In his book, “Rising Tide – The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America,” John Barry describes serious discussions that would have lasting effects on the United States and the Gulf Coast for decades to come. For those who are not familiar with the circumstances of the story the decision being discussed was to decide if the levee was to be dynamited to try and save New Orleans. Naturally there were disagreements and finally any kind of solutions to the problems seemed insurmountable. At one point two of the principal players in this drama had reached an impasse that caused negotiations to break down completely. John Barry explained it with this one sentence: The two did not so much see things differently, they saw different things. Now most of us hopefully will not face a dilemma of this magnitude but reading this made me realize just how differently some folks see things in their pastures and with their livestock.
Anytime I walk out in a pasture of green, growing grass the first thing that I do is try to calculate how many head this will feed for how many days. Most of the folks down here will try and guess how many of those big rolls of hay it will yield. There are folks down here who will short their cattle of forage in the summer so that they will have hay for the winter. We are looking at the same pasture of grass but seeing two entirely different things. After learning from Kathy Voth, bless her heart, how to teach our cows to eat weeds we look at what is in a paddock completely differently. Without question the weeds are still there, but rather than seeing a problem, we see a resource that before we were not utilizing. So rather than spraying and worrying about doing it again and again we have made the paddocks a little smaller and have had good results with the cattle eating most of the weeds.
This brings to mind a discussion we had with some folks down in the south part of the state a few years ago. We were talking about costs and all of the management strategies that could be used to cut or at least control costs. This was back in the 90’s and prices for our cattle were nowhere near today’s prices. But are high prices a reason to forget cost control? At the end of our discussion this one old boy stood up and said, “I don’t care how much it costs. I just want to own good looking cattle.” Two years later he was no longer in the cattle business. We were seeing one thing and he was seeing something different.
So this leads me to ask this question, when you look at your outfit do you see something that is profitable and sustainable or do see something that cannot function without a subsidy? The next question I guess, is it possible to have a sustainable operation that is not profitable? If your outfit requires a subsidy from off the farm to support it, it may be time to look at things differently. I guess you could say from a different perspective.