The Learning/Doing Gap

Seth Godin

Our society separates them. Somewhere along the way, we decided that one interfered with the other.

Go to school for 8 years to become a doctor–most of that time, you’re learning about doctoring, not actually doing doctoring.

Go to work as a copywriter. Most of the time, you’re doing writing, not learning about new ways to write.

The thing we usually seek to label as ‘learning’ is actually more about ‘education’. It revolves around compliance, rankings and “will this be on the test?”

Being good at school is not the same as learning something.

One reason that we don’t incorporate doing into education is that it takes the authority away from those that would seek to lecture and instruct.

There are 56 million people in K-12 (compulsory education) in the US right now. Most of them do nothing all day but school, failing to bring real-life activity, experimentation and interaction into the things that they are being taught.

And there are more than a hundred million people going to their jobs every day in the US, but few of them read books or take lessons regularly about how to do their work better. That’s considered a distraction or, at best, inconvenient or simply wasted time.

The gap is real. It often takes a decade or more for a profession to accept and learn a new approach. It took gastroenterologists a generation before they fully accepted that most ulcers were caused by bacteria and changed their approach. It has taken our justice system more than thirty years to take a hard look at sentencing and corrections.

It could be because we’re confusing learning with education. That education (someone else is in charge and I might fail) is a power shift from doing, so I’d rather be doing, thank you very much.

What happens if the learning we do is accomplished by always engaging in it in conjunction with our doing?

And what happens if we take a hard look at our doing and spend the time to actually learn something from it?

When police departments invest time in studying their numbers and investigating new approaches, they discover that efficacy and productivity goes up, safety improves and so does job satisfaction.

When science students devise and operate their own lab tests, their understanding of the work dramatically improves.

Education (the compliance-based system that all of us went through) is undergoing a massive shift, as big as the ones that have hit the other industries that have been rebuilt by the connection and leverage the internet brings. And yet, too much of the new work is simply coming up with a slightly more efficient way to deliver lectures plus tests.

I see this every day. People show up at Akimbo expecting lifetime access to secret videos, instead of the hard but useful work of engagement.

The alternative? Learning. Learning that embraces doing. The doing of speaking up, reviewing and be reviewed. The learning of relevant projects and peer engagement. Learning and doing together, at the same time, each producing the other.

If you want to learn marketing, do marketing. If you want to do marketing, it helps to learn marketing.

That same symmetric property applies to just about everything we care about.

To quote the ancient rockers, “We don’t need no… education.”

But we could probably benefit from some learning.

In the middle of all this doing, this constant doing, we might benefit from learning to do it better.

Woe is Me – By Kit Pharo

I skim through many beef publications on a daily basis.   Within the last two weeks, I have read the following statements in various online and printed publications.

  • The average age of farmers and ranchers in America has been increasing drastically over the past 30 years.
  • From 2002 to 2015, the cost to produce a weaned calf more than doubled from $400 to $875 per cow.
  • The average net farm/ranch income was negative for 2018.
  • Farm bankruptcies in some states were up 60% in 2018.
  • Calf losses this spring were well above average because of snow, cold and wind.
  • The USDA reported that since 2013 there has been more than a 50% reduction in net farm income.
  • Total farm income decreased $9.1 billion in 2018.
  • Total farm debt increased $410 billion in 2018.
  • Delayed corn planting will have a negative effect on feeder cattle prices.
  • Net income has been dropping due to circumstances out of farmers’ and ranchers’ control – dropping commodity prices, increasing input costs, machinery purchase costs and repairs and inclement weather.

These statements don’t paint a pretty picture, do they?   They leave little room for hope – especially for those who are struggling to make a decent living in the cow-calf business.   It’s easy to understand why some producers are throwing their hands up in despair, thinking, “Woe is me.   What can I do?”   Most are doing nothing – which just makes matters worse.

I believe all but one of the above statements are true.   The last statement, however, is FALSE!   It will make producers feel a little better about the situation they are in – but it will discourage them from taking any appropriate action.   Truth be known, very little is totally out of our control.   We just like to think things are out of our control because we’re afraid to think or look outside the box (paradigm) we have put ourselves in.

At the risk of upsetting more subscribers, I am going to do my best to challenge you to look and to think outside the box you have put yourself in.   We have all put ourselves in a box of some sort.   Our actions and our success are limited by the box we have put ourselves in.   Thinking outside your box will probably go against conventional thinking – but I want you to understand that it is possible to create a very profitable, enjoyable and sustainable business.   I want you to understand that it is possible to create a very bright and prosperous future for the next generation.

