There is a line in one of Bruce Springsteen’s songs, “is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?” We all have our dreams but the ones that become reality and were not a lie are the ones that we really worked on to make come true. My Daddy used to tell me and my brothers, wish in one hand and spit in the other and see what you end up with. What he was trying to make us realize is that wishing won’t get you much more than a hand full of spit and you have to work for what you want.
Is the possibility of operating a successful, and by successful I mean profitable, cattle operation on a small place a dream or a lie? There is a reason to ask this question. In our part of the world it is becoming very common for large tracts of land to be divided into 20, 30, 50 and 100 acres tracts and then sold for prices that stagger the imagination. Over the years I have gotten calls from a lot of these folks who have attended some of our pasture walks. In most instances these folks are really interested in trying to learn. But on the other hand there are those who really believe they have it all figured out and will not hesitate for one minute to begin to explain to me what they will do to make their outfit different and successful while so many others have failed.
I remember being at a pasture walk and two old boys walked up and after we had talked a few minutes they began to tell me just how they had it all planned out to make this grass-fed thing work. After listening very patiently for about 5 minutes or so I finally asked ask them a question, “How are y’all going to handle the summer slump the hot, dry days of July, August and September?”
The stunned, silent stares let me know that they didn’t have any idea what I was asking. These old boys thought that all that was required of them was to not feed any grain, let the cattle graze until they were fat and they would be in business.
Now, understand that is exactly our goal when we turn a set of stockers into the ryegrass every year. But we are by no stretch of the imagination planning to sell grass-finished beef. Our goal is to produce as much gain as possible during the time these cattle are on the grass. These old boys did not have any idea of, or had thought about, the type or quality of forage needed to do what they were going to attempt. The last time I talked to these guys they had decided that the cow business was not of interest to them any longer.
I recall another example of another senseless plan that this feller had come up with that made perfect sense to him. His idea was to have cows calving every month of the year this way he would have something to sell every month. At first when he was telling me this I thought he was joking with me but after a few minutes of listening to this foolishness I realized that he was serious. My only comment was to say, “Most of us have a hard enough time sometimes managing one herd of cows, and you are talking about managing 12 different herds on one place.” Folks this is the truth. You can’t make this stuff up. All of this really happened.
All of this makes me recall one of the first things I was told when I started a 5 year apprentice program to learn the pipefitting trade in Local 198 in Baton Rouge. Don’t worry about the tricks of the trade. Learn your trade and the tricks will come. What I’m trying to say is that those folks that think there is some gimmick that will carry them in this cow business are in for a rude awakening. We can always learn from one another little things that make things easier but this is not learning our trade.
Managing our forage resources, doing with what natures gives, working to improve our pastures and taking care of our livestock without spending ourselves broke, this is what will make the difference in success or failure. This is what will keep that dream from being a lie.