A rancher’s time warp: the insanity can’t continue, right?

Troy Marshall

September 29, 2016

5 Min Read
A rancher’s time warp: the insanity can’t continue, right?

Last April, a rancher friend packed his horses and went to the high country. The grass was turning green, markets were near all-time highs and all looked to be in pretty good hands. No cell phone, no TV; just cows, grass and horses for the next 5½ months.

It wasn’t the first time he has taken an extended break from civilization, but this go-round he is having a hard time coping with all the changes that confronted him when he returned. He said it feels like he was caught in a rancher’s time warp and is considering trying to winter at the line camp cabin and just eliminate his contact with the outer world altogether.

Corn was lower, but when he headed to the mountain there were planting concerns and talk about shifting acreage from corn to beans. Upon his return, he is staring at an all-time record crop and lower grain prices than he can remember.

That wasn’t bad news; cheap corn makes for high cattle or so the saying goes. Those calves he took to the mountain ought to be worth a pretty penny now. After all, when he took them to grass he was anticipating a crisp $50 bill in profit for each calf, but somehow the market turned considerably lower and that profit has turned into losses. 

Had demand plummeted while he was gone? The experts reassured him that wasn’t the case; in fact, demand is quite good. Well, had we become uncurrent on the feedyard sided of things, had a global economic disruption occurred, or did we pull cattle ahead or discovered a bunch of new cattle? Again he was reassured that none of that had happened and all was well.

He has been trying to get an answer to why his equity had turned into a liability, but all he can get is a shrug and a smile. He heard some talk about the futures market and changing rules of the game, but nobody seems to really be able to explain what is happening.

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Then there’s the election. He thought he was dreaming before he left, but figured the voters would work something else out, only to discover this really was the choice he was going to have to make. A friend made him a cheat sheet, since the Republican candidate is now against trade and the Iraq war while the Democrat is in favor. Neither candidate even mentions the deficit or talks about financial responsibility.

He got back in time to listen to the debate, but is struggling with the fact that both candidates’ primary strategy is to push the unworthiness of the other. Actual policy discussions are considered to be relics of the past and totally irrelevant.

Instead of talking about the economy, they were talking about emails, personal tax returns, foundations, racism, stamina and beauty contestants. Instead of talking about solving our problems and moving forward, he was told that this was the most divided electorate of all time, and that everyone is expected to vote based not on the issues but rather on the basis of race, gender or economic status. Unless, that is, your one issue is important enough to override the grouping you have been assigned to.

He left thinking this was an election about change, and returned to find out the change is whether to return to the failed policies of the last 30 years or the failed policies of 50 years go.

I could kind of sympathize with him, as he related his complete dismay at the world he had returned too. In exasperation, he told me that he was just going to watch some football. At least that still makes sense, but he had to ask me if there was anything he needed to know there.

I told him the good news was that both the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots were undefeated, but that both are starting quarterbacks who began the year third on the depth chart.

He paused contemplating that, then asked if there was anything else. I told him that Oklahoma, Notre Dame and USC were no longer ranked, but it looked like Louisville and the University of Houston would make the playoffs. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have added that if he saw people kneeling during the anthem it’s because they don’t believe in a country that is so inherently flawed.

He didn’t say anything. He just threw his leg over his horse and headed back toward the mountain. But before he got too far, he reined up and said to send him word if it was safe to come back down next fall. All I could say was “goodbye, old friend” as he rode off into the sunset. 

I have a feeling I will see him next fall. After all, this insanity can’t continue. Can it?

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