I seem to be encountering this more this year than I have in the past, or maybe it's because I've become more conscious of it. And that is ranching operations that tend to exist simply for their own sake and not for the sake of making money.
For example, I had a pretty good size seed stock producer tell me that he'd spent large money producing the best cattle available in his breed, and he's right, they're good. Now, he doesn't know what to do with them. He has developed no market, and doesn't know how to go about selling them, nor for how much.
I also talked to a big commercial producer, recently, a steer producer who has to be in the top five or six percentile of producers from the standpoint of numbers in the country. He has a large number of steers ready to wean and hasn't the foggiest idea of what they're worth on today's market. That means he can't sell them at private treaty, because he doesn't know how to price them. In all likelihood, he'll haul them to town and run them through his local market and take whatever is bid on them.
Both of these people are good ranchers. They have developed nice ranches with nice facilities, tight, straight fences, abundant forage for summer and winter. They vaccinate, they worm, they do all the things it takes to raise cattle, but they have no follow-through. They don't know how to turn those cattle into money. They have a good inventory, but they don't have any control over it.
Ask either of these men what their cowherds are worth, right now, on today's market, and they wouldn't have the foggiest idea. Worse, yet, they wouldn't even understand your reason for asking such a question.
They are ranchers, pure and simple. They aren't businessmen. They don't even consider that generating a profit is their sole reason for being in any business, including cattle. They don't realize that the reason they go to all that trouble developing a product is so they can sell it and make more money than they spend operating, plus a return on the money they have invested in land, cattle, facilities equipment and the like.
Until the last two decades, they could probably afford to operate in this manner, because when they finally did sell their cattle, there was enough return to stay in business. That is no longer the case. Now, to succeed in this business, you have to consciously strive to make every animal you produce sell for as much as possible. You have to think about that inventory of cattle as money on the hoof, and you have to consciously be in control of that inventory all the time.
Business success in cattle or anything else is a state of mind. The goal, the end result, has to be to earn a profit on your money invested and the time you spend. While this is a more stressful way to live, while it doesn't give that traditional warm, fuzzy approach to living that cattlemen have traditionally enjoyed, it is certainly the only way to stay in business and to feed, clothe and educate the family.
Today's cattleman, seed stock or commercial, must be constantly aware of his inventory and its value. All of his effort, time and money should be applied toward making that inventory worth as much as possible. All of his activities around the place should be carried out for the purpose of making that inventory as valuable as possible. Activities and investments that don't contribute to this end should be abandoned, and replaced with investments and activities that do.
He should also know as much about that inventory of cattle as he possibly can. This means record keeping and the compiling of information on each individual cow-factory. He should know each breeding season how long it took to get each cow bred and settled, and he should know exactly, from the standpoint of weight and quality what each cow produced and what it brought when sold. Those cows should be culled on the basis of their production, what it weighed at weaning and how much it brought per pound when marketed.
If he doesn't know this about his cows, each cow in the herd, whether it be 50 or 500 or 5,000, he'll be feeding, caring for and spending money on cows that aren't earning their keep, cows that are actually costing him money.
Most cattlemen will tell you they don't have time to keep up with all that.
I'll tell you they don't have anything to do that is more important.
Breeding dates should be adhered to and be no longer than 60 days for fall calves and 60 days for spring calves. Bulls should be picked up after the 60 day season and allowed to rest and recuperate for the next one. Any cows not breeding in two breeding seasons should be shipped. Any cow can miss one breeding, but if in her life, she misses again, she should be shipped.
Cattle work should be scheduled to be of maximum benefit to the cattle, and once scheduled, should be the number one priority of everyone on the ranch. Calves should be vaccinated, dehorned and the males castrated as soon as the last calf of the season hits the ground. This holds down trauma in the cattle and is easier and less expensive to accomplish.
Calves should be pre-weaned. Four to six weeks prior to weaning, they should be gathered and vaccinated for the shipping fever complex, a second Blackleg, Pasturella and anything your local vet suggests beside that. This holds down weaning trauma.
Nothing should take precedence over getting these things done on time.
And at all times, a rancher should be conscious of what his cows and his calves are worth on the market. He should know on any given day what his investment in cattle is worth on the market. If nothing else, this keeps him in touch with reality about where he is and where he is going.
He should also know just how he is going to market anything he has for sale over the next 12 months, the procedures he will follow in selling, and about how many dollars he realistically expects those cattle will bring him.
His inventory is his money. It is what will finance his future. He should stay conscious of it, stay in control of it, and see that it is as valuable as he can possibly make it.