Saturday, June 22, 2024
HomeConsider ThisWhy Do We Do Things the Hard Way?

Why Do We Do Things the Hard Way?

This weekend I was talking to a friend who has changed her lambing date to coincide with spring grass growth on her Vermont farm. No more worries about how to save hypothermic lambs for her, plus she’s reduced her labor costs and other inputs associated with lambing in colder months. “And you know,” she said, “I couldn’t have made the change without Ranching For Profit and the people on my Executive Link board.

My friend is a pretty innovative soul, so this made me think about how hard it can be to step outside the box – to do something different that makes sense, even though everyone around us thinks were crazy. And that’s where this video comes in. It’s the last in a series by the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition on switching to calving systems that coincide with the local climate to reduce workloads and increase profit. It’s 5:16 of ranchers talking about what kept them from doing something this valuable to them and their operations. Reasons range from “tradition” to “feeling good about being important” to “bullheadedness.”

As you watch this video, think about how what these folks are saying relates to some of your reasons for not trying something new that can actually make your life better. Consider the kinds of people you’re surrounded by, and how they either help or hinder your ideas about what you can and can’t do. Maybe these ranchers will help you find solutions that will help you take the next step.



Arla Hamann-Poindexter: Yeah, I don’t really know. I think it was just the tradition. Maybe we like being miserable. I don’t know. So, yeah, I don’t really know why we have those ideas stuck in our head. But in the real scheme of things, what would two days matter. Why did we not do this forever?

Josh Lefers: So, our change to a calving season that we’re in now has been a multi-year process. We’ve had cattle now coming up on ten years. The first four or five years we were calving in April and I got to do the save the calf dance which involves pulling calves out of knee-deep mud and finding a dry spot for them in the middle of the rain, and checking. cattle in the middle of the night and all of that. And you know, I felt good about myself. It was really a great feeling to be able play that role. And then I realized i just got sick of it.

Brett Nix: There’s just enough romance that goes with it that keeps the rancher in there, thinking that you know, this is the John Wayne thing. So we hang in there and we keep doing it and we’re tough. It separates the men from the boys. So that’s why we hang in there and keep doing it as well. There’s that social facade that comes with winter calving. I call it romance, but it’s not too romantic.

Larry Wagner: (laughs) Always gotta be a positive something.

Jimmie Kammerer: You know my dad was always an innovative thinker and he respected nature and he viewed things in a view of nature. He didn’t always execute his thoughts and desires. Because I think there’s a stigma – oh my gosh you’re doing it differently. You’re nuts! And that isn’t going to work! We all have to do it the same way as everybody else because that’s just how it is. And so I don’t know. He tried a lot of different things. He and I pasture calved cows in the breaks in January. It was an open January. But you know, when the weather got bad, we brought them in. Because as producers to be in this line of work and to be in this industry you have to be made of tough stuff. We’re deep-hearted people and we have to be tough and gritty to withstand this industry. And so you can’t walk around showing all your emotions.

Mary Lou Guptill: You know we were in the middle of March and went to the first of April and then middle of April and finally May. And you have all those questions – how’s this going to work? But then when it does and you go, “Wow! I don’t know why we did what we did.” I have to say that for years Pat wanted to do Allan Savory and I said, “Well that doesn’t work in this country. For years I said that. So…It would be hard for me to say how to communicate that to my daughters when I was the bull headed one. I don’t know what I would say to them. Maybe come have them to our house and see what it looks like – what it could look like – would be my only thing. Otherwise I’m not sure how you would communicate it unless you live it. It would be hard to just tell somebody. People have to see it.

Rick Doud: Our life style changed. We no longer babysit them so we have more free time to ourselves. So it’s been quite an experience. I would like to just share this with everybody. We made mistakes overthe years. I just hope I can keep other people from making the same mistakes I made.

Dugan Bad Warrior: You know, it’s funny, when we got to brandings. People come to my brandings or they do things with me – they’re all saying what are you doing different? And they give me heck. But I’m not afraid of being an example for change. So if they can see it working on my ranch and they can work it that would be great.

Dean Hefner: My only regret is I didn’t do this forty years ago.

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. At least locally the reason ranchers cannot change their calving times is due to US Forest Service Grazing restrictions that forbid them from putting calves out on the range until a certain age and that also have the grazing starting in May and ending in October. If they use federal grazing allotments then their calving season is determined for them by the rules.

    • This didn’t seem likely to me, so I just searched the Forest Service Grazing Administration Handbook. As I expected, they don’t mention anything about an age requirement for calves to be turned onto the allotment. There are no regulations, at least from the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, regarding the age of calves when they enter an allotment.

  2. Well, heck. Here I go again, thinking back over the decades and asking a tough question: why was the change process so hard? And of course, it’s not just calving season. When I look around this place, not one bit of our ranch looks very much like where I grew up. Changes in fencing, water, cattle, calving, inputs, people, machinery and everything else, too. In the end, each of those changes was made difficult because of one thing: fear. And the biggest fear by far was my fear of what other people would think about me. I thought people would chastise me for placing our streams into CREP. I thought they’d hate me for selling all those fine cattle and mucking around with yearlings or custom cattle or salvage cattle. And the outrage of not making hay; all that good flat land being wasted.

    In the end, hardly anyone said one dang thing, and maybe that’s the best lesson I ever learned: Ignore them! just forge ahead and don’t worry what they think or say. Most of those folks just blabber among themselves anyway.

    And Ms. Mary Lou Guptill, you hit the nail on the head. Don’t talk to people, just insist that they come and see the results. Ask them what they see. Ask them what they think. Allow them to prove you wrong. Mostly, be brave.

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