Winds were gusting over 45 miles per hour on an overcast day at the Dunmire Ranch in southeastern Wyoming. Black cows grazed in the distance with wind turbines lined up on the horizon. At the center of ranch, young colts milled around the corral. Gator, a 14-year-old blind and deaf dog, barked, guarding the home of rancher Les Dunmire.
Inside the house, Dunmire put on his dirt-caked cowboy hat and boots, as he told me how he’s owned this ranch for just over 30 years and that this lifestyle goes back generations.
“My dad had a ranch in Iron Mountain Wyoming and my granddad had a ranch in Sioux County, Nebraska,” Dunmire said.
Land on the Dunmire Ranch
CREDIT COOPER MCKIM/WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO
Back when he started in 1987, Dunmire only had a few hundred head of cattle. Now, he owns over 100,000 acres and 1800 head of cattle. But at 66, Dunmire is starting to take a step back from it all.
“I always tell people that I’m going to work as long as I can and then become a burden for my children,” Dunmire said,”but seriously, as we get older we do a little less. As we get older, we transfer more of the day-to-day operations of the ranch to our children.”
Dunmire said he sees passing on lands as the last responsibility of a rancher. “We’re trying to get it to the next generation, or the next two generations, intact with the smallest amount of tax pain that we could possibly have,” Dunmire said.
He’s been preparing for succession now for 26 years. It’s required an accountant and lawyer to figure out the best way to keep his kids from drowning in estate taxes. One strategy has been to divide the land into six legal entities. To put the situation in context, Dunmire recounted the story of how his dad came into his ranch. It also serves as a worst-case scenario of poor estate planning.
Sign at the entrance of the Dunmire Ranch
CREDIT COOPER MCKIM/WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO
“There was kids that wanted to stay there, but when the grandfather passed away he had not done any estate planning or gifting or anything to get ready to pass it on. And they had to sell the ranch, basically, because of [the] tax situation,” Dunmire said.
He’s far from the only one going through this process. In 2012, the average age of farmers and ranchers hit a record high of 58 years old. According to a report from the National Young Farmers Coalition, 63 percent of farms are on the verge of transitioning. Experts say the U.S. needs to be prepared for a massive land transfer in the next decade.
John Hewlett, a farm and ranch management specialist at the University of Wyoming, is one of many who working to smooth that transition.
“A lot of folks need help in terms of transferring ownership, worrying about how to best structure their farm or ranch in terms of tax, as well as making sure that the ownership is transferred such that the ranch or farm can be viable after the transfer,” Hewlett said.
He said easing the transition isn’t just about helping the older generation, but the younger one. That’s increasingly tough with fewer and fewer young people joining the industry. In 2012, only 6 percent of farmers were under 35.
“They become educated and they have other income opportunities as a result. It’s a lot different than 50 years ago when a lot of people’s focus was to be on the land, and to do some kind of jobs on the farm. It was part of the family’s activities,” Hewlett said.
Principal operators by age group
CREDIT USDA CENSUS OF AGRICULTURE
He’s helped create a website full of resources on steps to take in land succession. There are many other organizations offering seminars, programs, and workshops as well, like the Plank Stewardship Initiative, University of Wyoming Extension, and the Western Landowners Alliance. Lesli Allison, executive director of the WLA, said her organization wants to help lower the barriers to entry for young people by supporting policies like loan debt forgiveness programs for those weighed down by student debt.
“As a nation, we need to be looking at policies and economic strategies to sustain these landscapes and make it possible for people to make a living in the rural west, to stay on that land, to raise families on that land, to stay in rural communities in a way that supports both agriculture and conservation,” Allison said.
She said a football field worth of land is lost to development every two and half minutes in the west. And that’s partially private land that supports wildlife, clean air and water, and biodiversity.
Average Age of Principal operators
CREDIT USDA CENSUS OF AGRICULTURE
Allison said beginning the process of land succession early is crucial to preserving ranches and farms, whether there’s an obvious heir or not. That starts by simply talking about it.
“Simply raising awareness and encouraging uncomfortable conversations.” Allison said, “they can become quite positive and transformative.”
Back at the ranch, Dunmire drove his red truck through a shallow, ice-laden stream, giving way to an open field with hundreds of cows grazing. A few trotted out of the way as the truck drove past. Dunmire said he’s loved raising a family on the ranch.
“The family is intertwined with the ranch and it’s a great place to raise cattle and kids,” Dunmire said.
Let’s face it, transitioning to a niche market or picking up more work is not a solution for every farmer facing hard times. Some will need to stop farming. While that may be hard, it can also be an opportunity.
Outside agriculture, career shifts are often seen as a way to advance, points out Extension educator Megan Roberts. “In other occupations, if we switch jobs, that’s not seen in any way as a failure,” she says.
Here’s a look at how to stop farming and the opportunities that come with the change. Ending a career in farming begins with making a decision.
Mental health practitioner Shauna Reitmeier explains, “In some situations, that decision is something you’re choosing to do on your own without any external pressures, and in some situations, you have to do it in order to sustain. We know that this current environment we’re in, many farmers dealing with commodity prices and weather situations are needing to decide, ‘Do I liquidate? Do I need to sell half of my dairy cattle, or not?’ ”
Anxiety and worries about the unknown are totally normal, she says. To keep from getting overwhelmed, it is important to recognize what is in your control and what you can’t control.
