BEEF Daily

Mix Those Dreams With A Healthy Dose Of Reality


The reality of agriculture is that it’s not for the faint of heart.

I grew up watching Disney movies, where the princess always lived “happily ever after.” The fairy godmother told Cinderella, “If you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.” Jimini Cricket told Pinocchio, “When you wish upon a star, your dream comes true.” Call me a hopeless romantic or an eternal optimist, but I believe you can achieve your dreams -- only in agriculture, it’s going to cost you.

If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning in 2008, you’ve watched me graduate from college, move home to the family ranch, get engaged to my college sweetheart, get married in my hometown church, purchase an acreage close to our base operation, buy cows, and make plans for the future.

Sure, there have been ups and downs along the way -- fighting to get credit at the bank, cows that didn’t breed back, mistakes made that could’ve been avoided, butting heads with the older generation. But overall, I think we are off to a good, albeit slow, start as young cattle ranchers.

Of course, winning the lottery would really help our cause, but I can’t let loose of a hard-earned dollar to play that game. A girl can still dream, right?

With fall harvest now in full swing, I see the crop farmers swinging their fleet of combines in the field, semi-load after semi-load of corn headed to town, and those  farmers are rewarded with crop insurance, government payments and the check at the elevator. I’m in awe of the equipment and the magnitude of some of these outfits that neighbor our land.

My family raises just enough corn to feed our cattle; instead of row crops, we focus more on our seedstock operation and making hay. The rest of my grandpa’s farm ground is rented out.

One evening, my husband Tyler and I were sitting down for a steak supper, and we discussed the option of taking over that land and farming it ourselves. With a notebook and calculator in hand, we started plugging in numbers. With just rent, we were up to $100,000, and we hadn’t even bought seed or fertilizer yet! Talk about a reality check!

Even if we can get an operating loan to plant the corn, it’s sure going to take a pretty penny to get the job done, and that’s not even figuring in how much we already owe the bank for the cow-calf side of things.

A Closer Look: Cow-Calf Production Is Largely A Part-Time Business

Although our dream is to farm and ranch full-time, a million bucks doesn’t go too far in this business these days, and frankly, we don’t have a money tree planted in our front yard.

I’m sure some of you seasoned veterans are chuckling or rolling your eyes at my recent dose of reality. Farming and ranching truly has changed in the last 50 years, and the biggest change is how many zeroes are behind the bill.

I’m not a gambling girl by any means, but being in agriculture is a gamble. It takes sacrifice, dedication, a friendly relationship with the banker and area landowners, and a strong desire to make your dreams come true. Without a doubt, agriculture isn’t for the faint of heart. However, despite the obstacles, I think it’s a career and a lifestyle worth fighting for. And, my story may not end with the perfect happily ever after like Cinderella, but the journey is certainly worth it.

Let’s start a discussion on getting started in this business. I’d like established operators to give me their best advice for getting started, and new operators to tell me about how they overcame their challenges. Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

Laurie Johnson (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2012

My husband and I are currently in the start up phase. We already had the livestock, but we purchased our place about a year ago, buy hay, and feed for the livestock. