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Cattle Market Wrap-up | Cull cow prices perk up

Cattle Market Wrap Up with Ed Czerwien

Feeder cattle receipts at the test auctions were 32,800 head, 2,000 lower than last week. However, it was 7,000 higher than last year which has been the case lately. That’s because of much better wheat pasture conditions this year which have been holding a lot more cattle. Prices were either side of steady but lighter-weight yearlings were steady to $2 per cwt higher.

Slaughter cow numbers at the test auctions increased a little on the heels of higher prices. The slaughter cow prices were steady to $4 per cwt higher with much more active bidding after the packing plants plowed through big numbers of cows from the flooded areas. Cow meat prices started to improve after being steady during the big numbers from the flooded areas and are starting to get close to last year now.


Choosing a stock trailer for hauling pairs to pasture

livestock trailer purchase

 By Bruce Derksen

With spring’s arrival and summer grazing season approaching, it might be time to replace grandpa’s old stock trailer with a new or second-hand trailer to haul your cow-calf pairs to pasture. Or maybe you’re just getting into the cattle business and need a trailer.

But like a B grade horror movie, you imagine 300 trailers spread over a 15-acre lot with salespeople focusing in on you from every direction before you even put your truck in park.

Before you find yourself in this predicament, come up with a plan and decide on a few things.  What kind of budget do you have and what are you going to be using the trailer for? Your purchase will vary greatly depending on whether your answer is hauling cows and calves, show horses, grass cattle, pasture bulls, hogs, sheep, feed or equipment. Will you make long cross-country hauls or just occasional quick jaunts to the local veterinarian?

If you need to match the trailer with a new truck, the choices become easier as you can upgrade to a larger or more suitable sized bumper hitch or gooseneck trailer in either steel or aluminum. But if your purchase needs to fit your pre-existing truck, make sure that it can be used properly and safely. 

Calculate the combined trailer and cargo weight and ensure it will not exceed what your vehicle can handle. And don’t forget the cost of registration, insurance and warranty, as it all adds up.

Both steel and aluminum trailers have pros and cons. The cost of aluminum will likely hit your pocketbook harder on purchase day, but it will pull easier and give more worry-free longevity by standing up to the elements better. 

Depending on your area of the country, you will want to choose either solid walls and roof if used in colder climates or slatted walls and a possible bow-top tarped roof for hotter and more humid areas.

For new trailers, there are still many available options to choose from such as steel or aluminum body, matting, and wood or rubber plank flooring. Measure for desired roof height and account for door positioning, available safety latches and locks when making decisions. If new to owning a trailer and unsure of what you require, buying locally can be a reasonable way to find out from dealers what works well for other producers in the area.

If you decide to purchase a used or second-hand trailer, more work and diligence is ahead. Each year, many stock trailers are stolen throughout the country and if you make the mistake of buying one, you will potentially be out both the money paid and the trailer when it is returned to the rightful owner. Don’t skip over the step of checking the serial number and chain of ownership as it can save a lot of heartache and money in the long run.

Having a thorough check done on any used trailer is a must. If you are not comfortable with all the potential suspect areas of a trailer, arrange to have it checked by a trained professional. It is much better to be safe than sorry. 

If you have enough experience and knowledge to make the inspection yourself, don’t leave any stone unturned or panel unchecked. Over time, rust and corrosion on a steel trailer will damage welds, joints and supports, leaving it vulnerable.

Check specifically where walls and floors meet, probing any visible rust spots with a screw-driver or knife to discern the extent of problems. Make sure gates and latches are in good operating condition and look for bent or replaced metal signifying potential chronic troubles. 

Assess the tires including the spare with rim and attempt to find out when the bearings and brakes were last serviced. And don’t forget the underside. Pull on some coveralls and crawl underneath, looking for corrosion and cracks on floor crossbeams and supports. Check shackles, bolts, springs and axles plus inspect the wiring looking for loose or exposed electrical wires and harness.

If you’re still interested in the trailer after your thorough check, arrange for a test drive with your own truck. Listen for any odd or unusual noises, taking note of braking pressure required and straight-line towing. Make sure all the lights function properly and be aware of excessive bouncing and swaying.

When searching for that “just right” trailer, do so with purpose and the right state of mind, confident in the fact that you know what you want. Don’t allow yourself to be side-tracked into a conversation about rainfall amounts or the basketball game when you should be crawling underneath looking for signs of corrosion and rust. 

A checklist can be a very helpful so that nothing is overlooked or forgotten. With a well-defined goal in mind, you will be able to face those salespeople or your neighbor selling his used trailer with the proper mindset, knowing that with your knowledge and preparation, you will make a sound decision for your operation.


Derksen is a freelance writer and feedyard pen checker from Lacombe, Alberta.

Trends in feeder cattle marketing vs. fed cattle slaughter weights


David Lalman, Oklahoma State University beef cattle specialist, recently authored an important article in the Angus Journal that looks at trends in weaning weights in the U.S.  (Weaning Weight Trends in the U.S. Beef Cattle Industry).  Lalman notes, “…that trends for WW [weaning weights] in commercial cow-calf operations vary substantially by region of the country. However, there is considerable evidence that progress in WW may be limited by the production environment in commercial cow-calf operations. “

The article particularly caught my attention because it included analysis from the Kansas Farm Management Association (KFMA) – a resource that’s been regularly cited in this column. Most recently, based on historical review of KFMA data, Industry At A Glance noted:

  • Cowherds are getting bigger
  • The marketing rate hasn’t budged
  • Weaning (marketing) weights have plateaued

(Cowherds Keep Getting Bigger)

In reference to the last point and Lalman’s analysis, this week’s illustration highlights KFMA marketing weight versus USDA slaughter weight trends. Over time, weaning /marketing weights have stayed constant, while slaughter weights have surged higher. Lalman’s analysis is right on target.


That is, progress in weaning weights may be limited by production environments and/or marketing strategies in most cow-calf operations. Stated another way, many cow-calf operators haven’t fully realized the benefit of selecting for more growth at weaning. 

To that end, Lalman cogently summarizes the phenomenon this way:

“Perhaps one of the most important takeaways from this study is that commercial cow-calf producers need to keep good records in order to monitor progress in WW and enterprise cost of production over time. Assuming a lack of significant progress in calf WW, efforts to enhance profitability should focus on reducing cost of production and/or capturing value of genetic potential for post-weaning performance and carcass value.”

(The full report can be found in the Journal of Applied Animal Science)

Based on these long-run trends and Lalman’s analysis, how can your operation gain some ground in terms of profitability – either on the cost side or doing a better job of capturing the genetic potential of your calf crop?

Newly-released 2017 Census of Agriculture shows the changing face of farms and ranches

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U.S. agriculture is changing, and the Census of Agriculture has been the benchmark against which the changing demographics of agriculture are measured. Knowing how and why those changes are occurring helps all of agriculture, including USDA, adapt.

“As a data-driven organization, we are eager to dig in to this wealth of information to advance our goals of supporting farmers and ranchers, facilitating rural prosperity, and strengthening stewardship of private lands efficiently, effectively, and with integrity,” said Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue in announcing the release of the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

USDA has released the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, spanning some 6.4 million new points of information about America’s farms and ranches and those who operate them. The census includes new data about on-farm decision making, down to the county level.

READ: Of cattle, people and why we're in this crazy business

Information collected by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) directly from farmers and ranchers tells us both farm numbers and land in farms have ongoing small percentage declines since the last census in 2012. At the same time, there continue to be more of the largest and smallest operations and fewer middle-sized farms. The average age of all farmers and ranchers continues to rise.

“The Census shows new data that can be compared to previous censuses for insights into agricultural trends and changes down to the county level,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “While the current picture shows a consistent trend in the structure of U.S. agriculture, there are some ups and downs since the last Census as well as first-time data on topics such as military status and on-farm decision-making.”