Keeping your values front and center as you make decisions may ease the heartache of difficult choices. Ask yourself, what are the two or three values that drive you to get up every day?
“Yes, farming is a way of life and we identify ourselves with farming, but it’s really those strong values that get you up every morning to continue to farm. Those values don’t change based on whether you’re farming,” Reitmeier says.
“It isn’t the farm that makes the farmer – it’s the love, hard work, and character,” says Brenda Mack, who lives on a farm and works as a licensed independent clinical social worker.
After making the decision to end or pivot your farming career, don’t expect to bounce back overnight. Some people experience real grief and loss over the change, and that’s OK, says Reitmeier, who grew up on a farm. Be prepared for the following range of emotions as you make decisions, develop plans, and put them in place.
Shock and denial: Avoidance, blame, fear, numbness
Anger: Anxiety, embarrassment, irritation
“You might be having more fights with your spouse or get more irritable with the lenders you’re having conversations with,” Reitmeier says.
Depression and detachment: Blahs, helplessness, lack of energy
Dialogue and bargaining: Reaching out to others, desire to share one’s story, struggle to find meaning for what happened
Acceptance: Exploring options, a new plan in place
Return to meaningful life: Empowerment, security, self-esteem, meaning
The stages of grief may not all come in this order. “One day you’re angry, the next day you’re feeling a little acceptance, another day you’re depressed. You’re all over the place,” Reitmeier says.
Mack remembers watching her own parents process their decision to retire from farming. The transition was especially hard for her proud, third-generation row-crop farming father.
After retiring, her dad felt as though he didn’t fit at the table of neighboring farmers discussing their problems at the local café. He struggled to find where he belonged. Conversations with his wife, other farmers, his priest, and a mental health therapist all helped him find a new, broader identity for himself and a renewed sense of purpose.
“I was really proud of my dad for having the understanding and ability, and not feeling shame in reaching out to a formal provider because that can be really terrifying. It can be hard to go see a mental health provider, but it’s what he needed at that point in time,” Mack explains.
Mack acknowledges mental health resources aren’t always easy to find in rural areas.
In addition to seeking professional mental health services, there are other strategies to cope with the massive changes that come with the end of a farming career.
Keep in mind who you are in addition to your role as a farmer. Farmers wear many hats: parent, child, sibling, community leader, church member, history enthusiast, 4-H leader, to name a few.
Building self-awareness can help you discover you are more than what you do. If you’re struggling to get out of the grief and loss process, Reitmeier suggests knowing your body cues. Sensing when they become different can be helpful. Also, keep tabs on your relational, cognitive, and physical health
Cultivating Resiliency resources are presented by American Agri-Women, District 11 Minnesota Agri-Women, University of Minnesota – Women in Ag Network, and Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center.
“Evil isn’t done so often by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
My first post in this series was about my start-up and business failures.
When I was done, I felt proud of myself. I was proud of my honesty and vulnerability, because five years ago–maybe even one year ago–that post doesn’t get written. I would have hid my problems or argue them away, claiming the failures were other people’s faults, not mine, and I was proud that I wasn’t doing that anymore.
I should know this by now; as soon as I feel prideful, the fall is coming. The very first email response:
“That article was revealing, but missing something. How did you come to understand these flaws in yourself? You just tell us what your mistakes were, and not how you got to that insight, which is what I really want to know, so maybe I can do this for myself.”
Publicly owning my failures wasn’t hard. That was easy, actually.
What was hard was getting to the point where I could actually own my failures to myself, and I didn’t really explain how I did that at all.
I wrote about the result of that work, which is, at its core, just me showing off.
That’s the dirty little secret of the fetishization of failure in Silicon Valley. It’s by and large a high-status excuse to show off. You tell everyone how many businesses you’ve started and how much money you raised, and how you are a better person through humility. You are competing to see who can be more humble. No one dives into how they actually learned from their failures, because they didn’t. It’s entrepreneur porn.
I hate when people do that…yet it’s exactly what I did.
That’s bullshit. If I want to write for me, it’s totally fine, I just need to keep that shit in my fucking diary. If I’m going to publish it, it has to be for other people, to help them.
That’s what this post is. A deep dive into how I actually learned to own my failures to myself. I’m writing and publishing this so that, by seeing my process, you can help yourself do something similar.
When My Perception Of Identity Was Fucked Up
I’ll dive into one example of a big failure, probably my biggest and most personal ever:
The movie about my life failed. And it failed mainly because of my bad decisions, and all of those decisions were ultimately driven by my deep identity and emotional issues.
I had an immense amount invested in this movie. Not money–I actually had zero money invested in it. But I had my entire identity and emotional state invested in its creative and commercial outcome.
If it succeeded, then I was a success. It was, at least in my subconscious, nothing less than a referendum on me as a person. Valid or not valid. Good or bad. Worthy or unworthy. Everything about who I was rode on the success of that movie, and every decision I made was deeply and unconsciously impacted by that.
The full story of that movie could be it’s own movie, but some quick, easy examples of how this emotional identity issue impacted my decision making:
We had the wrong director. You know who picked him? Me.
