There’s always something more to do.
After the holidays, things will slow down. Nah, maybe after calving, branding and breeding.
But then, summer comes and there’s all that hay to make when the sun is shining, fences to build and cedars to eliminate (or insert your own region-specific fair-weather task).
It can be easy to review the mental project list and get discouraged, to feel like you can barely keep up. The rat race is real, even on the ranch. Sometimes you have to take a wider view to see the progress you’ve made.
Signs of progress
That old shed wears new tin or your grazing system now allows for 20 percent more cows on the same ground. Beyond just your gate, there are many calling for change. This beef business needs to get more coordinated and better able to address consumer demands.
We need to use fewer resources and better document the many improvements we’ve made. I bet you’ve heard, “We need to tell our story,” a time a two. Yes, yes and yes.
Those are goals worthy of time and energy. But I’m not going to try to add more to your to-do list … at least not today.
Cattlemen and women everywhere have done good work. Darn good. Survey the past few decades and you’ll see.
You might even laugh to think of some of the challenges that used to be.
This summer, Robbi Pritchard, South Dakota State University animal scientist, told a meeting room full of cattle feeders that ranch-level improvements have made their jobs easier.
“Calving seasons are getting tighter. Calves are healthier,” he said. “We no longer need (backgrounding) time to get the skeleton to grow, we no longer need time for things to average out like we used to when management wasn’t nearly as good. Time solved a lot of problems with cows. With quality-managed cattle today, we don’t have to fiddle around with that time. We just have to be able to manage what we have to its best advantage.”
You’ve been listening and making decisions and improvements, and people are noticing. A quick look at quality grade trends shows the same sort of upward momentum.
In 2006, just 51 percent of the fed cattle graded Choice, and less than 2.5 percent Prime. Fast-forward a decade and 2016 totals will close somewhere around the 70 percent and 5.5 percent Prime mark.
Along with that, the value spread between yesterday’s level of beef quality and today’s keeps growing, paying you more premiums.
“Consumers have our attention,” Pritchard told the crowd. “We are doing things about quality assurance. We’re doing things about food safety. We’re doing things about animal care and well-being.”
We still need to address the question of the ideal carcass size and dozens of other challenges, but I’ll save them for another day. Today, I say, thank you for a job well done.
Next time in Black Ink, Steve Suther will preview his 36th calving season.