I spent last week talking to a number of folks battling the blizzards in Wyoming and the Dakotas. There are times when this business can be brutally tough. And while it may seem heroic in the novels, working with Mother Nature can sometimes be more of a war than collaboration.
Most of the time, better management or marketing can mitigate the challenges that Mother Nature presents. Even when drought is the challenge, a producer generally has a little time with which to plan and adjust management to lessen the impact.
But a winter blizzard is a whole different game. You can spend time preparing for it, but, ultimately, you usually find yourself reacting more than managing. It becomes a matter of just “keeping on” as long as you can with the goal of keeping everything you can alive and fed.
As this is being written, our little part of the world is expecting a shot of spring “winter.” The prospect of 12 in. or more of snow and 30+ mph winds has us busy moving everything close to windbreaks, getting out bedding for the younger calves, laying in diesel fuel and the like. It would hardly surprise us if the big storm fails to materialize, but we can’t risk it. The good thing about spring storms is they’re usually short-lived.
I suppose a blizzard is a pretty good analogy for what the overall economy is experiencing. Because cattlemen are often forced to deal with unexpected scenarios not of our own making, perhaps we don’t completely share the hysteria of the current storm in the financial markets.
When tough times come to cattlemen, we just deal with it. Assigning blame may be human nature, but it’s largely irrelevant. Sure, it would have been nice if the weatherman had predicted it, but when the prospect of 2 in. of scattered snow flurries becomes 2 ft. of snow with 50-mph gusts, everything else is secondary to feeding the cows and keeping calves alive.
It isn't fair; it never is. But when revenue is decreased and inputs are rising, you don't go out and mortgage your future to make it work out in the short term. You reduce costs and increase sales.
Of course, my heart does go out to a young family, highly leveraged with no extra feed, and little margin for error. Some of those cows will likely be going to town this spring. Five years of work may vanish, but starting over isn't so bad. It’s the cycle of life, and nature at both its finest and cruelest.
Whether it’s cleaning your sidewalk or cutting a path to get feed to the cows, the best solution is to grab a shovel or start the loader rather than waiting for the government to step in. The odds are the snow will have long melted before the government gets there anyway. And that’s probably just as well because I doubt that we could afford the bill.
-- Troy Marshall