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5 ways a coach could improve your family ranch business

Amanda Radke Ranch Coach

My kids are the fourth generation of my family to live on our ranch. My grandparents still own and collect rent on the majority of the land, and my parents operate as the CEOs and decision makers. That leaves my husband and I to be the laborers and general managers.

For now, we’re not in the leadership position on the ranch, and that’s OK. We are grateful for the opportunity to be in the business and trade resources for our youthful energy and ability to work hard and long hours on the ranch. Down the road, we hope the transition will be seamless, but it certainly doesn’t come without its own set of challenges.

A journalist by trade, I’m probably the most inquisitive of the family members on the ranch. I’m accustomed to asking tough questions and finding answers to the who, what, where, when and whys of the stories I write. Yet, when I apply this strategy to determining a game plan for the future of the ranch, sometimes it doesn’t translate as well in more difficult discussions.

That’s where a coach could come in. A professional outside party could provide much-needed support in the family business. SKM Associates, an advisor to entrepreneurial companies, lists five benefits for relying on a coach to bring clarity to issues, unbiased advice and an outside perspective:

1. Unbiased input

According to SKM Associates, “A coach can act as the unbiased mediator between family members as well as offer unbiased reviews of business issues.”
2. Strategic insight  

“A coach can ask tough questions and be a sounding board for family members to test new ideas, particularly with respect to ownership planning, management planning, and family governance,” suggests SKM Associates.

3. Giving voice

“A coach can be a safe outlet for both family and non-family employees in the business to discuss concerns or perceived inequities,” says SKM Associates. “Additionally, the coach can help provide both employees and family members the tools to help foster communication, particularly communication about delicate or difficult to discuss issues.”

4. Succession planning

“Senior family members do not always want to recognize their ultimate departure from the business and do not always admit they will one day need to transition the leadership,” says SKM Associates. “A coach can provide support to foster the dialogue and develop a plan to pass the baton to the next generation.”

5. Asking the difficult questions

“A coach can also help family members identify and articulate hidden issues – usually underlying, perhaps unspoken, issues that are emotional in nature yet critical and fundamental for the family to navigate and openly discuss in order to nurture trust within the family,” says SKM Associates.

Consider adding a consultant to your team of professionals who help guide your ranch. Every operation needs a good banker, lawyer, nutritionist and veterinarian, and a professional coach might be the perfect addition to guiding your family’s ranch toward its short- and long-term goals.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.

11 ways to damage soil versus 11 ways to build it

Alan Newport pasture prescribed burn
Fire can be a useful management tool for weed and brush suppression, but it also has negative consequences.

The management practices which build soil up or tear it down are the same in crop ground as in pasture and there are actually lists for both.

Jay Fuhrer, NRCS soil health specialist in North Dakota, explains the things which improve soil are the things which protect and encourage soil life.

Soil microbiology is the root of soil life and it needs us to do four things:

  • Keep the soil cool.
  • Build up water infiltration and retention because soil life is subaquatic.
  • Help provide aerobic conditions through good soil structure.
  • Provide a flow of carbon-rich food through the roots of healthy, thriving plants.

In light of this thinking, Fuhrer has compared real-life, case studies with a chart from The Nature and Properties of Soils.

One of his examples is burning and haying a meadow. On the list of negatives, the fire dries the ground, frequently burning up litter and leaving the ground open to erosion, heat and rainfall runoff instead of infiltration. Then when the grass regrows, someone cuts it off as close to the ground as possible, bales it and carries it away. This again exposes the soil to the heat of the sun and removes most of the possible litter which helps protect the soil and feed soil organisms.

The long growth period of some hay fields can be a positive factor because it promotes deep root growth and a reasonably high root-to-shoot ratio. Yet other negatives put a drag on those positive factors.

If this were an introduced-grass pasture, it likely would get a dose of fertility from the local fertilizer dealer, and that is also listed in the negatives to soil life and soil building.

These things build soil

Conventional-tillage farming, of course, is about as bad as it gets because it subjects the soil to pretty much every ravage on

Conventional, set-stock grazing typically falls somewhere just between tillage farming and haying, if one considers all the factors on these two lists.

By contrast, what if a beef producer chooses to feed hay in the winter back onto the same ground from which it was harvested in the summer and to spread that feeding evenly across the pasture?

In another case study, Fuhrer says the return of the organic material, together with the biological activity and the fertility of urine and feces, began to increase soil life and therefore soil nutrients and overall soil health.