In last week’s “The Next Generation” article, I asked, “What do you need to do to adapt to the changes that are taking place in the cow-calf business?”   I went on to say, “If you have been paying attention, you already know the answer to that question.   The real question is… do you have enough courage to break away from the status quo, herd-mentality way of thinking so you can make the right decisions?”   Herein lies the problem for most people.

Let me begin by admitting we have no control over the weather.   However, we do have the ability to plan for most weather-related events and situations.   With a good grazing system and a good drought plan, we can decide when to turn our cows into cash to conserve our grass.   As Bud Williams once said, “You will never go broke having too much money or too much grass – but going broke is easy if you have too many cattle at the wrong time.”   We have the ability to take control of these situations.

Hundreds of cow-calf producers lose an inordinate number of calves every year while calving.   To add insult to injury, these same producers work harder than anyone else trying to save those calves.   Apparently, they do not realize they have control of when they turn their bulls out.   There are very few environments in which winter calving makes sense.   Why do wild ruminates wait until May to have their babies?   Why are all calves born with a summer hair coat?   There is nothing more enjoyable and profitable than calving on green grass.

I am also willing to admit we have very little control over the markets and the prices we receive.   The only way to take control of the prices you receive is to get out of the commodity business and sell a product like grass-finished beef directly to the consumer.   Several PCC customers have been very successful at doing this.

Farmers and ranchers cannot do much about commodity prices.   Most will whine and complain – but that does no good.   Many will blame others for their problems – but that does no good.   So, what can you do?   If what you are doing now is not working, you need to do something different.   This is as obvious as the nose on your face – but most people will not change a thing until they are forced to.   By that time, it will be too late for many.

PROFIT  =  (Production  x  Market Value)  –  Expenses

Since we have no control over the markets, we need to focus our attention on increasing production and/or decreasing expenses.   When we talk about increasing production, we are referring to production per acre – NOTper animal.   Focusing on production per animal (bragging rights) will actually decrease production and profit per acre.   The status quo beef industry has been focused on the wrong thing for the last 50 years.

I know several producers who have increased pounds and profit per acre by 50 to well over 200 percent.   That’s HUGE!   These producers have implemented proper grazing management to make the most of every ray of sunshine and drop of rain that falls on the land they control.   They also produce smaller, more efficient cows that fit their environment – instead of artificially changing the environment to fit their cows.   This allows them to increase stocking rate and production per acre.   If they can do it, why can’t you?

The average cost of producing a calf has more than doubled in the last 20 years.   That makes it very difficult for most producers to make a decent living.   In contrast, most long-time PCC customers have a cost of production that is 40 to 50 percent less than the national average.   That’s an advantage of $350 to $450 per calf!   If they can do it, why can’t you?   The easiest money you will ever make is the money you don’t spend.

The reason the average age of cow-calf producers has increased so rapidly over the last 30 years is because the next generation, for the most part, is not coming back to the farm or ranch.   The reason the next generation is not coming back is because very few cow-calf operations are profitable, enjoyable and sustainable.   The reason very few cow-calf operations are profitable, enjoyable and sustainable is because most producers are unwilling to make the necessary changes in their operation.   It is easier to say, “Woe is me,” than to think outside the box they have put themselves in.   We encourage you to choose a different route.   You can do it – and we can help!

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“You are responsible for your own happiness and success.”   ~ Harvey Mackay

The bigger-calf theory isn’t working right now

The solution is to sell cattle that have higher value of gain than your cost of gain.

It was an interesting week in the market. What I find even more interesting is how people can get so emotional about such things. Cattle marketing is simple math, and that should take the emotion out of things since math is fundamental and never changes.

That said, it is hard to override an old paradigm. This week the paradigms that hold onto conventional wisdom got smacked in the face.

Conventional wisdom says that it pays more to wean a bigger calf. This week I watched an auction that had a good amount of bawling calves sprinkled throughout the run of different weights. While the bigger calves did get more dollars per head, it wasn’t much more. When I calculated the value of that gain it proved what I already knew: The value of gain wasn’t all that great. From the smallest bawler to the heaviest calf, the value of gain was 45 cents.

Can you put the weight on for less than that? The value of gain between some of the other weights was less than 30 cents. I am pretty sure it’s costing more than that to put the weight on. My point is, those extra pounds were actually costing the producer money.

A commentator on the local radio was going on and on about the “rally” in eight-weights at a local sale barn this week. I pulled up the market report and those eight-weights had the lowest value of gain compared with all other weights. At that barn seven- and eight-weights were the only weights that were higher this week, and yet the eight-weights were still undervalued to the lighter feeders, and also undervalued compared with fats. So again convention wisdom got smacked. Just because they were higher didn’t mean that a person was going to profit from selling them.

I have had a few people ask me how this blog is being received by people since I talk a lot about turning cattle quicker instead of holding them and putting more weight on them. I just outlined above the math isn’t adding up by the long-held convention for adding weight to create value.

