Question the Answers


You may have noticed that there was not a Livestock Weekly Update published last week.  The reason is that I actually took a whole 4-day vacation.  It was easy enough to submit my vacation request at the office but it is difficult to find someone who can tolerate and understand the nuances and quirks of my own personal cattle operation.  Eventually I was lucky enough to find an experienced buddy to hold down the fort and off I went.  I left the ranch in the rearview mirror and accompanied my family to Cape Cod for some well-deserved down time.  I love the beach and seafood but I also love spending time with my nieces and nephews.  Their ability to conjure such incredible mischief with a smile provides me with endless entertainment.  This year, their innocence provided me with entertainment and insight.

Children are blank slates that are constantly exploring their world and relying on us to help them to understand it.  It was just this process that got me thinking about the way that I make decisions.  My oldest niece, and I’m sure most of you have experienced this before, would follow up questions with the word “why.”  A typical exchange would start with a question which I would answer and then she would ask “why.”  I would answer that and she would continue with the “whys.”  This string of questions allowed her to break down the most basic parts of each problem or sequence of events.  With my help she was working her way backwards through the problem to find the simplest solution.

Being physically away from the ranch seems to allow me more space to think, so as I sat there answering her questions I started thinking of some of my own.  Why was I rotating the cattle in their current direction?  Why are some cattle learning to get through the fences?  Why worry about the weeds?  With all the time and space that the beach provides I was able to break down each of the components of my operation and simply ask why.  Once I asked this question I was able to understand the system better.  An example can be found in the bull that came last week.  Why did I bring the bull on board in August?  Because I want next year’s calves to drop on green grass.  That led to why did I rent a bull instead of purchasing one?   I don’t want to feed another mouth this winter because we all know hay is going to be at a premium because of the drought.  Why do I visit the ranch multiple times each day?  Because it is my favorite place to be.

You will inevitably find yourself at a dead end when using this technique.  When you don’t have an answer for yourself, it is time to amend the strategy.  Or if you find yourself answering with something like “that’s the way that I was taught,” or “that’s the way my grandfather did it” it’s time to work beyond that and decide if what you are doing is providing you with the most return for your resources. I have been using this technique with other farmers lately, and even though it can be challenging, it is a great exercise if you are looking to cut down on some of your overhead costs or financial burdens.  So I challenge you to see how many times you can ask yourself why this week and see how many answers you can find.

Hey we are still in a drought.  Some of our dairy friends are getting hit with a triple whammy of decreased forage production, low milk prices, and the possibility that stored feeds will be very expensive.  Here’s here’s a pasture management guide during drought from Cornell.


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