Very smart people told me I was wrong, and gave great reasons to not select this director. I ignored them. Why? My deep need to show everyone that I was right about MY decision. I made it about me.
We had the wrong production company. You know who picked them? Me.
Very smart people told me I was making a mistake. We even had a HUGE offer from the best studio in Hollywood. I turned them down. Why? Because, again deep down, I wanted to prove I could beat the Hollywood system by making an indie movie that I owned and I controlled. I made it about me.
We still could have made a good movie–even with a bad director and the wrong production company. But the shoot sucked. You know why? I made the whole thing about me.
Why? My need to show how smart and important I was became so manifestly important to my identity, that it sent my controlling side into overdrive. Nobody knew my life better than me. Nobody knew me better than me. So only I could make certain decisions. I screamed at a lot of people. Not because I hated them, but because their ideas about the character and the world of the movie so threatened my perception of myself that I couldn’t allow words or concepts that I disagreed with to even leave their lips. I emotionally and spiritually crushed everyone on that movie set, all because of my own emotional issues I would not face.
I could go on and on with examples like this. You get the point.
I can remember the night I knew the movie wasn’t going to do well. It was possibly the hardest night of my entire life. I cried more than I had ever cried in my life. I felt the worst I’d ever felt about myself. The emotional pain was so intense, so real, it became literal physical pain.
I wasn’t suicidal, but I honestly felt like I wanted to die. I’d spent the previous seven years scratching and clawing and fighting to get to this moment. I’d run through walls, over people, around obstacles, all for this? To feel this way?
I’d never felt so alone, so crushed, so utterly defeated. I had not failed at something. I felt like, in a very real emotional sense, that I was a failure as a human being.
Believe me, I FULLY recognize the self-indulgent absurdity of this scene: here I was, a rich and famous white guy, who someone gave millions of dollars and creative control to make a movie about his life based on his #1 New York Times bestselling book, crying because it didn’t do 50 million dollars its first weekend? Boo fucking hoo.
But emotions and identity and self-perception are not about objective facts (talk to any Trump fan to see proof of that). This is about the emotional reality of my life, and it was this moment–where I felt like my entire personhood was a failure and invalid–that set me on the journey I am on today.
That was my emotional bottom. From that moment, I knew I had to get help. I knew the way I looked at the world, and at myself, was broken, and it would break me completely if I didn’t change it. I didn’t know why, and I wasn’t sure how, but I knew it was my reality.
A few months later I moved to Austin and started psychoanalysis. I also started angel investing at the same time. It was a coincidence, but those two things together taught me how to take responsibility for my actions and own my failures.
How Therapy Helped Me Shift My Identity Problems
It might be hard to understand how identity and the unconscious works. I can’t begin to give a full explanation of it, even in a long piece like this. One of my favorite blogs on the internet had a great explanation about how this works:
“The unconscious doesn’t care about happiness, or sadness, or gifts, or bullets. It has one single goal, protect the ego, protect status quo. Do not change and you will not die. It will allow you to go to college across the country to escape your parents, but turn up the volume of their pre-recorded soundbites when you get there. It will trick you into thinking you’re making a huge life change, moving to this new city or marrying that great guy, even as everyone else around you can see what you can’t, that Boulder is exactly like Oakland and he is just like the last guys. And all the missed opportunities–maybe I shouldn’t, and he probably already has a girlfriend, and I can’t change careers at 44, and do I really deserve this?– all of that is maintenance of the status quo, the ego.”
If you want to learn more quickly, Paul Graham has a great essay about separating your identity from the results of your actions, called “Keep Your Identity Small.” There are so many books and research papers about this idea, the problem is that they all have different names and different conclusions (quick start on background: a research paper showing people literally can’t do math when it goes against their identity, and a good book intro to this is Mindset).
The best tradition I’ve read to deeply understand this issue is actually the oldest: Buddhism (the actual Buddha called this problem in people “The Hungry Ghost”). In fact, you could say that this insight is the key insight of Buddhism: all the suffering of humanity is caused by the attachment to an identity or a result.
It’s even enshrined in their primary dicta, the Four Noble Truths:
[Don’t worry, I won’t lecture you about Buddhism, I promise]
How you define and see yourself and the results you strive for creates the suffering you endure. In essence, the less you are attached to things, and the more you just experience them, the better off your life is (I also included some basic reading lists for Buddhism at the end as well).
Simple to say, but hard and complicated to apply to your own life. I tried to learn this by just doing psychoanalysis and reading a lot about it. I have a large dent in my checking account and an even larger collection of flagged and annotated books as testaments to that effort. Eventually I got it “intellectually.”
But getting something in your conscious brain is VERY different than getting it deep in the unconscious. I only learned HOW to apply this concept (divorcing your identity from your results) to my unconscious—-to my own thinking and my own emotions–from the time I spent angel investing.
Lemme walk you through how that that process worked for me, maybe that will explain better.
How Angel Investing Taught Me To See Entrepreneurs’ Issues
When I was first starting my own companies, I was emotionally attached to each of my ideas, and attached to their success. Not in the sense that because I worked hard on them, I really wanted them to happen. That’s normal. I was attached in the way that the ideas and the success became part of my identity.