Here’s the thing, there are three components to maximizing profit, and one is turnover. If you owned a hardware store would you make more money if you were open two days a year, or 365 days a year? I have a friend who used to work in the parts department at a dealership, and he told me if a part didn’t turn over at least every 30 days they quit stocking it. I’m not saying we should trade our stocker cattle every month. What I’m saying is that we need to watch the value of the gain, and price relationships to prevent ourselves from getting cattle too big and becoming undervalued at times.

Next week is the last full week of auctions before some barns will go to their summer schedule. One thing I find interesting and am curious to see how it pans out is some barns are adding a special female sale to the schedule in the middle of summer. This typically doesn’t happen. There obviously is some interest in selling bred cows and pairs at that time, but will there be much buyer interest?

Marketing the Ranch

Marketing – The process of creating excitement about your product/service.
Sales – The process of actually selling your product/service.

Sales of the product on the Ranch – You have that figured out. Sales barns, video, and internet, they all get the job done very well with the largest number of potential buyers.

But – Marketing, that has been left up to the barns/video/internet sales facilitators. And how do they go about doing that. – The Sale Bill. The consignment list they post in publications and websites.

That’s IT!!!!!!

Why should you take an interest in “Marketing your Livestock”
Picture this – If there are 2 more bidders at the sale to BID on your livestock. 50,000 lbs at $1.10 = $55,000.
With 2 more bidders you could get say .05 +/- cents more?
50,000 lbs at $1.15 = $57,500.
$2500 More….

What can you do to “Market your Livestock”?
Website – $500 a year.
Print Media – $500 a year.
Social Media – $100 a year.

  • Take lots of pictures
  • Write down what you do.
  • Write down your genetics
  • Ad pictures to everything.

The more visual you are the more your pictures will sell your Calves.

Build upon the reputation that you already have.
By Investing $1.00 in your Marketing – You can get $2.00 back.

I can HELP – call 307.331.0357

If One Can Do It…

If One Can Do It…

By Kit Pharo

If I had a nickel for every time my long-time friend and mentor Chip Hines has said, “If one can do it, they all should be able to do it,” I would have a truckload of nickels.   In the 30+ years that I have known Chip, he has had a profound effect on me, on Pharo Cattle Company and on the entire beef industry.

Although Chip has an excellent understanding of the minute details of beef production, he likes to keep everything as simple as possible.   Nature has always been Chip’s example and teacher.   He thinks cows should be able to produce and reproduce without any outside inputs.   If one can do it, they all should be able to do it.

In the mid-1990s… we were giving our cows a protein supplement three times a week for 30 days prior to calving.   We did this because that is what we thought we had to do with cows grazing short, dormant grass all winter.   I remember a cow (Angel 382) who wouldn’t even look up when we came to feed the range cubes.   She continued to graze – even though all of the other cows were frantically running to the pickup.

This cow reminded me of what Chip had told me many times, “If one can do it, they all should be able to do it.”   I decided to eliminate all protein supplementation.   I remember one university expert advising me against taking such drastic actions.   He said, “We both know the protein level of your winter grass is very low.   According to the book, you need to supplement some protein.”   I nodded my head, but ignored his advice… and I got away with it.

Do you know why I was able to ignore his advice and get away with it?   I got away with it because not one of my cows had read the book the university guy was referring to.   They didn’t know any better.   Who wrote the book anyway?

I’m sure some cows eventually fell out of our herd after we discontinued providing a protein supplement.   Most of the cows, however, were not affected.   This is how you make genetic improvement and progress.   If you never take away inputs, you will never know which cows can survive without inputs.   Over the years, we have essentially eliminated all outside inputs with the exception of salt and mineral.   I know a few PCC customers who have eliminated mineral supplementation.

Recently, I have taken Chip’s “If one can do it…” statement to a different level.   I have thought about how successful and profitable most PCC customers are in comparison to their neighbors.

What’s the difference between PCC customers and their neighbors?   The primary difference is that PCC customers are focused on increasing production per acre, while their neighbors continue to be focused on increasing production per animal.   There is a BIG difference!   If some cow-calf producers can do it, others should be able to do it.

Quote Worth Re-Quoting –

“The men who succeed are the efficient few.   They are the few who have the ambition and the will power to develop themselves.”   ~ Robert Burton (1577 – 1640)

Here’s How to Successfully Grow Grass

By   /  May 6, 2019  /

I took the time to walk through most of my pastures a few days ago. I recommend doing this fairly often to keep a mental forage inventory. It is best to record the findings. Some use fancy electronic data sheets, some track on paper charts, some just have notes in their pocket datebook or smart phone. I use a combination. I like the paper charts for long term planning, but for a quick assessment, I like a white board.