Census data provide valuable insights into demographics, economics, land and activities on U.S. farms and ranches. Some key highlights include:

  • There are 2.04 million farms and ranches (down 3.2% from 2012) with an average size of 441 acres (up 1.6%) on 900 million acres (down 1.6%).
  • The 273,000 smallest (1-9 acres) farms make up 0.1% of all farmland while the 85,127 largest (2,000 or more acres) farms make up 58% of farmland.
  • Just 105,453 farms produced 75% of all sales in 2017, down from 119,908 in 2012.
  • Of the 2.04 million farms and ranches, the 76,865 making $1 million or more in 2017 represent just over 2/3 of the $389 billion in total value of production while the 1.56 million operations making under $50,000 represent just 2.9%.
  • Farm expenses are $326 billion with feed, livestock purchased, hired labor, fertilizer and cash rents topping the list of farm expenses in 2017.
  • Average farm income is $43,053. A total of 43.6% of farms had positive net cash farm income in 2017.
  • 96% of farms and ranches are family owned.
  • Farms with internet access rose from 69.6% in 2012 to 75.4% in 2017.
  • A total of 133,176 farms and ranches use renewable energy producing systems, more than double the 57,299 in 2012.
  • In 2017, 130,056 farms sold directly to consumers, with sales of $2.8 billion.
  • Sales to retail outlets, institutions and food hubs by 28,958 operations are valued at $9 billion.

For the 2017 Census of Agriculture, NASS changed the demographic questions to better represent the roles of all persons involved in on-farm decision making. As a result, in 2017 the number of producers is up by nearly 7% to 3.4 million, because more farms reported multiple producers.

RELATED: Photographers capture the lives of ranch-raised kids

Most of these newly identified producers are female. While the number of male producers fell 1.7% to 2.17 million from 2012 to 2017, the number of female producers increased by nearly 27% to 1.23 million. This change underscores the effectiveness of the questionnaire changes.

Other demographic highlights include:

  • The average age of all producers is 57.5, up 1.2 years from 2012.
  • The number of producers who have served in the military is 370,619, or 11% of all. They are older than the average at 67.9.
  • There are 321,261 young producers age 35 or less on 240,141 farms. Farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.
  • More than any other age group, young producers make decisions regarding livestock, though the difference is slight.
  • One in four producers is a beginning farmer with 10 or fewer years of experience and an average age of 46.3. Farms with new or beginning producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.
  • 36% of all producers are female and 56% of all farms have at least one female decision-maker. Farms with female producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.
  • Female producers are most heavily engaged in the day-to-day decisions along with record keeping and financial management.

READ: It's time for the beef business to invest in social capital

Results are available in many online formats including video presentations, a new data query interface, maps, and traditional data tables. To address questions about the 2017 Census of Agriculture data, NASS will host a live Twitter chat (@usda_nass) Ask the Census Experts #StatChat on Friday, April 12 at 1 p.m. ET. All information is available at

The Census tells the story of American agriculture and is an important part of our history. First conducted in 1840 in conjunction with the decennial census, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them.

After 1920, the Census happened every four to five years. By 1982, it was regularly conducted once every five years. Today, NASS sends questionnaires to nearly 3 million potential U.S. farms and ranches. Nearly 25% of those who responded did so online. Conducted since 1997 by USDA NASS – the federal statistical agency responsible for producing official data about U.S. agriculture – it remains the only source of comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation and is invaluable for planning the future.

Tom Drake, Oklahoma Angus breeder, passes

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Well-known Angus breeder Tom Lee Drake died Friday, April 5, 2019 at his home in Davis, surrounded by his family. Services were held April 11, 2019 at the First Baptist Church of Davis with Reverend Chuck Nordean officiating. 

The cattle business was truly his life. He and his brother Bob founded Drake Farms in 1966. He served on boards at the county, state and national level. He was a charter member of the National Cattleman’s Association in 1977, as well as on the Board of Directors from 1986-1990. 

Tom was born June 12, 1941, in Oklahoma City, Okla., to the late W.H. & Clifford (Walkup) Drake. While in High School, Tom met Judi Morton of Sulphur.  After dating for five years, he and Judi married on July 14, 1962 and were married for over 55 years. She preceded him in death on October 13, 2017.

Tom grew up in Davis, graduating from Davis High School in 1959. He attended the University of Oklahoma and was a member of Sigma Nu.