When I say “became part of my identity” I mean this as literally as possible. I would, at least unconsciously, think that if my business idea succeeded, then I was a success. And if the business idea failed, then I was a failure.
I couldn’t look at my ideas or my companies objectively, with any kind of detachment, because they represented, in a very real way, a judgment of myself as a person. Their success was, in my mind, nothing less than a judgment of my validity as a human. Just like on the movie.
Being so attached to results was a problem. It prevented me from honestly and critically looking at my ideas and their results–even if they weren’t working. Especially then. It was too painful to see they weren’t working, because that made me feel bad about myself as a person. So I would lie to myself or convince myself that something stupid was smart (if you’re familiar with western psychology, this is basic rationalization and projection, and I did 100 times on the movie).
If you do this in a relationship, that’s not good. But it’s just about the very worst thing you can do as an entrepreneur (or a creative). Facts are facts, whether you like them or not, and if you are making emotionally-driven decisions about factual situations in start-ups, then you are going to make bad, bad business decisions.
Here’s where angel investing helped me: I wasn’t evaluating my own decisions or identity. I was looking at other people and their decisions.
My job as an angel investor was very simple: I bet money (through buying equity) on my ability to correctly assess three things: 1. the entrepreneurs who pitched, 2. the product-market fit of their start-up, and 3. the market they were competing in.
The reason I did so well is because when I evaluated other people’s start-up ideas, I didn’t have any attachment to them. It meant nothing to my identity if they were good or bad, so I could be completely objective. I could look at the facts with clear eyes. I could ask hard questions. I could see other alternatives. I wasn’t tied to any ideas I had about myself, because these weren’t my ideas.
You know the feeling where you can see all the relationship problems all of your friends have with total clarity, but you can’t figure your own stuff out at all. It’s the same concept (there’s an entire business built around this ironic tension–it’s called ‘life coaching’).
What I found out was that when I wasn’t unconsciously worried about defending my identity from failure in business, and I let my ability loose in evaluating OTHER entrepreneurs’ companies, it worked great. I was really, really good at evaluating founders, start-ups, business plans–all of it.
The funniest thing is that I started to become an true expert at calling out the entrepreneurs who were just like me!
The entrepreneurs who were so tied to their start-up idea or their success were super easy for me to spot. Just like former drug addicts are the best at seeing the tricks of other addicts, I could see them performing all the mental gymnastics I used to do to avoid admitting clear facts that might make them see themselves in a way that hurt their ego and identity.
Simply put, I paired up the insights I got in therapy (being able to see how much I tied my identity and self-esteem to my fame and success) with the insights I got from my angel investing (seeing how other founders delude themselves in the same way I used to and how it affected their business decisions), and it showed me where I was making emotionally-driven identity decisions in business–so I could stop doing that.
Except, to make it REALLY work, I had to do something really hard: I had to turn this new super power on myself.
How I Combined These Insights To Own My Failures
“We do not learn by experience, but our capacity for experience.”
I turned that super-power on myself in a very specific way. It may not work for you, but I’ll list out the process to make it easier to find your way:
For each business I’ve ever been involved in (and I included books and movies as businesses), I wrote down everything that happened. The objective facts. Things like revenue, time, result, etc. I got all the facts (that mattered) out of my head onto a piece of paper, as many as I could think of.
Then I did something really weird (I learned this from a doctor who treats OCD patients): I pretended that I was talking to a different entrepreneur about THEIR business, and then evaluated the facts of that person’s business. I didn’t just pretend. I actually changed the name at the top of the page to a different company and a different person for each company. Of course I knew it was me, but this little mental sleight of hand was enough to free me up to dissect this company and “this guy” objectively, because it was a “different” person. It took MY identity out of the equation.
Because it “wasn’t me” anymore, I was totally free to let go of any assumptions and just approach every problem with a fresh, beginner’s mind. I listed out, in detail, every mistake, every reason that every mistake was made, what other things the entrepreneur could have done better, anything I could think of. I went at each company like I would as an angel investor–razor sharp analysis and totally fucking brutal.
Once I had all the facts and decisions out on paper, then I started to analyze them. For EVERY decision, especially the bad ones, I asked myself this simple question:
Why would “he” make that decision?
Usually the first few answers were rationalizations or excuses. So I kept asking the question, with small variations, over and over and over…until I got to a reason that “he” would make that decision that was not driven by facts or reason or logic or business sense, but was driven by emotions or identity or status. Just like I did with other entrepreneurs, I was relentless in digging until I found the real reasons for decision.
Those were the decisions I was looking for–the ones that had deep underlying unconscious motives that I wasn’t admitting it to myself.
THAT is how I was able to write the post so brutally and precisely dissecting my own failures in business. Once I had that angel investor perspective working, I turned it on myself, and my decisions–and I kept dissecting them until was able to see them for what they really were.
You Gotta Own It
There is one more part to this, one more key to the HOW of really digging into your failures. I left it to last, because it’s the hardest part, and no one ever wants to hear this:
This only works if you’re willing to take complete and full responsibility for everything in your life.