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I have a white board, you know, one of those new-fangled chalk boards that you use erasable markers on. I took 1/8-inch black tape and used it to outline the boundaries of all the fields. If I get present yield estimates taken, I put those numbers on the board with the date collected. But I use the board more for tracking grazing patterns and, more importantly, rest.

Animal groups are color coordinated and enter and exit dates are marked on the board. If animals are strip grazed across the field, then an arrow is included to show the move. I can now look at the board and quickly see how long it has been since the field was last grazed and/or how many days it has been rested.

Rest is very important – Really important!

How productive would you be if you worked 24/7 with no rest? It’s the same for forage.

Rest grows grass. If a pasture is continuously grazed, how much rest does the pasture get? None if the animals are never removed.

Forages can’t rest while being bitten off by ruminants. They only rest when they are allowed to regrow in peace! I often talk about stop grazing heights. It takes grass to grow grass! We need to move the animals to maintain an effective solar panel. Only green, growing leaves carry out photosynthesis! Most tall cool season forages, such as orchardgrass and tall fescue, need at least four inches of live leaf matter left for collecting solar energy for rebuilding roots, reserves, and then regrowth.

The grazing or harvest event of forage removal has a direct correlating effect on root growth. Research shows that we can remove up to fifty percent of the forage plant with little or no impact on root growth. If we removed more than that fifty percent, then root growth is drastically slowed down. Once we remove seventy percent or more of the plant, which is approaching hay removal levels, root growth comes to a screeching halt. It will now take a longer rest period. There is approximately equivalent live growth above and below ground. When we remove plant leaf matter, roots respond similarly because they are supported by those leaves. Therefore, there is die back of roots when not enough leaf matter is left for maintenance.

How much rest is really needed or ideal?

Early in the growing season when forages are growing fast, it can be pretty short, but normally never less than 14 days. As forage growth starts to slow down a little, then rest should be at least 30 days. When summer heat and drier conditions kick in, cool season grasses then benefit from longer rests, quite often 45 and up to 60 days. To keep it simple, just remember when forages are growing fast, move animals fast (no running, a gentle walk from pasture to pasture is sufficient), and when forages are growing slower, move animals slower.

Longer rests periods and more live residual left behind mean more roots. More roots support quicker regrowth of grazeable material and increase drought tolerance. The more growth there is above ground means there are more live roots below ground. As longer, deeper roots move downward through the soil profile, they bring moisture and nutrients upward. Shallow root systems have no drought tolerance. It certainly doesn’t appear right now like the lack of moisture could possibly be a problem, but we are always only about sixty days from a drought. Drought management should always be a part of our contingency plan.

How can you rest your grass?

If you divide the pasture up into four permanent paddocks and rotate through them, 75% of the paddocks are at least getting some rest. Is it ideal? No, but it is still better than no rest. If we increase the number of paddocks to say, twelve and rotate through them, then 94% of the paddocks are getting some rest while the 60% portion is being grazed.

After grazing is initiated in the spring, I generally recommend continuing to graze around the system until the first paddock is ready to graze again. You can then move back to that paddock and start over. The paddocks that you skip can then be stockpiled for summer grazing or cut for hay. If forage growth starts slowing down quicker than expected, say from lack of rain, then you can always jump back to the paddocks you skipped. If you plan ahead, especially if you have been tracking moves for a few years, you can estimate what field(s) you may want to skip this year in the first rotation. If you have fields that could benefit from longer rests due to being used hard the previous year or overwinter, or one(s) that could benefit from some extra carbon, then this is a chance to provide some extra rest and recovery.

Annual rest is important too.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. It is best not to start the grazing season in the same field every year. Those first fields often get grazed before ideal conditions. This short time abuse, done year after year, can increase problem weeds and reduce diversity of forages, especially desired forages.

How low can you go?

The old adage, or rule of thumb, of “take half and leave half” is actually not a bad rule as long as the starting point is high enough! More importantly, when we allow animals to graze too close, we slow down regrowth, require longer recovery, and reduce year around production. For the highest production, most tall cool season forages do the best when grazing is initiated at eight to twelve inches and ended at four to six inches as the stop grazing height. Stop grazing height, or residual height, is not the tallest forage left behind after a grazing event, but the shortest! The shortest forages should be at least four inches tall. Animal intake is also influenced by the amount of desirable forage present, especially height. Intake can be reduced when a full bite is not possible.

The bottom line…

Forages need rest. Rest influences forage yield, persistence and, therefore, animal performance. No or little rest results in lower forage yields and poor persistence of desirable species due to depleted root reserves and roots. On average, most forages benefit from at least thirty days of rest between grazing events.

Enjoy the new grazing season and keep on grazing!