He was a proud member of the Davis community his entire life. He served the city as mayor from 1966-1968 and was a past member of the Davis Volunteer Fire Department. He won a Perfect Attendance award for attending the DHS Alumni Banquet 50 consecutive years and was inducted into the Davis Alumni Hall of Fame in 1999.  Tom was the Founder of the infamous Davis Alumni Golf Tournament, raising money for the school. He loved not only his school and city, but his county as well, serving on the Murray County Emergency Medical Services Board.

Tom served as president of the Oklahoma Angus Association three times, 1983, 1994 and 1995. He was awarded the Mr. Angus Award in 1988 and was inducted into the Oklahoma Angus Hall of Fame 2000-2001.Through the American Angus Association, Tom was awarded the Historic Angus Herd Award in 1983. He served the association as director from 1989-1995 and served as American Angus President in 1991. Tom was also awarded the Oklahoma State University Animal Science Master Breeder Award in 1988.

Near the end of his cattleman’s career, he served on the Oklahoma State Board of Agriculture 2000-2005. When Drake Farms sold in 2002, Tom continued to consult with angus cattle herds throughout the country. 

Tom loved golf and spent many an afternoon and weekend on the course with his buddies.  And while he loved the cattle business and golf, his greatest joy came from his family. He loved getting to know his girls in their adulthood and loving their families.

Survivors include his three loving daughters, Stacey (Drake) Harness & husband Ricky of Poquoson, VA, Paige (Drake) Magee & husband Shawn of Norman, OK and Ashley (Drake) Wiley & husband Guy of Fernandina Beach, FL; nine grandchildren, Delaney Harness, Drake Harness & wife Katelynn, Duncan Harness, Tyler Magee & wife Katie, Trace Magee & Trevor Magee and Sara Wiley, Kate Wiley & Matthew Wiley; one great-grandson, Wilder Harness; brother, Bob Drake of Davis; bonus daughter, Kelly Owens; two brothers-in-law, Ed Morton and Tom Morton; as well as nieces and nephews, Joe Tom Drake & wife Nancy, Whitney Drake, Faith (Morton) Westervelt & husband Jimmy and Leslie (Morton) Schlarb & husband John.                         

In lieu of flowers, the family request that memorials be made to Cross Timbers Hospice of Davis or the First United Methodist Church of Davis Building Fund.

Online condolences may be offered at


MORNING Midwest Digest, April 11, 2019

The second bomb cyclone in a month has hit the Midwest. 

World Pork Expo has decided to cancel the annual show to help keep African Swine Fever out of the U.S.

The NTSB has issued a final review of a plane crash in Iowa.

A Michigan woman went to a casino, leaving her three dogs in the car. Two died.

Box turtle experts say male turtles will travel 6 miles looking for a turtle partner. They often get hit on the road.


Photo:  bearsky23/Getty Images

Farm Progress America, April 11, 2019

Max Armstrong shares that he will be traveling with a team to put together a special for RFD-TV on the destruction created by the floods. Max talks about the sand and sediment left behind by floodwaters and that requires more work for farmers. While it isn’t always a bad thing, there’s still work that needs to be done.

Farm Progress America is a daily look at key issues in agriculture. It is produced and presented by Max Armstrong, veteran farm broadcaster and host of This Week in Agribusiness.

Photo: Tyler Harris, Nebraska Farmer

MIDDAY Midwest Digest, April 10, 2019

Who'd have thought there'd be a second "bomb cyclone" in a months time?

You can't drive too far across the Midwest without seeing a wind farm. A new report says they're paying off.

The Wisconsin Senate voted to no longer use the term mental retardation in Wisconsin for all state regulations.

A truck carrying 41,000 pounds of meat caught fire in Wisconsin.


Photo: Greenseas/Getty Images

Have you figured your winter feeding costs yet? Here’s one example

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by Chris Prevatt 

As margins get tighter for cow-calf producers, managing costs will become even more important. And that puts the winter feed bill squarely in the crosshairs.

Here’s a look at one Florida operation’s winter feed costs. These are real numbers and, of course, each ranch is different and different parts of the country have their own challenges. But while the memories of the 2018-2019 winter feeding season are still fresh in your mind, let’s review winter feeding costs for beef cows.

