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The Medicine Show Syndrome – Are We Guilty?

By   /  January 13, 2014  /  3 Comments

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snake-oil-poster1We have all seen the western movie when the traveling medicine show pulls into town to sell the magic elixir that will solve all your ailments. People gather around the wagon to hear the spiel that borders on the improbable. It is an extraordinary talk, enumerating all the idiosyncratic maladies of human misery and how the “medicine man” can cure everything with this one potion.

Of course he soon has people lining up to buy this lifesaver. Money in hand, they purchase the product willingly, never once thinking there may be no need for it. The excitement generated is enough to cover up any doubts. You are behind the times if you don’t buy this lifesaver. Ya gotta’ have it! Did it do anything? Probably not. Were you later disappointed, wondering why you were so gullible? Yup!

The cattle industry has gone through much of the same cajolery, ending in disappointment. Disappointment in that we were not farther ahead when it came to figuring our net profit. Everyone selling an input declares this is what we have to have to make a profit. Without it we are behind the times and everyone but us will be making a profit. We are made to feel guilty if we are laggards. That we aren’t very intelligent. That we just don’t get it!

Input peddlers talk the cattle industry out of hundreds of millions of dollars every year for products that for the most part are not needed. Management, genetics and grazing strategies can replace nearly all the inputs deemed necessary to have a “progressive” operation.

How do we weigh the value of the shiny new input?

How do we weigh the value of the shiny new input?

How did we come to be so dependent on the high level of inputs we now think necessary? We were partially to blame as every rancher wanted to improve profit. The age of technology was upon us and it seemed that would be the answer.  It was somewhat gradual at the beginning, but soon University research and glossy magazines were building a case for “progress”.

I have decided that some of the individuals termed “Progressive” in the glossy magazines are those who have built operations around the use of numerous inputs to turn them into artificial environments that cannot be sustained without a further influx of capital.  Artificial environments cannot stand on their own as they are not based on the natural efficiencies developed over thousands of years, but the theory that the more we do for a cow, the more she will do for us. That is wrong as it diminishes her natural abilities while piling up unnecessary costs that cover up what she can do on her own.

Soon the ad money became so great that the glossies could even stop selling subscriptions! It was all downhill from there. Even if an editor had beliefs contrary to some of the claims and articles littering his desk, he dare not speak up. The input sellers would take their money elsewhere and he, no doubt, would become expendable.

Simplicity is an acquired tasteWhen looking at all aspects of the cattle industry it is easy to see we have gotten off track everywhere and built a heavy dependence on inputs. This was such a gradual process that it was not noticed until we were overwhelmed. Break out your input expenses and add them up. Go through this list and evaluate each as to how it can either be dropped, or replaced by management. This is where your knowledge, imagination and resolve can take over to eliminate the parasitic costs draining away your profits.

It is time to get off the treadmill of continual belief that every input is necessary and we can’t be profitable without them? Is this possible? Absolutely! All that is required (and this is the hard part) is to realign your thinking with the natural world and embrace simplicity.

Editors Note:  Here’s a past article by Dan Hudson on Sna-Koil with ideas on how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to shiny new things.

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About the author

Chip Hines was born and raised on a farm and ranch southwest of Burlington, Colorado. After moving to the Kit Carson, Colorado area and working on several large ranches Chip and his wife Judy began leasing land and buying cows in 1968. Unbeknownst to them this was the run-up to the big cattle break in 1974. Their first cattle cycle lesson. Chip has not forgotten! In 1989 he began planned grazing and concentrated even more on his low input philosophy. The years of learning have been published in three books on ranch management, available on his website, http://chiphines.com. Chip now lives in Yuma, Colorado and is still involved in supporting the cattle industry.

3 Comments

  1. Ben Berlinger says:

    Great article Chip. Your are absolutely right on the mark again! Please keep them coming…!

  2. Bill Elkins says:

    You are so right! I used to spend summers bush-hogging (and maintaining tractor and mower) to prevent pasture grasses and forbs going to seed -. This was intended to minimize endophyte toxicity and pink-eye. It may have helped, but it was easier to assume so than to know so; but for sure it devastated the bottom line. I was afraid to give up these crutches 6 yrs ago, but I did. The same goes for supplements touted to combat fescue toxicosis. The same goes for killing off my fescue to replant with endophyte-free cultivars. The cattle know what to eat and what to trample. The latter feeds the bugs and worms that make fertilizer. Oh yes, I gave up buying that too.
    We still have summer slump and sporadic pink eye, but absolutely no more than before. The herd has adapted rather well if not yet completely. As for me, the adaptation is complete. Be patient and let Mother Nature be your guide. 9

  3. charlie taplin says:

    I remember in the Dairy world when I was about 35 we had the usual down with milk prices and up with grain prices, we decided to reduce the grain by quite abit and low and behold we didn’t drop much but the cows ate more of our own feed. I remember saying to my step-dad(he was retired) that we had been buying all that grain because the salesman did our feed program and his comment was “what’s does he sell” and that was the beginning for me. That was more then 35 yrs. ago and now have beef 100% grass-fed.

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