In 2004, Kathy Voth invented a method for training cows to eat weeds. The idea grew from the responses from ranchers when she suggested they use goats or sheep to manage weeds. That just wasn’t an economically viable or sustainable solution for them.
Kathy believes that animals are a good solution for weed management, so she decided that if cattle ranchers weren’t interested in goats or sheep, she’d figure out how to turn their cattle into weed managers. Using discoveries made by researchers at Utah State University, and decades of animal behavior studies, she put together a very logical set of steps for teaching cows to eat weeds.
Minimal Time Investment
Using Kathy’s process a cattle producer can teach cows to eat weeds in as little as 10 hours over 10 days and then sit back and relax while the cows get to work.
Cows Are Good Learners and Teachers
A small group of trainees will teach their calves and herd mates to eat weeds, to create a weed eating army in the course of one grazing season. Cows will continue to eat the weeds year after year and add new ones without additional training.
“Evil isn’t done so often by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
My first post in this series was about my start-up and business failures.
When I was done, I felt proud of myself. I was proud of my honesty and vulnerability, because five years ago–maybe even one year ago–that post doesn’t get written. I would have hid my problems or argue them away, claiming the failures were other people’s faults, not mine, and I was proud that I wasn’t doing that anymore.
I should know this by now; as soon as I feel prideful, the fall is coming. The very first email response:
“That article was revealing, but missing something. How did you come to understand these flaws in yourself? You just tell us what your mistakes were, and not how you got to that insight, which is what I really want to know, so maybe I can do this for myself.”
Publicly owning my failures wasn’t hard. That was easy, actually.
What was hard was getting to the point where I could actually own my failures to myself, and I didn’t really explain how I did that at all.
I wrote about the result of that work, which is, at its core, just me showing off.
That’s the dirty little secret of the fetishization of failure in Silicon Valley. It’s by and large a high-status excuse to show off. You tell everyone how many businesses you’ve started and how much money you raised, and how you are a better person through humility. You are competing to see who can be more humble. No one dives into how they actually learned from their failures, because they didn’t. It’s entrepreneur porn.
I hate when people do that…yet it’s exactly what I did.
That’s bullshit. If I want to write for me, it’s totally fine, I just need to keep that shit in my fucking diary. If I’m going to publish it, it has to be for other people, to help them.
That’s what this post is. A deep dive into how I actually learned to own my failures to myself. I’m writing and publishing this so that, by seeing my process, you can help yourself do something similar.
When My Perception Of Identity Was Fucked Up
I’ll dive into one example of a big failure, probably my biggest and most personal ever:
The movie about my life failed. And it failed mainly because of my bad decisions, and all of those decisions were ultimately driven by my deep identity and emotional issues.
I had an immense amount invested in this movie. Not money–I actually had zero money invested in it. But I had my entire identity and emotional state invested in its creative and commercial outcome.
If it succeeded, then I was a success. It was, at least in my subconscious, nothing less than a referendum on me as a person. Valid or not valid. Good or bad. Worthy or unworthy. Everything about who I was rode on the success of that movie, and every decision I made was deeply and unconsciously impacted by that.
The full story of that movie could be it’s own movie, but some quick, easy examples of how this emotional identity issue impacted my decision making:
We had the wrong director. You know who picked him? Me.
Very smart people told me I was wrong, and gave great reasons to not select this director. I ignored them. Why? My deep need to show everyone that I was right about MY decision. I made it about me.
We had the wrong production company. You know who picked them? Me.
Very smart people told me I was making a mistake. We even had a HUGE offer from the best studio in Hollywood. I turned them down. Why? Because, again deep down, I wanted to prove I could beat the Hollywood system by making an indie movie that I owned and I controlled. I made it about me.
We still could have made a good movie–even with a bad director and the wrong production company. But the shoot sucked. You know why? I made the whole thing about me.
Why? My need to show how smart and important I was became so manifestly important to my identity, that it sent my controlling side into overdrive. Nobody knew my life better than me. Nobody knew me better than me. So only I could make certain decisions. I screamed at a lot of people. Not because I hated them, but because their ideas about the character and the world of the movie so threatened my perception of myself that I couldn’t allow words or concepts that I disagreed with to even leave their lips. I emotionally and spiritually crushed everyone on that movie set, all because of my own emotional issues I would not face.
I could go on and on with examples like this. You get the point.
I can remember the night I knew the movie wasn’t going to do well. It was possibly the hardest night of my entire life. I cried more than I had ever cried in my life. I felt the worst I’d ever felt about myself. The emotional pain was so intense, so real, it became literal physical pain.
I wasn’t suicidal, but I honestly felt like I wanted to die. I’d spent the previous seven years scratching and clawing and fighting to get to this moment. I’d run through walls, over people, around obstacles, all for this? To feel this way?
I’d never felt so alone, so crushed, so utterly defeated. I had not failed at something. I felt like, in a very real emotional sense, that I was a failure as a human being.
Believe me, I FULLY recognize the self-indulgent absurdity of this scene: here I was, a rich and famous white guy, who someone gave millions of dollars and creative control to make a movie about his life based on his #1 New York Times bestselling book, crying because it didn’t do 50 million dollars its first weekend? Boo fucking hoo.
But emotions and identity and self-perception are not about objective facts (talk to any Trump fan to see proof of that). This is about the emotional reality of my life, and it was this moment–where I felt like my entire personhood was a failure and invalid–that set me on the journey I am on today.
That was my emotional bottom. From that moment, I knew I had to get help. I knew the way I looked at the world, and at myself, was broken, and it would break me completely if I didn’t change it. I didn’t know why, and I wasn’t sure how, but I knew it was my reality.
A few months later I moved to Austin and started psychoanalysis. I also started angel investing at the same time. It was a coincidence, but those two things together taught me how to take responsibility for my actions and own my failures.
How Therapy Helped Me Shift My Identity Problems
It might be hard to understand how identity and the unconscious works. I can’t begin to give a full explanation of it, even in a long piece like this. One of my favorite blogs on the internet had a great explanation about how this works:
“The unconscious doesn’t care about happiness, or sadness, or gifts, or bullets. It has one single goal, protect the ego, protect status quo. Do not change and you will not die. It will allow you to go to college across the country to escape your parents, but turn up the volume of their pre-recorded soundbites when you get there. It will trick you into thinking you’re making a huge life change, moving to this new city or marrying that great guy, even as everyone else around you can see what you can’t, that Boulder is exactly like Oakland and he is just like the last guys. And all the missed opportunities–maybe I shouldn’t, and he probably already has a girlfriend, and I can’t change careers at 44, and do I really deserve this?– all of that is maintenance of the status quo, the ego.”
If you want to learn more quickly, Paul Graham has a great essay about separating your identity from the results of your actions, called “Keep Your Identity Small.” There are so many books and research papers about this idea, the problem is that they all have different names and different conclusions (quick start on background: a research paper showing people literally can’t do math when it goes against their identity, and a good book intro to this is Mindset).
The best tradition I’ve read to deeply understand this issue is actually the oldest: Buddhism (the actual Buddha called this problem in people “The Hungry Ghost”). In fact, you could say that this insight is the key insight of Buddhism: all the suffering of humanity is caused by the attachment to an identity or a result.
It’s even enshrined in their primary dicta, the Four Noble Truths:
[Don’t worry, I won’t lecture you about Buddhism, I promise]
How you define and see yourself and the results you strive for creates the suffering you endure. In essence, the less you are attached to things, and the more you just experience them, the better off your life is (I also included some basic reading lists for Buddhism at the end as well).
Simple to say, but hard and complicated to apply to your own life. I tried to learn this by just doing psychoanalysis and reading a lot about it. I have a large dent in my checking account and an even larger collection of flagged and annotated books as testaments to that effort. Eventually I got it “intellectually.”
But getting something in your conscious brain is VERY different than getting it deep in the unconscious. I only learned HOW to apply this concept (divorcing your identity from your results) to my unconscious—-to my own thinking and my own emotions–from the time I spent angel investing.
Lemme walk you through how that that process worked for me, maybe that will explain better.
How Angel Investing Taught Me To See Entrepreneurs’ Issues
When I was first starting my own companies, I was emotionally attached to each of my ideas, and attached to their success. Not in the sense that because I worked hard on them, I really wanted them to happen. That’s normal. I was attached in the way that the ideas and the success became part of my identity.
When I say “became part of my identity” I mean this as literally as possible. I would, at least unconsciously, think that if my business idea succeeded, then I was a success. And if the business idea failed, then I was a failure.
I couldn’t look at my ideas or my companies objectively, with any kind of detachment, because they represented, in a very real way, a judgment of myself as a person. Their success was, in my mind, nothing less than a judgment of my validity as a human. Just like on the movie.
Being so attached to results was a problem. It prevented me from honestly and critically looking at my ideas and their results–even if they weren’t working. Especially then. It was too painful to see they weren’t working, because that made me feel bad about myself as a person. So I would lie to myself or convince myself that something stupid was smart (if you’re familiar with western psychology, this is basic rationalization and projection, and I did 100 times on the movie).
If you do this in a relationship, that’s not good. But it’s just about the very worst thing you can do as an entrepreneur (or a creative). Facts are facts, whether you like them or not, and if you are making emotionally-driven decisions about factual situations in start-ups, then you are going to make bad, bad business decisions.
Here’s where angel investing helped me: I wasn’t evaluating my own decisions or identity. I was looking at other people and their decisions.
My job as an angel investor was very simple: I bet money (through buying equity) on my ability to correctly assess three things: 1. the entrepreneurs who pitched, 2. the product-market fit of their start-up, and 3. the market they were competing in.
The reason I did so well is because when I evaluated other people’s start-up ideas, I didn’t have any attachment to them. It meant nothing to my identity if they were good or bad, so I could be completely objective. I could look at the facts with clear eyes. I could ask hard questions. I could see other alternatives. I wasn’t tied to any ideas I had about myself, because these weren’t my ideas.
You know the feeling where you can see all the relationship problems all of your friends have with total clarity, but you can’t figure your own stuff out at all. It’s the same concept (there’s an entire business built around this ironic tension–it’s called ‘life coaching’).
What I found out was that when I wasn’t unconsciously worried about defending my identity from failure in business, and I let my ability loose in evaluating OTHER entrepreneurs’ companies, it worked great. I was really, really good at evaluating founders, start-ups, business plans–all of it.
The funniest thing is that I started to become an true expert at calling out the entrepreneurs who were just like me!
The entrepreneurs who were so tied to their start-up idea or their success were super easy for me to spot. Just like former drug addicts are the best at seeing the tricks of other addicts, I could see them performing all the mental gymnastics I used to do to avoid admitting clear facts that might make them see themselves in a way that hurt their ego and identity.
Simply put, I paired up the insights I got in therapy (being able to see how much I tied my identity and self-esteem to my fame and success) with the insights I got from my angel investing (seeing how other founders delude themselves in the same way I used to and how it affected their business decisions), and it showed me where I was making emotionally-driven identity decisions in business–so I could stop doing that.
Except, to make it REALLY work, I had to do something really hard: I had to turn this new super power on myself.
How I Combined These Insights To Own My Failures
“We do not learn by experience, but our capacity for experience.”
I turned that super-power on myself in a very specific way. It may not work for you, but I’ll list out the process to make it easier to find your way:
For each business I’ve ever been involved in (and I included books and movies as businesses), I wrote down everything that happened. The objective facts. Things like revenue, time, result, etc. I got all the facts (that mattered) out of my head onto a piece of paper, as many as I could think of.
Then I did something really weird (I learned this from a doctor who treats OCD patients): I pretended that I was talking to a different entrepreneur about THEIR business, and then evaluated the facts of that person’s business. I didn’t just pretend. I actually changed the name at the top of the page to a different company and a different person for each company. Of course I knew it was me, but this little mental sleight of hand was enough to free me up to dissect this company and “this guy” objectively, because it was a “different” person. It took MY identity out of the equation.
Because it “wasn’t me” anymore, I was totally free to let go of any assumptions and just approach every problem with a fresh, beginner’s mind. I listed out, in detail, every mistake, every reason that every mistake was made, what other things the entrepreneur could have done better, anything I could think of. I went at each company like I would as an angel investor–razor sharp analysis and totally fucking brutal.
Once I had all the facts and decisions out on paper, then I started to analyze them. For EVERY decision, especially the bad ones, I asked myself this simple question:
Why would “he” make that decision?
Usually the first few answers were rationalizations or excuses. So I kept asking the question, with small variations, over and over and over…until I got to a reason that “he” would make that decision that was not driven by facts or reason or logic or business sense, but was driven by emotions or identity or status. Just like I did with other entrepreneurs, I was relentless in digging until I found the real reasons for decision.
Those were the decisions I was looking for–the ones that had deep underlying unconscious motives that I wasn’t admitting it to myself.
THAT is how I was able to write the post so brutally and precisely dissecting my own failures in business. Once I had that angel investor perspective working, I turned it on myself, and my decisions–and I kept dissecting them until was able to see them for what they really were.
You Gotta Own It
There is one more part to this, one more key to the HOW of really digging into your failures. I left it to last, because it’s the hardest part, and no one ever wants to hear this:
This only works if you’re willing to take complete and full responsibility for everything in your life.
When you ask these “why” questions, when you really dig into your decisions, you are trying to find the place where you can own the mistake or failure or decision. If you don’t, then you aren’t really owning your failure–you’re just re-assigning the blame to someone or something else.
EVERY TIME I answered a “why” question and the blame fell on someone else, I asked a deeper why question, until I got to something I did or I thought that caused the problem. Only then would I let myself stop (and even then, I often had to go another level or two up to get deeper).
Here’s a great general example:
We all know that one person who says they keep dating crazy men/women, and they can’t figure out why. They go on and on about their multiple insane exes, and all of their problems…yet they never stop and make the obvious and simple observation that they’re the ONLY constant among all of those exes.
Obviously they’re making decisions that are either attracting those people, or allowing those crazy people into their life. Once is an accident, twice is a concern, and three times is a pattern. They will NEVER change until they admit that to themselves–that THEY are the cause of the pattern, at some core level–and then go about figuring out why and answering the fundamental question: what emotional need is being met by having crazy people as partners?
It’s not different in business. I did this for EVERY GODDAMN DECISION I MADE in this piece. It really fucking sucked.
I am not telling you that everything bad that happens to you is your fault. HELL NO. Even natural disasters aside, people have bad luck and shitty people do things to you that you did not deserve. God knows I’ve had those things happen–but did you notice I left pretty much all of that out of my failure list?
NOTE: Owning the decisions you made that led to your failures is not about beating yourself up, and it’s not about making yourself feel like shit. Don’t do that. Being honest with yourself does not mean you have to be mean to yourself.
Taking responsibility and owning failures is about clearly seeing where you are making bad decisions, and understanding why you are making them–so you can stop.
Taking Responsibility SUCKS
Make no mistake about it: that was really, really, fucking hard. It’s incredibly painful to honestly look at your mistakes and really fully own them, in all their glorious awfulness. To turn into that pain, instead of running from it, it about an unfun as life gets.
But it’s also incredibly liberating. Once I embraced the idea that I didn’t have to (and shouldn’t) judge myself by my successes, but that instead I could create a very small identity, and then see my businesses as things I did rather than things I was–then I was totally free to deeply critique them.
And once I did that, I could clearly see why I was making so many bad decisions–they were rationalizations for deep seated emotional issues. Not actual business decisions. And then, I could STOP MAKING THOSE STUPID ASS DECISIONS!
I honestly believe this identity shift in my mindset is responsible for why my current company is doing so well. Obviously, we are also hitting the three essential elements of start-up success out of the park, but Movie Tucker probably would have torn that all down, and all because he didn’t understand his issues, or even accept that they exist.
It’s not that I don’t have any more emotional issues. Please–just ask anyone on the Book In A Box team, they’ll tell you I have issues (we even talk about them in our meetings, like we do with everyone on the team). It’s that now I know where they are (at least most of the big ones), I can account for them, and I am open to talking about them and working to fix them. I understand that this is a process, not a result, and every day is about working the process.
The problems you know you have are almost never the problems that sink you. It’s the problems you don’t know you have (or won’t admit) that destroy you.
And that is why owning your failures is both so hard and so important–it’s the only way to improve and grow and change.
Buddhism Reading List:
There are so many places to start to learn about Buddhism. Maybe the easiest for many people is this book: 10% Happier by Dan Harris. It’s about how a person with SERIOUS identity issues found meditation.
But probably the best into Buddhism for Westerners, I think Zen In The Art Of Archery is also amazing. What both this book and 10% Happier have is an emotionally honest recounting of the way the mind works through these issues at the beginning.
I don’t feel qualified to give you any more of a list beyond that, because there is SO MUCH, and most of it is really contextual. What will deeply move one person is gibberish to another. And in fact, what was gibberish to me at one stage of my life, deeply moved me at a later one.
The only way to know you’re walking the right path is to walk that path yourself.
I write about leadership, proactivity & European initiatives.
Life as business are both long-term races. They require to fully commit to the present while seeing through years ahead in order to define and achieve the best of the future. They require to embrace today while deciding on objectives, understanding the options, creating possible alternative scenarios and situations and determining the direction to be followed. They require strategic thinking.
Defined as the process that determines the manner in which people think about, assess, view, and create the future for themselves and others, strategic thinking is basically the ability to know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. Developing a strategic approach is not always easy as it is as much a mindset as a set of techniques. However, it does result in the main difference between an average and an exceptional achiever.
Success and achievement can not just be left to hazard. In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 97% of the 10,000 senior executives asked chose strategy as the most critical leadership behavior to their organizations’ future success. Strategic thinkers are able to imagine the big picture, identify the possible impact of their decisions and project the way to get there. These are the seven traces that define them all.
Strategic thinkers are able to create and stick to a very clear visioning process. Using both the left (logical) and right (creative) sides of their brain, they defined an ambitious but rigorous vision of what needs to be achieved. A clear, positive and big enough vision is what inspires for action and pulls in ideas, people and other resources. A vision is what enables commitment and moves the needed energy to make it happen. In this way, strategic thinkers are visionary leaders. They see the potential for how the world should exist and take steps to get there.
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose” (Robert Byrne)
Vision should be carefully embedded within a framework. Successful strategic thinkers have the ability to define their objectives and develop an action plan with goals broken down into tasks specifically measured in terms of timeline and resources. They set up deadlines and they commit to them. Self-aware enough, they are conscious of their own biases and factor their own circumstances, perspectives, and points of view within this framework. This helps them to ensure that their own backgrounds are not an impediment but a boost to their goals. Their framework envisions always a plan A, B, and C that drives them all to the same expected result. They factor all possible ways within a reasonable timeline for action.
Strategic thinkers are able to look around and understand the world from all the different perspectives. They listen, hear and read between the lines. They observe before forming a judgment and absorb and make use of the different angles that could be helpful for better guidance. They understand peoples’ intentions, hopes, and desires and play with them in a symbiotic way that could help all to achieve greater. They recognize internal and external clues that may sharp and clear the direction to be taken. They are able to grasp the perfect match and put together all the pieces of the puzzle. They are able to feel the breeze because they know that big achievements are just the collection of all the different angles.
