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How We Turned the Cattle Industry Into an Unsustainable, Artificial World

By   /  February 24, 2014  /  3 Comments

Trying to beat mother nature with technology is an expensive proposition. Sometimes it’s better to work with her than against her.

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Well, we haven't gone THIS far yet with our modern grazing, but perhaps there are practices we can adjust to better work with our environment.

Well, we haven’t gone THIS far yet with our modern grazing, but perhaps there are practices we can adjust to better work with our environment.

Yes, that is right. The cattle business is now dependent on artificial environments that are degrading both profit and the natural environment that is so important to all life. This has been such a gradual change that we didn’t realize that the cattle industry was veering off track. It was easy to drift along, concentrating on assumed profitable procedures while overlooking, not understanding, not realizing or totally disregarding how tightly bound our industry is to the natural world.

Our downfall came from the notion that man can set his own standards and use technology indiscriminately to attain success without regard to thousands of years of symbiosis between plants and animals in the natural world.

This disregard has led us into a system of environmental degradation and a continual battle for survival. We can no longer sustain profitable operations without regard to the past. Little headway can be attained until we accept that nature has to become a component of our planning.

We cannot afford to ignore this and continue pouring money into the failed processes that have been devised and followed over the last 40 years. Our problems didn’t begin then, but that is when the plunge into unsustainability was compounded over and over. A high level of animal performance was considered the only way to increase profit, and all out production would be necessary. Case closed. No definitive cost analysis was ever conducted to test this presumption.

When something is carved in stone, as this apparently was, everyone follows suit and adjusts their thinking to the new order. It is immutable. Only a few were able to hold up against the many and continue their work to prove another direction was viable and necessary for the cattle industry. Changing thought is extremely challenging as it is dealing with human nature which is thoroughly ingrained into our psyche.

Another high-tech cow.

Another high-tech cow.

It is very difficult to turn the herd when thought has run in one direction for 40 years and has been confirmed and promoted by universities and those selling inputs geared to that particular system. But, change we must. The herd is nearing unsustainability, for both profit and environmental degradation.

The only sustainable method left is that of using the natural world as a basis and learning to work within those parameters, nudging a little here and there. This is not as difficult as it would seem once you understand the fundamentals. The first thing to learn is that plants and animals are dependent on each other in a certain fashion, and they have attained an efficiency we barely understand.

The next step is to build from this efficient method, using management instead of expensive inputs for solutions. This is extremely cost efficient and repeatable. As you get comfortable in this new method other possibilities will surface. It is a mind game. The more you do, the more you can see and understand.

It is time to understand how we went astray and to accept a positive direction that will put the cattle industry in control of its destiny. We cannot continue to allow those selling and promoting multiple inputs to drive our thinking. It is our profit and life they are trying to control. Inputs are not improving our profits enough to be justified and in many cases are actually lowering our NET profit.

Scuba cow

Scuba cow

The promoters of the high input system do not take into consideration the whole of the system and are dragging followers into an ever deeper rut. Every time an input is thrown at a supposed problem there is a direct cost and an indirect cost. The indirect costs are either ignored or not even perceived by the marketers of inputs and are given no due. There is a total disregard that inputs may be fallible. The tremendous profit generated by their marketing is completely dependent on convincing cattlemen that their services are required or they will go broke.

There is something else that contributed to the industry losing focus and that was the size and wealth of our country. With the tremendous population growth and prosperity we experienced, the beef industry was continually expanding. The profitability of this expansion kept us from applying a critical analysis to what we were doing. We became lax and failed to develop long term solutions that could be adjusted to changing conditions.

We must bring ranching back into profitability by working with the natural world instead of trying to bulldoze it into doing what we want.

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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:

    Another GREAT article Chip. Thanks! I really liked the cartoons too! Here is a quote from your article that was right on the mark in my opinion: “Our downfall came from the notion that man can set his own standards and use technology indiscriminately to attain success without regard to thousands of years of symbiosis between plants and animals in the natural world”.

  2. Graybull says:

    Great article, Kathy……….thank you!

    • Rachel Gilker says:

      Thanks! We have to give all the credit to Chip Hines! This is his piece. Oops! We accidentally published it with Kathy as the author. Ah, it’s one of those mornings.

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