Last fall, a beef producer contacted me after purchasing a truckload of bahiagrass hay to feed his spring-calving cow herd for the winter. The truck was weighed loaded and again after unloading to determine that the average weight of the hay was 894 pounds per round bale.

READ: Winter feed: Do you have enough?

The bahiagrass hay was then sampled and tested to determine the nutritional value. The values were 84% dry matter (DM), 51% total digestible nutrients (TDN), and 8% crude protein (CP). Therefore, the producer purchased bales of bahiagrass hay that averaged 751 DM pounds per bale. 

Unfortunately, the energy value of the bahiagrass hay was not adequate to meet the nutritional needs of his spring calving herd. Thus, he also needed to provide some supplement to his cowherd.

In this example, he fed whole cottonseed on the ground as his supplemental bulk feedstuff. The nutritional values of the whole cottonseed tested at 92% DM, 90% TDN, and 23% CP.

Table 1 identifies the bahiagrass hay and whole cottonseed costs and waste estimates. The purchase price for bahiagrass hay was $42 per bale delivered or $94 per ton, while the whole cottonseed was purchased at $160 per ton delivered on a bulk feed truck.


An adjustment was then made to determine the feed cost per dry matter ton. The total cost of feedstuffs includes the purchase price, transportation cost, storage cost and feeding costs.

In this example, both of the feedstuffs were stored in a commodity barn to reduce storage and feed waste. Table 1 shows that bahiagrass hay costs $149 per DM ton, or 8 cents per DM pound, and whole cottonseed costs $222 per DM ton, or 11 cents per DM pound, after adjusting for waste.

Photo Gallery: Scenes from spring calving

Now let’s evaluate the costs of this producer’s winter feeding program for his spring calving beef cows. The winter-feeding period was from November 15 to March 15 (120 days). His 1,200-pound spring calving cows (gestating beef cows in their last 1/3 of pregnancy) required a dry matter intake of approximately 24 pounds per day (2.0% of her body weight), 54% total digestible nutrients and 8% crude protein.

Therefore, 19.2 pounds per head per day of bahiagrass hay and 3.6 pounds per head per day of whole cottonseed were fed to meet their nutritional needs. Table 2 shows the costs per beef cow per day, dollars per beef cow over 120 days, and the total cost for our 100-head cowherd.


The estimated cost per head per day was $1.83 per beef cow, or $183 to feed 100 beef cows each day. Over the 120-day winter feeding period, feed costs totaled $220 per beef cow and $21,972 for the entire 100-head cowherd.

Take home message

Feeding those girls was expensive! It’s important to give this example some thought prior to making a plan for your 2019-2020 winter feeding season.

The costs incurred for winter feeding beef cows in this example were large and real. Producers should evaluate alternatives and make adjustments to supplement their beef cows, while meeting their nutritional needs for the least cost possible. 

RELATED: El Nino intensifies. What's that mean for spring weather?

The following are some examples of ways this producer might have reduced his costs, compared to the system he chose. He could have:

  • Grazed stockpiled forages with supplements for the first 60 days of the feeding period
  • Grazed cool-season annual forages for the second 60 days of the feeding period
  • Used feeding troughs to reduce supplement waste by 5-10%
  • Purchased higher quality hay (Bermuda or ryegrass), if available at a comparable price, to reduce supplement costs. He could have spent an additional $10 per bale, if the TDN was at least 55%.
  • Compared other bulk feed options to reduce supplement costs. But, supplement prices vary from year to year, so you have to do your homework.

Winter feeding is one of the largest expenses for cow-calf operations, not just in the Southeast but throughout cattle country. There are a lot of options worth considering, so this is not a decision that should be made at the last minute.

I encourage you to work closely with your county Extension agent, successful producers in your area, and with industry representatives to develop the most efficient plan to manage winter the feed costs for your cowherd.  


Prevatt is a livestock economist with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Volatility aside, March turned in solid fed cattle trade

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With April in front of us, there still is some hope for a stab at a new spring high in the fed cattle market. But don’t hold your breath.  

That’s especially true given that the month opened on a softer note – down $1 per cwt from the previous week, and that drop followed a $2-3 slide the week before that. Despite that, March proved to be a fairly solid month for fed trade.  

Steers and heifers traded mostly $127-128 per cwt during the first three weeks of March. Then cattle feeders garnered another $1-$2 to jump the market up to $129. That all came as the Choice cutout began to push up against $229. 

RELATED: El Nino intensifies. What's that mean for spring weather?

But then came USDA’s Cattle on Feed report.  

Traders interpreted the report as mostly bearish. With that occurrence, cattle feeders were aggressive sellers the last full week of March. Accordingly, fed prices retreated $2-$3 to close out the month at mostly $126. 

That move violated the upward channel that’s been in place since last September. And as noted above, April’s first week followed through by retreating another $1. Therefore, spring highs look to be in for 2019.    

That’s disappointing for some observers and analysts, who have been grumbling that the fed trade languished during the first quarter. Most notably, they point to weather and concerns about China’s problems with African swine fever – those factors should have been more supportive for the cattle market.

In other words, they contend this year’s market should have eclipsed last year’s $130 mark. Let’s look deeper at those concerns.  

All-in, the fed market averaged $128 during March. So, while fed prices didn’t reach last year’s $130, that $128 average is $2.50 better than last year’s March average – and on bigger kills (Figure 1).


More important, fed prices are nearly equal year over year through the first quarter – despite weekly beef production running just slightly ahead of last year’s pace. Lastly, April’s open at $125 is $8-$9 better versus last year.

The market’s year-over-year performance is even more significant when considering feedlot inventories. Feedyards have consistently owned more market-ready cattle compared to 2018.

The January through March average inventory of cattle on feed for 120-plus days is 435,000 head bigger compared to last year – and nearly 550,000 head bigger than the five-year average (Figure 2). In other words, the feeding sector held steady money together in the face of bigger front-end supply.  


To that end, showlists will continue to be sizeable in the weeks and months to come. There are a lot of cattle to work through on the front end, plus we’re entering normal seasonal increases for beef production. 

Last year’s slaughter pace was hectic. Moreover, weekly kills stayed at peak levels for an extended period of time (Figure 3). It’s likely we’ll witness a similar pattern this year, especially considering February placements far exceeded expectations.   


On a more favorable note, beef demand should prove solid. The economy continues to hum along in positive fashion, helping to underpin consumer sentiment. The Wall Street Journal explained March’s reading like this:

“American households felt better in March about the current state of the economy and their earnings prospects, particularly lower-income households. The University of Michigan said Friday [March 26] its index of U.S. consumer sentiment was 98.4 in March, up from 93.8 in February. That was above the 97.8 that economists had expected and the preliminary reading reported earlier in the month.”

Meanwhile, the March jobs report reinforced that sentiment.  All that should prove supportive for beef expenditures, and subsequently the beef cutout, going forward. 

RELATED: Impact of beef imports on total beef supply

Shifting gears, this week’s Industry At A Glance features a recent column by David Lalman, beef cattle specialist at Oklahoma State University. Lalman’s work highlights, “…that trends for [weaning weight] WW in commercial cow-calf operations vary substantially by region of the country. However, there is considerable evidence that progress in WW may be limited by the production environment in commercial cow-calf operations.”  

At the same time, this week’s column also notes that slaughter weights have substantially increased over the past 20 years. Lalman emphasizes that, “…efforts to enhance profitability should focus on reducing costs of production and/or capturing value of genetic potential for post-weaning performance and carcass value.”  

In other words, working on maintaining cow costs is highly important. As noted last December in Industry At A Glance:  “… the difference in cow costs over the years accounts for nearly 60% of the difference in return to management. The take-home message being, if you’re struggling with profitability, the place to start is on the cost side.” 

Simultaneously, exploring new options to take advantage of better genetics post weaning is also recommended (i.e. retained ownership beyond weaning).     

To close, Carl Richards (Behavior Gap™) has a simple drawing with “data & evidence” on the x axis and “chance you’re making a good decision” on the y axis. The line in the graph goes up and to the right; they’re positively related.  

This column always encourages beef producers to invest time AND resources into obtaining objective information and reviewing that information carefully. Doing so ensures, “you’re making good decisions.”