Since August 2011, I’ve written 41 articles for BEEF magazine. In spite of each article being different, there has been repetition of key ideas and principles. Readers who have followed my writing have been exposed to nearly all of my management philosophy.
So, there will continue to be repetition – hopefully couched in a different setting – to take on new or more meaning for readers.
To start 2015, I want to reflect on some of my writings and present eight thoughts I think can help us become better managers:
1. People first. Even the smallest farm or ranch operates with a team of people. This could include family members, employees, or the people with whom we do business. Neighbors can also be helpful. Cultivate and develop relationships with all of these people. Instill an attitude of lifelong learning in yourself and team members.
With an understanding of who your team includes, rely on team members to come up with a mission statement and then work at developing a shared vision that can be embraced by all team members. A shared vision is foundational to creating an environment in which people want to excel.
2. Place strategy before tactics. Spend at least a few hours every month working on the strategic issues of your business. Get yourself and team members away from the tactics and day-to-day operations of your business and ask the pertinent questions. The first is “what” and move to “how.” Here are some examples:
- Why are we in this business?
- Have we chosen the best set of enterprises?
- Are we sized correctly?
- Are people deployed correctly – working to capitalize on their strengths?
- Have we cut overheads as much as possible?
- What is our strategy for improving soil on farmland – on pasture land?
- What should our grazing practices look like?
- What is our breeding program? How do we improve our livestock?
- Are we marketing correctly?
- Is our debt structure appropriate?
- What do we do with profits?
3. Think soil before plants and animals. As we manage the interconnectedness of the plants and animals on our land, we should always ask, “How is the soil going to react to what we are doing with the plants and the animals? If we are building soil and soil health, plant and animals will respond with greater productivity and better health.
4. It is a waste of precious time to keep individual cow and calf records in a commercial herd. (Please note this does not apply to seedstock producers.) There are many who want to argue with me. My response is that, over time, your cow herd will never be much better or worse than the bulls you select.
However, you can make your herd much more efficient, productive and functional by culling the right cows, and none of that culling takes handwritten or computer kept records. For cash flow, time and labor savings, productivity and profitability, consider culling the following cows:
- Open cows. This requires no paper – just a sort gate at the exit of the pregnancy checking chute.
- Dry cows. Again no paper records required – simply sort them off after calving and again at weaning time.
- Cows that require individual attention. You’ve already got them caught. While you’re attending to them, either get them sorted and/or marked.
- Wild cows. Sort and mark them when you see them.
- Cows with a poor calf. You don’t need a scale or records; you can see poor calves. You won’t be 100% accurate, but you will be accurate enough. You’ll get the bad ones. Besides, you can only sort a few more after culling those above. When you wean, separate the poor calves from the others, hold them overnight and put them back with the cows the next morning. As they mother up, pair them off and mark the cow.
- I do recommend an ID tag for each cow for a number of conveniences. You can mark sale cows by using a notching tool to make an inverted V in the bottom or side of the tag. This enables you to leave the cow in the herd and find her when a good marketing opportunity presents itself.
5. Keep the heifer breeding season to 30 days or less. It is proven that heifers that breed early as yearlings stay in the herd longer. Also, calves born early in the calving season are more likely to breed early as heifers. We can argue the amount of genetic influence this may have, but this simple management practice will make more money than any amount of genetic selection for cows in the commercial herd.
6. Carefully select seedstock producers. If you select one whose objectives are similar to yours and whom you can trust to understand your objectives and provide bulls to meet those objectives, you can probably also trust him to select better bulls for you than you can select for yourself. Make sure that he helps you maintain a reasonable level of heterosis in your herd.
7. Select bulls whose daughters will fit your environment. Such females will be more likely to have long, productive lives with small amounts of hay feeding and supplementation. Remember, the environment has two parts – the natural environment and what you, the owner/manager, adds to it. I suggest that it will usually be more profitable if you only add enough to the natural environment to remove the rough edges – the very coldest, hottest, driest, deepest snow, etc.
The cow should do most of the work in the natural environment where she lives with some, but very little, help from us. When selecting bulls for your herd, make sure that closely related females have the characteristics that will enable those bulls’ daughters to thrive in your environment.
8. Select calm, fertile cows. For commercial producers, nothing is more important than a docile, fertile cow that weans an acceptable calf every year with no individual handling. She will do that primarily with what Mother Nature provides – very little feeding or supplementation.
Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. He resides in Orem, UT, and can be reached at [email protected].
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