When you ask these “why” questions, when you really dig into your decisions, you are trying to find the place where you can own the mistake or failure or decision. If you don’t, then you aren’t really owning your failure–you’re just re-assigning the blame to someone or something else.
EVERY TIME I answered a “why” question and the blame fell on someone else, I asked a deeper why question, until I got to something I did or I thought that caused the problem. Only then would I let myself stop (and even then, I often had to go another level or two up to get deeper).
Here’s a great general example:
We all know that one person who says they keep dating crazy men/women, and they can’t figure out why. They go on and on about their multiple insane exes, and all of their problems…yet they never stop and make the obvious and simple observation that they’re the ONLY constant among all of those exes.
Obviously they’re making decisions that are either attracting those people, or allowing those crazy people into their life. Once is an accident, twice is a concern, and three times is a pattern. They will NEVER change until they admit that to themselves–that THEY are the cause of the pattern, at some core level–and then go about figuring out why and answering the fundamental question: what emotional need is being met by having crazy people as partners?
It’s not different in business. I did this for EVERY GODDAMN DECISION I MADE in this piece. It really fucking sucked.
I am not telling you that everything bad that happens to you is your fault. HELL NO. Even natural disasters aside, people have bad luck and shitty people do things to you that you did not deserve. God knows I’ve had those things happen–but did you notice I left pretty much all of that out of my failure list?
NOTE: Owning the decisions you made that led to your failures is not about beating yourself up, and it’s not about making yourself feel like shit. Don’t do that. Being honest with yourself does not mean you have to be mean to yourself.
Taking responsibility and owning failures is about clearly seeing where you are making bad decisions, and understanding why you are making them–so you can stop.
Taking Responsibility SUCKS
Make no mistake about it: that was really, really, fucking hard. It’s incredibly painful to honestly look at your mistakes and really fully own them, in all their glorious awfulness. To turn into that pain, instead of running from it, it about an unfun as life gets.
But it’s also incredibly liberating. Once I embraced the idea that I didn’t have to (and shouldn’t) judge myself by my successes, but that instead I could create a very small identity, and then see my businesses as things I did rather than things I was–then I was totally free to deeply critique them.
And once I did that, I could clearly see why I was making so many bad decisions–they were rationalizations for deep seated emotional issues. Not actual business decisions. And then, I could STOP MAKING THOSE STUPID ASS DECISIONS!
I honestly believe this identity shift in my mindset is responsible for why my current company is doing so well. Obviously, we are also hitting the three essential elements of start-up success out of the park, but Movie Tucker probably would have torn that all down, and all because he didn’t understand his issues, or even accept that they exist.
It’s not that I don’t have any more emotional issues. Please–just ask anyone on the Book In A Box team, they’ll tell you I have issues (we even talk about them in our meetings, like we do with everyone on the team). It’s that now I know where they are (at least most of the big ones), I can account for them, and I am open to talking about them and working to fix them. I understand that this is a process, not a result, and every day is about working the process.
The problems you know you have are almost never the problems that sink you. It’s the problems you don’t know you have (or won’t admit) that destroy you.
And that is why owning your failures is both so hard and so important–it’s the only way to improve and grow and change.
Buddhism Reading List:
There are so many places to start to learn about Buddhism. Maybe the easiest for many people is this book: 10% Happier by Dan Harris. It’s about how a person with SERIOUS identity issues found meditation.
But probably the best into Buddhism for Westerners, I think Zen In The Art Of Archery is also amazing. What both this book and 10% Happier have is an emotionally honest recounting of the way the mind works through these issues at the beginning.
I don’t feel qualified to give you any more of a list beyond that, because there is SO MUCH, and most of it is really contextual. What will deeply move one person is gibberish to another. And in fact, what was gibberish to me at one stage of my life, deeply moved me at a later one.
The only way to know you’re walking the right path is to walk that path yourself.
A great article from Walt Davis – Written in 1999.
There have been how-to books on lots of different subjects lately and I thought that it might be nice to help those people who get up every morning and wonder “what can I do today to lose money in the ranching business?” There is bound to be a huge demand for this kind of information since regardless of weather or markets, losing money is the main topic of conversation in every coffee shop in the country. The following is a collection of thoughts that should be of use in preventing any accidental out break of profitability.
Set your breeding season so that calves, lambs, kids, etc. are born well before the onset of new growth. This ensures that the young animals will be big enough to utilize the forage when it arrives and thus will wean off heavy. You will hear some nay-sayers blather about; the expense of maintaining lactating females without green forage, trouble getting females re-bred, disease and death loss in the young and even predictions that losses to predators will be worse since there are no young rats or rabbits around at this time of year. Some of this may be so but “we have got to have heavy weaning weights, right?”
Always stock your country with just a few more head than you think you can handle. If you get lucky and have a good year, you will have more to sell and you can’t carry that grass over to next year, can you? Besides the Fat Cow Feed Company has a new feed guaranteed to make stock do good on broom weeds and tree bark. No need to worry about how much grass you have, just book your feed early and read the trade magazines so you can keep up with the latest feed supplements and mineral programs. You may hear tales about people claiming to winter with no supplemental feed but you know darn well it can’t be done “here”. When you feed hay or other supplements, be sure to always feed in the same place so that you don’t stomp out all your pasture. By feeding in the same place, you can get rid of the wasted hay and built up manure in the spring by setting it on fire. You won’t have to worry about the fire getting away, there will not be any thing growing anywhere close to the feed ground. Just up hill from your stock pond is a good place for the feed ground so that the bare ground will cause more of the rain to run off and keep the pond full. Sure a little manure, urine and dirt gets in the water but the stock will still drink it.
