that has grown with social media and contributed to a lot of people’s anxiety—“FOMO” or Fear Of Missing Out. In marketing, fear manifests itself in many different ways: Fear that price is going to collapse further, so I end up selling out on the lows. Fear that I’m not going to grow a crop so I don’t sell ahead. Fear that if I sell, the price will rally later so I freeze. Fear that price can never rally so I sell everything on the first 10-cent rally I get. The key to managing fear is first and foremost to know yourself. Fear is a good thing and it’s a survival mechanism, but taken too far it can keep us from really being able to thrive.
  • Envy: We stop at the coffee shop and someone’s talking about how they sold the high in the market. We hear our neighbor talk about how high one of their fields yielded. Here’s the problem with all of these scenarios: none of them shares all the information you need. The guy in the coffee shop sold one percent of his crop on the high and at the end of the year, ended up getting a worse price on his crop than you. The neighbor with the big yield isn’t talking about his break-even levels or the profitability per bushel. We feel envious of the actions or lives of others, but much of what is presented to the world is far from the whole story. So what can we do? Tend to your own garden first. The farmers who focus on the basics (doing everything you can to lower your cost per bushel) are best equipped to compete in the long run. This gets the focus on a scorecard that fits the game. If I go to the gym and see the guy bench pressing 400 pounds, I’m not envious—we’re playing a different game. Focus on good financials and a fanatical approach to building your own ability to improve your cost per bushel. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to learn from these others—you can ask the guy at the coffee shop what led him to price it; maybe there is some insight there. The neighbor with the big yield, maybe he has a production practice that you can learn from. But stopping at envy will always be a roadblock to progress.

Thanks for listening! Email me any questions or comments at dean@modernfarmbusiness.com.