In four years, an 80-acre hay meadow improved from 155 bales in 2011 to producing 275 bales in 2014. That is a 71% increase in forage production.

Look at these lists and consider how you might improve soil health and productivity.

These 11 things damage soil

Will the long-predicted drop in cattle prices really happen?

Getty Images/Tim Boyle Consumer at beef case

This spring’s cattle markets, much to everyone’s happy surprise, have performed far differently than expected. There are a number of reasons for that, but clearly, consumer demand is a big-time factor in the happy circumstance beef producers now find themselves.

However, even though all the dollars that work themselves up and down the beef marketing chain come from a consumer deciding to buy beef, this discussion is not about consumer demand. Not completely, anyway.

Rather, let’s look at whether or not those of us who last fall predicted lower prices for all classes of cattle will someday be right. The answer is, unfortunately, probably so. The big question, then, is this: When is someday?

I’ve learned my lesson too many times to hazard a guess on that one. But logic and a peek at the numbers suggest that it will be yet this year. When and how much prices will drop depends on a lot of things, not the least of which is the strength of consumer demand.

According to Rabobank’s Beef Quarterly report for the first quarter of 2017, the price recovery in U.S. cattle markets may be short-lived. The price recovery, according to Rabobank economists, has been driven by tighter-than-expected fed cattle numbers, reduced carcass weights and solid beef demand, both domestically and in the many countries that import U.S. beef.

In fact, the beef business now enjoys a positive trade balance—the value of our beef exports is greater than that of our imports. That’s why President Trump’s saber-rattling about trade has so many in the business worried.

However, the law of supply and demand still looms. And even though consumer demand has been one of the pleasant surprises this spring, we’ve seen more feeder cattle placed in feedyards the past months. I don’t expect that trend to change, at least in the near future.

So we’ll have more beef to sell, even if carcass weights continue to moderate. That’s a big if.

Which brings us back to beef demand. Indeed, when and how much cattle prices decline later this year depends on the relative strength of beef demand, both here and abroad.

Rabobank’s report says domestic beef demand has been supported by growing consumer confidence and declining unemployment. “In addition to economic conditions, beef sales have been supported by exceptionally mild weather conditions over a big portion of the country. These have enabled, or encouraged, active grilling well ahead of the normal spring grilling season.”

Will that demand hold up in light of the higher fed cattle prices this spring and resulting higher wholesale prices? The economists with the Daily Livestock Report (DLR) say that retailers, likely anticipating lower prices, planned grocery store promotions and restaurant menu prices accordingly. They also booked a lot of product ahead of time, anticipating more volume as consumers took advantage of the lower retail prices.

They’re now finding themselves dealing with having to honor published retail prices that are lower than the wholesale price they have to pay to keep their shelves and kitchens supplied. And packers are scrambling to find enough fed cattle to fill all the orders that are now coming due.

“Tight spot supplies have forced users to bid up prices,” DLR economists say. “What market participants will debate in the coming weeks is how quickly the sharply higher prices ration out demand.”

A blog that started out to look mostly at the outlook for cattle prices, with only a mention of consumer demand, turned out to be a blog about consumer demand as it affects cattle prices.  Well, how about that?


Max will be back at his microphone tomorrow.

Citizens of Missouri are hoping that President Trump declares Missouri a disaster area because of flooding. The governor has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.

Escaped cop killer is in custody in Nebraska. Pottawattamie County sheriff deputies Pat Morgan and Mark Burbridge were taking prisoner back to jail when he escaped and shot them and took off in the police ban. Burbridge, 43, a 12-year veteran of the department, was killed.

It is being called the can scam. 70-year-old John Woodfill bought uncrushed cans in Indiana as scrap and returned them in Michigan to redeem deposits at 10 cents a can. He scammed $400,000 and was ordered to sell his $4,000 in Pepsi Co. stock to go toward restitution.

Wisconsin lawmakers have finally made it official: The state's dairy product is now cheese.


Max is wrapping things up in Washington DC where he was with the Association of Farm Broadcasters. The group met with Sonny Perdue.

Wesley Correa-Carmenaty was sentenced to 45 years in prison for the voluntary manslaughter for Anthony J. Walker. On the way back to the Pottawattamie County, Iowa, jail, he attacked deputies transporting him and killed Deputy Mark Burbridge. 

Some folks in Indiana have trouble following logic on this one. Jobs that were outsourced to India are being outsourced back to United States with the help of state incentives. Infosys plans to create 10,000 jobs in America over the next two years.

