There seems to be a real interest of late in the opportunities for young people to get started in livestock agriculture. The question that I would ask anyone young, or not so young, who has a dream of being in the cow business, where are you trying to go and how do you plan to get there? To help you answer those questions, let me share some of my experiences in this business with you.
One thing that comes with experience in this business is to learn not to invest more than you can afford to lose. There will be mistakes and bad luck without question. Some will be from not knowing, some will be from bad weather, and some will be from bad markets. We realize we can’t do a whole lot about the weather, but hopefully have learned a little and have done our best to avoid bad markets. What follows may not be more fool-proof than other plans but it has worked for us for the last 50 years.
Keep Your Money In Your Pocket
Yogi Berra once said, you can observe a lot by just watching. I grew up in this business watching the old timers who believed the best dollar was the one you were able to keep. These old boys would patch an inner tube until there was nothing left to patch. I know this is extreme to most today, but the point being, and the lesson learned, was don’t spend more than you can afford.
Most folks trying to get started can put themselves in a hole by spending too much getting started. If you are going to sell calves once or twice a year do you really need that big truck and trailer? I think it has been established that you do not need to own a bunch of hay equipment if you are going to feed hay. Buy it or, if you have hay to bale, hire it done. When we were first starting we would get our hay baled and pay for the baling with a share of the hay. Do not build your outfit with the idea in mind that the market will cover your ass when you make bad decisions. The one and only thing that will give you any chance of making it in this business is the cost of producing a pound of beef.
Pure-Bred or Profit?
I remember one old feller telling me that you are not really in the cow business until it breaks you twice, and high-priced animals may speed that process up.
What we have learned over the years is to stay away from those high-priced animals. We have made more money with good cows that were in most cases bought at the sale barn for less than those high dollar cows were bringing. We will not pass a good cow up just because of color or breed. In our pastures there is every color that it is possible for a cow to be and if they were not producing they would not be there.
This is not something that is a regular occurrence but on one of my trips to the sale barn to pick up cows that were bought the day before, Donnie our son who at the time was running this barn, said, as I stepped out of my truck, “I want to show you something.”
We walked down the main alley until he stopped at one of the pens and said, “Look at that,” and there were two longhorn cows with their horns hung up in a hay ring.
“Do you want them?” he asked. He knew that I would buy them if the price was right.
Now I’m not going to say what I gave for those two cows but, after we cut enough horn to get them out of their predicament, I loaded them with the cattle that were bought the day before and went home. That was 5 years ago and those old longhorns have raised us a calf every year since. Now understand, I am not recommending nor rejecting a sale barn as a source for breeding stock. This is what we do and it has worked for us for years. The novice or newbie without question should get some dependable and trusted help when buying breeding stock no matter the source.
Watch Your Ego
When buying any stock DO NOT allow your ego to replace common sense. DO NOT get into a bidding contest and pay more than you should just because you can. It does not make any difference if you are buying at the sale barn or private treaty DO NOT allow yourself to get caught up in the moment and do something stupid. We have all done it at one time or another and it usually is a mistake.
This Is How We Do It
Our whole outfit is based on buying good, solid cows that are not that expensive, put a terminal cross bull on them and sell every calf that hits the ground. If a cow for whatever the reason leaves the herd she can be replaced with another cow. With a limited amount of pasture it is not in our plans to use any of it raising heifers. We are looking for return on investment and producing beef for the least cost possible. To do this we have found that good grass, fresh water and a good Charolais bull on a set of mixed breed cows works very well. Now this is not an endorsement of Charolais bulls, but we have learned that these bulls will produce calves off of mixed breed cows that are more uniform than any other breed that we have ever used. And it is a fact that we have used most of them.
I will readily admit that this is not the only way to do it and there are many who will disagree with all or most of it, but we are producing for the commodity market and it works for us.