They are good at decision-making. After a comprehensive evaluation, they chose the way to go and walk firmly into it without vacillation. They may doubt but they do not let the doubts to fog the vision. They communicate effectively what they want and need by using clear orders while simultaneously respecting the thoughts and wishes of others. They are able to react appropriately under pressure and reduce anxiety by sticking to their decision and avoiding excessive questioning. Through high levels of confidence and self-esteem, they receive both compliments and critics in a constructive way. They defend their points of view without harming others and manage to convince without force or hostility. They are easily followed.
“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude” (Zig Ziglar)
Strategic thinkers are clearly aware of their weaknesses so they are committed to seeking the advice of others. They are humble enough to be flexible and twist their ideas and framework as to truly achieve the desired vision. They do not confuse flexibility with lack of structure. They accept the rules of the game because they are aware that without rules there is no fair game. Strategic thinkers are flexible thinkers what allows them to shift gears and think about something in more than one way and develop different strategies. Along with working memory and self-control, flexible thinking is one of the three main executive skills allowing to properly manage thoughts, actions, and emotions to get things done.
“Life is a sum of all our choices” (Albert Camus)
Strategic thinkers are able to balance their emotions in a way that always favors the achievement of the ultimate goals. They are aware of their emotions, they are able to name them when they arrive, they do not react to them as an important element of accepting them and just when they are over control of them, they take a decision. Whether they received positive or negative feedback, they are able to deal with it, understand and respond in a way that protects and progresses toward their desired outcome. They are able to control and master the three drivers of any emotional state. They stand tall and breathe fully as part of their physiological reaction. They think positive and look for the opportunity as part of their psychological reaction. They are kind, compassionate and optimistic whenever facing their language response. Strategic thinkers are tremendously creative but they are able to balance this creativity with pragmatism through a sense of realism and honesty about actuality. They are realistic optimists.
Strategic thinkers do not ignore that achievement is a long-term ride. Milestones have all a concrete time and moment. And success is the result of a process of strategically planned work and efforts. Strategic thinkers have the ability to be patient. They do not rush conclusions. They do not bet it all at once. They invest their energies in a way that is sustainable and led by a long-term vision. They have learned to wait.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time” (Leo Tolstoy)
A great article from Walt Davis – Written in 1999.
There have been how-to books on lots of different subjects lately and I thought that it might be nice to help those people who get up every morning and wonder “what can I do today to lose money in the ranching business?” There is bound to be a huge demand for this kind of information since regardless of weather or markets, losing money is the main topic of conversation in every coffee shop in the country. The following is a collection of thoughts that should be of use in preventing any accidental out break of profitability.
Set your breeding season so that calves, lambs, kids, etc. are born well before the onset of new growth. This ensures that the young animals will be big enough to utilize the forage when it arrives and thus will wean off heavy. You will hear some nay-sayers blather about; the expense of maintaining lactating females without green forage, trouble getting females re-bred, disease and death loss in the young and even predictions that losses to predators will be worse since there are no young rats or rabbits around at this time of year. Some of this may be so but “we have got to have heavy weaning weights, right?”
Always stock your country with just a few more head than you think you can handle. If you get lucky and have a good year, you will have more to sell and you can’t carry that grass over to next year, can you? Besides the Fat Cow Feed Company has a new feed guaranteed to make stock do good on broom weeds and tree bark. No need to worry about how much grass you have, just book your feed early and read the trade magazines so you can keep up with the latest feed supplements and mineral programs. You may hear tales about people claiming to winter with no supplemental feed but you know darn well it can’t be done “here”. When you feed hay or other supplements, be sure to always feed in the same place so that you don’t stomp out all your pasture. By feeding in the same place, you can get rid of the wasted hay and built up manure in the spring by setting it on fire. You won’t have to worry about the fire getting away, there will not be any thing growing anywhere close to the feed ground. Just up hill from your stock pond is a good place for the feed ground so that the bare ground will cause more of the rain to run off and keep the pond full. Sure a little manure, urine and dirt gets in the water but the stock will still drink it.