Generally, if there's picketing in Illinois, it's in Chicago. But there was picketing in Springfield. University of Illinois faculty are on strike. Issues are reappointment, tenure and promotions.

Wisconsin lawmakers have made it official, the state's dairy product is cheese. Dairy cow is official domestic animal and milk is official beverage.

Farm Progress America, May 3, 2017

Max Armstrong profiles Nancy Kirkholm, Homer, Neb., who farms with her son, after the loss of her husband. She wanted to keep the farm going, and was nominated for the America's Farmers Farm Mom of the Year by her son.

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.

4 tips for using probiotics effectively

cattle happily eating

Source: Lallemand Animal Nutrition


“In animals, there are many dynamic and robust bacterial communities that are essential for productivity and well-being. Influencing these communities in a positive way can result in better overall health and productivity,” says Angel Aguilar Ph.D., Dipl. ACAN, Technical Service Manager, Lallemand Animal Nutrition.  “Positive responses we’ve seen in research trials can even lead to reduced treatment costs. Yet, you can’t add just any probiotic to a ration and expect amazing results.”

There are thousands of yeast and bacteria strains, and each can have a different effect — or sometimes no effect at all. To get results, Aguilar suggests using four main criteria for selecting a probiotic:

  • Alive: Choose a probiotic containing live, or viable, bacteria or yeast.  These products have a minimum viability guarantee on the product label.
  • From a trusted manufacturer: Ensure production and handling preserves the probiotic activity throughout the entire production distribution process.
  • Specific: A probiotic should be specifically selected strains, and proven, for a production or a health outcome in livestock.
  • Feed daily: Include probiotics in livestock rations each day to maintain an effective level.

First, probiotics must be alive when consumed by the animal,  Aguilar says.

“It is well recognized that probiotic microorganisms must be alive, or viable, to have an effect on the microflora of the animal’s digestive system,” he says. “In fact, many governmental agencies will only authorize a claim on performance — such as improved milk production or feed efficiency — when the probiotic microorganism is viable.”

Next, the probiotic should be purchased from a reputable manufacturer. Harsh environments and poor handling can harm these beneficial organisms, he says. Each strain of yeast or bacteria has its own unique growing, handling and storage preferences.  Therefore, it is important for producers to ensure that their top performing probiotic is pure, consistently produced and packaged strategically to maximize product quality and performance all the way to the feed bunk.

Third, these products must be specifically selected for the intended outcome. Certain probiotics stimulate the animal’s bacterial population in a specific way. For example, one strain of probiotic may stimulate the immune function while another may improve feed efficiency. Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been used for centuries in baking, brewing, human and livestock nutrition, and even in biofuel production. There are thousands of species of S. cerevisiae and not all perform in the same way.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii CNCM I-1079, for example, has been proven to be more effective at positively impacting cattle and hog health status especially during times of stress,” Aguilar says. “Another strain of S. cerevisiae — CNCM I-1077 — has been proven to optimize rumen function by positively increasing rumen pH and fiber digestibility in cattle.”

Other bacterial probiotics have been shown to have specific effects in livestock. A certain strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus — strain BT-1386 — has been documented to reduce the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in feedlot cattle.

Finally, producers must add probiotics on a daily basis to maintain levels high enough to see benefits in the animal. Live probiotics generally do not reproduce or colonize in the animal’s digestive system, so daily consumption of a probiotic ensures the right amount of microorganisms are available to do the intended job.

“There are four keys to obtaining a positive result from probiotic use,” Aguilar says. “They are simple steps that may seem very intuitive but when applied to probiotics, they release the power within these little microorganisms to improve animal well-being and productivity.”


Simple tips to tackle more each day

Amanda Radke Time Management

Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day, but some people seem to have a strong grasp on how to work more efficiently to get things done. What’s the difference between those who tackle their to-do lists with time to spare and those who always seem to lag behind? Essentially, it comes down to time management, and in theory, if we get more done in a day, we’ll be more profitable, have more time to enjoy with our family and pursue hobbies outside of work, and will feel less stressed and overwhelmed.

So what’s the secret? B. Lynn Gordon for South Dakota State University’s iGrow offers five tips on time management for livestock producers. Here are the highlights from her list of tips:

1. Prioritize your responsibilities

Gordon writes, “Do you say, ‘I don’t have time’ because you think you don’t have time available? Is this truly the case? Or could you be letting other issues creep in and take away your extra time? Without prioritizing tasks you may end up doing a task that has lower impact or importance over one that is much more critical to your agricultural enterprise or has a short deadline and must be dealt with immediately.”

