My View From The Country

The Highs And Lows Of The Cattle Business

The ranching life is filled with highs and lows. Perhaps it’s the highs that make the lows tolerable.

Life is full of peaks and valleys, regardless of where you are in your life journey or your profession.  Yet, I think this truism is particularly acute in the cattle industry. There are incredible highs; for me, it might be a successful bull sale, a mating that turns out extremely well, working with the kids, or watching calves running around on green grass on a cool spring morning.  You can likely tick off a similar list of things that bring you great pleasure. Those moments might not quite as exhilarating as what Olympians feel when they step up to the podium, but it is a pretty darn good feeling. 

Of course, there are the lows as well.  We just went through our first round of AI with wind chills approaching -40 a couple of times.  It was a lot of work, but calves were happy and seemingly healthy, the weather warmed and there was a certain feeling of accomplishment that came with it. 

But it was fleeting. A hard-hitting and devastating round of scours turned our world upside down with a feeling like we were gut punched. I just got off the phone with a really good cattlemen and manager, who has had very good results for many years, but he had a set of cows that came up almost universally open.  The bulls were tested, they were young and healthy; the cows were reproductively sound and well managed, and herd health addressed. To make matters more frustrating, all the other cows had normal conception rates.

The experts don’t have an explanation, other than it was a perfect storm of many factors all working to conspire in some amazingly devastating way. The good news, if there is any, is that it was just one group of cows that ran in an isolated area away from the other cows. Of course, for the producer, it was one of those punches to the belly.

The frustrating part is that while human nature will make him decide on one or two factors and work to address them, the reality is he will likely never know what caused the problem. You have to be a special kind of manager in ranching. You control all you can from a management standpoint, but in the end, Mother Nature, an aggregate market, and a whole host of other uncontrollable factors will rule the day.

I read once that you never really know about a boxer until he gets hit in the chin and you see how he responds. If that is the case, I think we know a lot about any rancher who has been in the business for a while; they have experienced some incredible highs and difficult lows and yet they chug on. 


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Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 2, 2014

Good column, Troy, glad I got it read, if a little after the date.

So true of the career of highs and lows for cattle producers! Our entire life together on this ranch (nearly 58 years) we have had lots of both, and survived, so far. In fact we may be fairly successful, but always feel that need to be braced for the next disaster. It is probably healthier to focus on the good events, and just don't forget to prepare for the disasters, both emotionally and financially, as much as is practical. Strong faith and family ties helps, in both events.

Thanks for your columns. They seem to spur thought in some depth and leads to more depth of ideas to apply to ranch planning and improvement.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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