Make all of your breeding decisions based upon “what the trade demands” rather on silly criteria such as the type cattle that performs well under your conditions or animals with traits that allow you to reduce inputs. After all who knows more about what is good for the industry, you or ConAgri? Along the same line, be sure to buy great-big, good old’ bulls that throw really heavy weaning calves. You may have to pull some calves and maybe even lose some cows and after a few years your cows may get pretty big and expensive to winter but even if they made four times as much money do you really want to have to tell people that your calves only weaned at 450 pounds?
Don’t get talked into this management intensive grazing stuff. Some people claim to be able to run more stock with better performance at less cost while improving their country but you don’t have time to do all that and besides “it won’t work here”. Stay away from these schools and seminars that claim to be able to teach you how to reduce your costs, increase production and improve both your country and your quality of life. Even if what they teach works, you have to spend so much time thinking that you won’t have time to rope more that twice a week.
Don’t get caught up in low stress livestock handling like Bud Williams teaches. So what if it will reduce sickness and death loss, improve animal performance, cut labor costs and lower your vet bills, you have to maintain an image don’t you? Do you really want your neighbors to see you walking behind a bunch of cattle? How are you going to have good horses and good dogs if they don’t get lots of work? How can you teach a young horse cow sense with a bunch of cattle that never break a walk and all stay together? Just why are you in the cattle business anyway?
Be sure and have the latest and best in hay equipment so that you can get your hay put up in a hurry. What is a few extra thousand dollars a year in interest compared to the satisfaction you get from all that shiny new iron? Plow up those old native hay meadows and plant one of the new “improved” varieties of annual hay plants. Sure this means that you will have to till and fertilize and plant every year so that costs go up and your country will erode some but you will get bigger yields. Above all don’t let one of these nuts talk you into making hay out of surplus pasture or even into getting out of the hay business by rationing out standing hay with sub divisions or even worse, temporary electric fence. This would mean that you would have to be thinking and planning all during the growing season about what forage you can expect and what your forage demand will be all during the year. If ranchers didn’t make hay all summer and feed it all winter where would they get their caps?
For sure don’t listen to listen to the “low cost production advocates”. So what if the price of beef and other commodities does tend to settle at the break-even price of the average producer so that only the low-cost producer can be profitable every year. What’s the point in being a rancher if you can’t drive a new four wheel drive, four door, dually pickup, ride really high powered horses and be known for having the most expensive and fattest purebred cattle in the county? Get to know all of the fertilizer, feed, vet supply, equipment and supplement salesmen so you can keep up with the latest technology. Steer clear of taking advice from the old timers in the business. Just because somebody has made a living ranching for forty years doesn’t mean they know the business. Most of those people don’t even use embryo transfers or GPS precision fertilizer systems.
Get those calves to market before they get too big. A 300-pound calf will bring a lot more per pound then a 500 pounder. If you want to be able to brag about “topping the market”, you better ship them early. There is a lot of talk now days about retained ownership instead of just shipping calves at weaning. Some people claim to dry winter their calf crop with just enough supplement to keep them healthy and growing normally and then make big and cheap gains on the spring flush. Even if they make three times as much net profit per calf, it is a lot of trouble to wean those calves and worry with them all winter. Don’t believe the stories about people weaning calves in the pasture with no stress, weight loss or sickness. You know darn well that won’t work. Have a real market plan. Bankers don’t like to loan money to buy when the market is down so pay attention to the market and be ready to buy when they get high. Bankers will always loan more money when the market is high, after all they are the financial experts.
Most important, know why you are in the business and what you want to accomplish. There are some soft headed nuts out there talking about how ranchers are not in the livestock business but in the business of harvesting free solar energy by converting it first to biological energy (green plants) and then into wealth in the form of meat, milk, wool, wildlife or what ever. You know what is really important and there will never be a (pick one- Angus, white face, goat, sheep, other) on this place while you are running things. Your grand daddy was a ______ breeder, your daddy was a ______ breeder and you are a ______ breeder or at least you were until the bank sold you out.
“Our past shapes us, but it does not have to define us. Trust the timing of your life while focusing your thoughts and energy on what is in your control.”
To venture deeper into your inner spirit, you have to humble yourself and acknowledge what you do not know. The more questions you have about life, the more you will improve and grow. When focusing on a change I break down the goal into the most manageable action and then I build a strategy from there.
Focusing on evolving each day becomes a unique opportunity to remove the walls in our life while liberating our minds. Educate yourself every day until your last breath. To excel, you must have the courage and discipline to show up at my very best. You compete with one person and one person only, yourself. You compete to be the greatest you can be.
On our self-discovery journey, we must free ourselves from automatic judgments that arise with every experience we have. Attempt to understand other people’s perspectives. The world unveils its secrets to us very slowly. We never know anything for sure. So roll with the discoveries while being patient and open to connecting with new people who might not look and think like you.
The road towards self-mastery is a marathon, not a sprint. As we begin to acknowledge and dismantle the self-limiting and disempowering barriers in our lives, we allow for a more authentic version of who we are to emerge. Our past shapes us, but it does not have to define us. Trust the timing of your life while focusing your thoughts and energy on what is in your control. While you may not control everything life presents, you can refuse to be reduced by it.
Robert Wells, Noble Research Institute livestock consultant Jan 24, 2020 Updated Jan 27, 2020
To be successful, any business person must develop a plan and then devise a strategy on how to work the plan to accomplish desired goals. That’s especially important in the cattle business, where most cow-calf producers would agree that the return on investment on an annual cash basis is typically low.
In order to become and remain profitable, producers must effectively manage the operation by paying close attention to all aspects of the ranch. If this is done correctly, revenue and expenses also will be accounted for. An intentional beef producer is one who takes the business seriously and is willing to go through the process of developing and working a plan for his or her operation. The following is a list of characteristics that successful, intentional producers share. Intentional beef producers:
• Understand the importance of record keeping.
Find a record-keeping system that works for your individual style, whether a paper ledger or on a computer. The key is to keep records that are meaningful and that you will use to make management decisions. Do not collect data on metrics you will never use, as this creates extra work that will have no measurable outcome you will implement.
Keep detailed enough records that you can understand what occurred “once the ink dries” later in time. Identify key production and economic metrics you can use to monitor your operation. Examples of this would be length of calving season and calving distribution, amount of feed/hay/mineral fed, pounds of weaned calf per exposed cow, body condition scores (BCS), pregnancy and calving percentages, weight and prices of all animals sold, and grazing days in each pasture.
With the help of the aforementioned parameters, you should monitor inventories of cattle, feed, hay and available pasture forage, as well as production costs and revenue generated.
• Know animal nutrition management can make or break an operation.
There is an old saying in the industry that “you can’t starve a profit out of a cow.” This statement is true and has been reaffirmed many times over. The feeding program can account for 40-60 percent of the total annual cost of maintaining a cow in most operations. This typically equates to several hundreds of dollars per cow annually.
Work with a nutritionist to develop a strategic feeding program where the supplemental feed is designed to complement the quality of the forage base the cow is consuming. For spring-calving cows that are fed hay during winter, feeding the lowest quality hay earlier in the winter makes the most sense. Keep the best quality hay for later in the winter, and incidentally, later in the cow’s gestation cycle or early lactation.
• Try never to buy hay based strictly on a cost-per-bale basis or to feed on a cost-per-bag or ton basis. Better quality hay may cost more, but it can dramatically reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental feed. The break-even price of hay is the cost at which you would purchase feed to supplement the low-quality feed. If you are in a situation where hay must be provided, feed the best hay possible to reduce the need for additional supplementation. The cheapest option is rarely the right feed for the circumstances.
Many times of the year, the cow is more deficient of energy than protein. Remember, a cow is not as concerned with nutrient percentage or concentration of the feed as much as she is with how many actual ounces or pounds of a nutrient she receives daily to meet her needs.
Finally, match the cow’s time of highest nutrient requirements—early lactation or around 2 months of calf age—to the time of year when the pastures supply the highest quality and quantity forage of the year. During preconditioning of the calf, balance the cost of gain with the value of gain. In many years, more profit can be made in a 60-day preconditioning program than is realized on the calf coming off the cow.
• Know when and how to market calves.
Determine the type of animal you will sell and when you will sell it. Will you sell the calf right off the cow or after a preconditioning program? Will you retain further ownership into the feedlot but sell live, or sell on a grid? Do you want to market quality replacement heifers rather than terminal calves? The answers to these questions will provide focus to your program.
Regardless of when or where you market calves, remember that uniformity of calf type, age and weight is typically rewarded by the buyers, as it helps them meet their marketing goals as well. Identify value-based marketing programs such as the Integrity Beef Alliance to help you collectively market cattle like a much larger entity. No matter how large your outfit is, it can still benefit from selling in a market that has more cattle that are similar to yours.
The goal of feedlots is to fill entire pens which could hold as many as 200-300 head, with very similar cattle. One uniform truckload will only fill a portion of a pen. Remember to give consideration to how you market cull cows and bulls, as they typically can account for up to 15-20 percent of the annual ranch revenue.
• Have a defined outcome for the ranch breeding program.
What type of cattle will you produce? This goes beyond the concept of uniformity previously discussed. Make sure the calving season is as tight as possible, ideally 60 days or less. If you are a commercial producer, consider the value of heterosis and the advantages built into a well-defined and thought-out crossbreeding program.
Identify the breeds you will use, and then work to find the right individuals within each breed to reach your goals. Consider breed complementarity, where the characteristics of the two breeds will be synergized in the resulting progeny. A good example of this is Angus x Charolais or Angus x Hereford.
• Have a comprehensive herd health program.
As the cow-calf owner, you have a moral obligation to the animal to set them up for a healthy life. Work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive vaccination and herd health program. Remember to consider that the calves will not live their entire lives on your ranch; therefore, they must be vaccinated against the typical diseases they could be exposed to once they leave the ranch. Become Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) trained and certified.
By adhering to BQA standards, you are honoring the commitment to develop and market a quality calf. BQA certification also helps develop consumer confidence in beef. Part of BQA is proper nutrition and health of the calf as well as keeping records. If you do not have documentation, you cannot prove how your cattle were immunized.
• Optimize stocking rate and pasture management
Set a realistic stocking rate for your operation. Make sure that the forages in each pasture are provided rest at different times of the year, across years. Monitor rainfall events and understand the concept of effective rainfall. Not all precipitation that falls will lead to increased forage growth. An intentional grazier will record when cattle are moved into and out of each pasture.
He or she will consider setting up exclosures to help monitor forage disappearance and growth, will use soil tests before fertilizing introduced pastures, and will use prescribed weed and brush control to reduce invasive species encroachment. A cost-effective grazing principle is to use standing dormant forages instead of hay during the dormant season. Cover crops can add a new dynamic to the grazing operation, as well.
• Develop a ranch management calendar.
Begin with the end in mind. Determine when you want to sell your calves and what your end-product will be for most years, and work backward from there to develop the management calendar. The management calendar should include the following dates: bull turn-in and pickup (hence subsequent calving dates); weaning and marketing dates; when to BCS the cows; when to work calves for the initial and booster vaccinations; when to conduct a breeding soundness exam; when to scout for weeds; and when to apply fertilizer and/or lime.
Additionally, an intentional producer will develop a plan for when to consider grazing each pasture, all the while recognizing that the exact date will vary based on weather and other uncontrollable factors.
• Remain flexible.
Above all else, an intentional producer will learn to be flexible, since so many variables are out of one’s control. However, just because intentional producers have developed and are working a plan it does not mean they cannot adjust as the need arises. Conversely, they will be more strategically positioned to make correct and meaningful adjustments to their plan without wrecking their system, largely because of the knowledge gained from well-kept records. — Robert Wells, Noble Research Institute livestock consultant
Ladies and gentlemen, the Greenlash has begun. All along the urban/rural interface the peasants are revolting.
Those who used to cuss the farmer now flock to farmers’ markets. They cursed cows until the cow pastures were filled with grapes sucking up all the water, so now they want the cows back. They hated fossil fuels, so they bought into the hybrid and electric car craze only to discover that the electricity that powered their car came from coal, natural gas or oil. They wanted all the dams torn down until they realized they were what lit their homes and powered their Prius.
Those who destroyed the ranching, mining, fishing and timber industries now bemoan the shortage of affordable housing and the dearth of gold and silver that make their iPhones work. They complained about the high cost of beef and salmon steaks until they realized they were the ones who over-regulated the cowboys and fishermen to death.
The urbanites want the bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions protected until one eats their kitty cat. Then they want them all annihilated. They believe in man-made climate change until they realize “the cure” will raise their state taxes. Then they seek refuge in Florida, Texas, Nevada, Wyoming, Washington, South Dakota or Alaska where there is no state tax. They love trees until they are fined $100 because their kid got caught climbing one. They want to save water for fairy shrimp, suckers and salmon but not if it means tearing out their lawns or taking shorter showers. If they’re told they can’t cut firewood on public land oh, hear them rave!
The more intelligent urbanites got suspicious when “global warming” got changed to “climate change.” They got mad when they found out that The Inconvenient Truth was that their hero, Al Gore, was a capitalist getting filthy rich off carbon credit trading and solar energy. They didn’t want any forests logged or thinned until the raging fires burned their house down. They grudgingly admit that even those clear cuts acted as fire breaks and the cows and sheep did reduce the fire load. And when the nightly news showed the charred remains of endangered crispy critters killed by raging infernos it made them think that maybe, just maybe, they didn’t know as much as they thought they did.
What really got their goat was when they found that all those recyclables they’d been sorting for the past year got buried in the same dump as the rest of their garbage because China no longer wanted their melted water bottles. When they heard about the floating mass of plastic floating out in the ocean they realized that some of it was theirs.
When Edison and PG & E started turning off people’s electricity during wildfire season the urbanites got a real taste of “living off the grid” and they didn’t like it all that much. When they saw the sprawling mansions of New York Sierra Club eco-lawyers and Nature Conservancy lobbyists in Architectural Digest and on HGTV it seemed just a tad bit hypocritical.
They believed in globalism until they lost their manufacturing job to China or Mexico and now they have to work two jobs waiting tables to make ends meet. When China and India refused to rein in their contribution to “man made climate change” they realized that the big sucker in the room was the American staring back at them in the mirror.
They loved being able to rent out an extra room in their house through Airbnb until the city started making them pay hotel and motel fees. Some of the shine came off Uber when the drivers had to pay for a business license. Silicon Valley nerds bought bare ground for $500,000 per plot on which to build their dream homes someday only to learn they couldn’t build because there was an endangered snail on their land. But they still had to pay property taxes on their lots that were now rendered worthless. The snails could live there but they couldn’t! And, boy oh boy, did they love wolves … until they moved into their neighborhood.
They worshipped Hollywood eco-celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio until they read that his personal jet was spewing more greenhouse gas in one takeoff than they would in their entire life. ❖