2. Time management is not a myth

Time management is crucial,” says Gordon. “It does include prioritization of tasks, understanding or estimating how long a task will take, knowing what is on your to-do list, etc., but it really in the end is how you manage your time. If you fail to focus on the ‘time element’ of your tasks and day, you will always feel overwhelmed and like you are not progressing forward.”

3. Articulate what you have time to do

Gordon recommends, “Be clear and communicate with your supervisor or fellow co-workers what you have time to do. If you say yes to everything sent your way, you can actually bring the team down by taking on too much and not being able to complete what you said you could.”

To read Gordon’s additional tips for finding a system that works and staying in control, click here.

For our family, we rely on two things to keep us on track — Sunday planning meetings and written lists on a calendar.

Each Sunday afternoon while the kids are sleeping, Tyler and I do a quick clean-up of the house to start the work week off with a fresh slate. Then we sit down and discuss our respective to-do lists and goals for the week. This allows us to be on the same page and coordinate schedules as needed.

If I’m having a particularly busy week of writing, we’ll set aside a night or two where Tyler watches the kids while I tackle my deadlines. Likewise, if he has extra things besides the daily chores he wants to get done on the ranch, I can better anticipate flying solo with the kids and juggling my own to-do lists. We also run over any major expenses we expect to incur throughout the week and review our budget at this time, as well. If we spring these things on each other, it tends to end in chaos, so communication is key.

READ: 6 must-have components in your ranch's 10-year plan

Once we’ve talked it out, plans go in a monthly and weekly calendar, and I also use a daily agenda to list out my tasks for the day. This helps me break down what I need to get done and track how many hours each to-do might take me. I can then pace out my responsibilities throughout the week, while balancing my responsibilities on the ranch and try to carve some time for fun outings with the kids.

I’m not saying we have a perfect system, or that everything goes smoothly each week, but these are a few things that help keep us on track and try to get the most out of each day.

Do you have any tricks for getting more done in your 24 hours? How do you manage your time wisely? Share your best tips in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Penton Agriculture.


Mother Nature has been a little hard to get along with as move from April to May. But planting of corn and soybeans in Iowa is ahead of schedule. 63% complete in Illinois, well above 5-year average.

Most of those Wisconsin dairy farmers affected by change in Canadian pricing policy have found new buyers.

Ag lobbyists are pleased in general with what seeing from Trump administration. That was not the case last week when Trump threatened to cancel NAFTA.

One cattle industry lobbyist told Max that if the relaxation of regulations is all agriculture gets from this administration, that would be huge and meaningful to our members.

Fed Cattle Recap | Cash trade goes higher, higher

Fed cattle recap

Up and up she goes and where the top is, nobody knows. The fed cattle market has surprised just about everybody here of late. Just when traders think it has hit its high for the year, another rabbit jumps out of the hat and the market heads higher once again.

Click on the arrow below for an audio report.

What’s more, the market gains ground with more cattle numbers than a year ago. Estimated total federally-inspected cattle harvest was 624,000 head for the week ending April 29, compared with 590,000 the same week last year. Once again, that’s 34,000 head over last year. The monthly estimated total is 120,000 head over last year, so we’re definitely not short of numbers now.

The weekly weighted average cash steer price for the Five Area region, which includes the major feeding areas of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa, was $136.22 per cwt, compared with $131.60 the previous week, for a jump of $4.62. 

The Five Area weighted average cash dressed steer price was $216.45, compared with $209.23 the previous week, about $7.22 higher.

The Five Area total cash steer and heifer volume was 133,819 head, compared to about 125,732 the previous week. 

The Five Area average formula price was $207.48, compared with $203.03 the previous week for an increase of $4.45. Five Area formula sales totaled 167,359, compared with about 168,790 the previous week. The total national formula cattle harvest was  236,906 head for the week.

Nationally reported forward contracted cattle harvest was about 89,000 head, compared with 83,000 head the previous week. Packers have more than 240,000 head of forward contracts available for May along with some April carryover and 241,000 head for June.

The latest average national steer carcass weight for week ending April 15 was 4 pounds lower at 848 pounds, compared with 878 pounds last year. The five year average is 855 pounds.

The Choice-Select spread was $14.10 on Friday, about 83 cents higher compared with the previous week and that compares with a $9.18 spread last year.