Make all of your breeding decisions based upon “what the trade demands” rather on silly criteria such as the type cattle that performs well under your conditions or animals with traits that allow you to reduce inputs. After all who knows more about what is good for the industry, you or ConAgri? Along the same line, be sure to buy great-big, good old’ bulls that throw really heavy weaning calves. You may have to pull some calves and maybe even lose some cows and after a few years your cows may get pretty big and expensive to winter but even if they made four times as much money do you really want to have to tell people that your calves only weaned at 450 pounds?
Don’t get talked into this management intensive grazing stuff. Some people claim to be able to run more stock with better performance at less cost while improving their country but you don’t have time to do all that and besides “it won’t work here”. Stay away from these schools and seminars that claim to be able to teach you how to reduce your costs, increase production and improve both your country and your quality of life. Even if what they teach works, you have to spend so much time thinking that you won’t have time to rope more that twice a week.
Don’t get caught up in low stress livestock handling like Bud Williams teaches. So what if it will reduce sickness and death loss, improve animal performance, cut labor costs and lower your vet bills, you have to maintain an image don’t you? Do you really want your neighbors to see you walking behind a bunch of cattle? How are you going to have good horses and good dogs if they don’t get lots of work? How can you teach a young horse cow sense with a bunch of cattle that never break a walk and all stay together? Just why are you in the cattle business anyway?
Be sure and have the latest and best in hay equipment so that you can get your hay put up in a hurry. What is a few extra thousand dollars a year in interest compared to the satisfaction you get from all that shiny new iron? Plow up those old native hay meadows and plant one of the new “improved” varieties of annual hay plants. Sure this means that you will have to till and fertilize and plant every year so that costs go up and your country will erode some but you will get bigger yields. Above all don’t let one of these nuts talk you into making hay out of surplus pasture or even into getting out of the hay business by rationing out standing hay with sub divisions or even worse, temporary electric fence. This would mean that you would have to be thinking and planning all during the growing season about what forage you can expect and what your forage demand will be all during the year. If ranchers didn’t make hay all summer and feed it all winter where would they get their caps?
For sure don’t listen to listen to the “low cost production advocates”. So what if the price of beef and other commodities does tend to settle at the break-even price of the average producer so that only the low-cost producer can be profitable every year. What’s the point in being a rancher if you can’t drive a new four wheel drive, four door, dually pickup, ride really high powered horses and be known for having the most expensive and fattest purebred cattle in the county? Get to know all of the fertilizer, feed, vet supply, equipment and supplement salesmen so you can keep up with the latest technology. Steer clear of taking advice from the old timers in the business. Just because somebody has made a living ranching for forty years doesn’t mean they know the business. Most of those people don’t even use embryo transfers or GPS precision fertilizer systems.
Get those calves to market before they get too big. A 300-pound calf will bring a lot more per pound then a 500 pounder. If you want to be able to brag about “topping the market”, you better ship them early. There is a lot of talk now days about retained ownership instead of just shipping calves at weaning. Some people claim to dry winter their calf crop with just enough supplement to keep them healthy and growing normally and then make big and cheap gains on the spring flush. Even if they make three times as much net profit per calf, it is a lot of trouble to wean those calves and worry with them all winter. Don’t believe the stories about people weaning calves in the pasture with no stress, weight loss or sickness. You know darn well that won’t work. Have a real market plan. Bankers don’t like to loan money to buy when the market is down so pay attention to the market and be ready to buy when they get high. Bankers will always loan more money when the market is high, after all they are the financial experts.
Most important, know why you are in the business and what you want to accomplish. There are some soft headed nuts out there talking about how ranchers are not in the livestock business but in the business of harvesting free solar energy by converting it first to biological energy (green plants) and then into wealth in the form of meat, milk, wool, wildlife or what ever. You know what is really important and there will never be a (pick one- Angus, white face, goat, sheep, other) on this place while you are running things. Your grand daddy was a ______ breeder, your daddy was a ______ breeder and you are a ______ breeder or at least you were until the bank sold you out.
Yes ma’am or sir, there are lots of rules in the cattle and land business. There are several rules that get tagged as Rule No. 1. But the list is topped by one rule which states “Do No Lasting Harm”. Pain often leads to gain. Death does not.
Page 115 of Walt Davis’s book “How Not to Go Broke Ranching” explains a part of Rule No. 1 that needs to be burned into the cerebral cortex of each of us cattle ranchers/farmers. Cattle feeders should have it fire branded on the back of hands as well as minds.
Following one simple rule can avoid a world of hurt to your cattle herd.
The part of Rule No. 1 that I am talking about is “Don’t Make Sudden Changes in Cattle Diets.” Sudden, drastic shifts in rations and/or forage move animals toward a dangerous health cliff.
Remember that cattle do not digest forage or feed. The bugs (mostly bacteria) do the forage digesting and the cattle digest the bugs.
Bacteria that digest the sugars and simple starches found in grain are not the same as the bacteria that digest the sugars and simple starches found in cool season plants and grasses, and are not the same as bacteria that digest the more complex starches (cell wall cellulose) of warm season grasses. Different still are the bacteria that digest woody plants.
The different bacteria needed to digest the various feedstuffs are present in a healthy ruminant (cow). But the numbers vary depending on what the animal is consuming. When feed changes the bacterial species number changes and this change needs time as its major cushion. Major changes need 18-30 days to safely occur.
Fast forage changes especially when moving to higher sugar and simple starch grains, cool season plants, and other immature grasses result in a tremendous ‘kill off’ of rumen organisms (bacteria and protozoa). Performance and animal health head south. Scours is frequently seen as is a lack of cud chewing. The cattle do not seem content. Bad boys (bugs) raise their heads. Clostridial perfringes can take cattle out in a matter of hours, but we can also open up several other ‘cans of worms’ that are expensive.
Plan and manage
Nature tends to work or move in what has been described by Montana’s Ray Bannister as ‘boom and bust’. Walt Davis and I believe and recommend that it is always wise to plan and manage in a way so as to cushion the boom and the bust when it comes to cattle. I think Bannister agrees.
Ionophores (Rumensin and Bovatec) are cushions for high sugar and simple starch feed and forage and cattle health. The same is true of long stem hay especially long stem warm season (C4) hay. The same is true for amounts and time.
Remember that cattle just do not handle sudden changes well if the change exceeds 15 to 20% of the dry matter intake or consumption. Changes from C4 based pasture to C3 based pasture are much tougher than changing from C3 to C4.
Related: Reviewing a few basics might help
Ionophores, C4 hay, and limited grazing time are all more than a good idea when moving cattle onto small grain or pretty fescue, rye grass pasture, etc. The old advice of “never move hungry cattle onto pretty pasture” has not changed. The same is true of grain feeding. Remember that cud chewers take the majority of a month to make successful feed changes.
Cattle health must be and is very important. My phone has been ringing regularly with questions, problems, and sometimes wrecks for most of the last 40 years. Lack of knowledge, planning, and execution are usually evident. The weather often gets the blame when the mirror would reveal the demon.
Optimal health may be less than a necessity; “pretty close” is where we likely need to be almost every day throughout the year. Setting goals for cattle health is a requirement of profitability. Annual profitability is a requirement of sustainability. Goals without execution are no more than dreams.
Walt Davis says that if we don’t know what we are doing it does not make a damn what we do. I agree with Walt but when it comes to cattle we had better know or be plugged into someone who does.
Out in the pasture cattle are made to move and what they ate yesterday needs to be real similar to what they eat today.
The ‘take home message’ for all of us is to think, learn, plan, execute and don’t forget the rules.