Sometimes it just seems that we are wasting our time having pasture walks.
The other day, and as happens on most days, my mind was off on one of its wanderings. I recalled a particular pasture walk that we had hosted a few years ago. The turnout was not very good, in fact it was dismal, but that is not unusual for this type of field day. But attendance is not what this is about. Some of the best responses that we have received from folks is when not many people are involved and the time can be spent talking to a few who are really interested instead of trying convince a bunch of non-believers.
It is not fair to the people who do come when the turnout is less than anticipated and we probably do not do as good a job as we should unless there is some real enthusiasm shown by the few. On this day the few were less than enthusiastic and maybe this is why for the first time it really hit me that some people are totally against what we are promoting. I have read about, and have encountered myself, the cold reaction from some of the cattlemen’s groups when I spoke to them. I know a man in Arkansas who is a real expert on animal genetics and nutrition. This man had committed himself to trying to help the people he cared about the most in the world, the people of his state. But after a few meetings that he attended at his own expense, he quit. The negative response was more than he could take, he thought that he was wasting his time and most of all, folks that he thought of as friends didn’t want to talk to him any longer.
So the thought that there are people who are opposed to our ideas are not unknown to me. I can understand the vested interests that need to maintain the status-quo to survive, but what I really have a hard time understanding is the small size operation owners who are forever crying that they cannot make any money. These are the people that holler the loudest about the big guys running all over the little guys. But they are under the false assumption that what they are doing is the right and only way to operate. Anything that is the least bit unorthodox or different cannot be right. There are people who believe that for them to acknowledge that what we are promoting may be right will make them admit that they have been wrong. This is not about what is right or wrong it is about what works and what does not work.
On the day of the aforementioned pasture walk there was an old man there who has been in the cow business for years and years. He has operated on inherited land and worked at one of the plants in Baton Rouge for years. Now he is drawing his pension. None of this is wrong. He is doing what many have done. But he is sure that if it is not done the way he does it, it is done wrong.
That morning we were showing the folks a set of heifers that we had bought to put on pasture for the summer and to put on ryegrass in the fall. There were 35 head in this set and they have been on 14 acres of grass through the driest and hottest summer in memory. These calves have done a lot of growing and are really ready to take off when the weather cools and the rye grass is ready. We were proud of what we had accomplished so far with these calves.
When the group walked out in the paddocks to look at what we were doing the only thing this old man could see was that some of the calves had not been dehorned. It did no good to explain that this would happen when the weather cooled and the fly population was less. The other problem that he saw was the fact that all of these calves were drinking out of a little sheep tub and this meant to him that they were not getting enough water. All of the talking in the world was not going to convince him that with a continuous water supply and float system the tub was big enough.
The fact that these calves had been grazing the same 14 acres in a Management-intensive Grazing program did not impress this old dude one iota, the fact that they had not been fed anything except minerals and grass meant nothing to him. He thought the idea of poly-wire was dumb, that it was a waste of time to do something so stupid and that those of us who were promoting this were just playing games. The numbers and facts of other groups of calves did not make any difference to him. And when the idea of grass being the foundation of our operation and that it must be our primary concern he laughed out loud. This does not affect me as much as it does some folks, what I hate about it is that some people see his operation and they believe that this is what they must do to be successful and stop thinking for themselves.
On the Other Hand…
To balance it all out there was a man and his son there that morning who are trying to learn, who did not spend all of their money on equipment and stuff. I think we were a little help to them. This is the reason that we keep on keeping on, for every rejection there is someone out there looking for help. And when you see the light in their eyes and hear the hope in their voices it makes all of the negatives go away, and your head comes up and the bounce returns to your step and you know you will never quit.
People are afraid of competition – especially if they have spent their life building a herd that wont fit the needs of your new system.
Great and informative article. I agree with Mr. Harrigan and new methods that work are going to accelerate the weeding out of those that fear and condemn change just because it’s change.
Before i worked at extension I attended every single pasture walk within 4 hours of my place. These are the single most important activity I can both promote and participate in because you get to see the way that other folks solve the same problems that you have.
Don please keep up the good work and know that there are many other producers out there just like me (or beginning ranchers who are a blank slate) that both value and appreciate that you are ultimately there to make them a better farmer!
Thank you for your efforts Don, but you are so much more patient than I am. Perhaps it’s just the southern tradition of being kind and generous. Personally, I have more or less given up on the mainstream cattle industry, finding much more success with non-farmers.
I recently took on a (free) consulting job, trying to help a young couple take over the family ranch following a death of the old man. Funny thing: because of their experiences away from the ranch, they can easily see many of the structural problems and they are thrilled to make changes. Golly, that’s fun, helping willing people make change.
Please keep up the good work and know that it matters! We have attended pasture walks for 10+ yrs now, to learn cattle on grass. For my kids to see where we are trying to go, in improving our pastures and herd genetics. We also learned much while interning on a pasture-based farm. The wise, old farmer there told us we were stupid, but that was a two-fold blessing: 1) We weren’t wed to the mistakes of our father. 2) We didn’t know anything, so pay attention to what works.
Pasture walks with guys like you on “what works”, gave us permission to start our own farm, with 7 heifers on 20+ acres.
Some neighbors shake their heads at us moving cattle each day. Others are surprised our cattle are still healthy on grass & minerals alone, after 10 years.
Folks like you, Don, showed us how to do this, and continue to teach me and my kids. However it’s done, a few neighbors like our green fields enough, they ask us to graze their land as well.
Thanks for caring, please keep sharing!
It is true that some folks are more interested in proving someone wrong than in learning and trying something new. They are fewer and fewer though as tight margins squeeze out many who refuse to make the choice to learn and adapt.
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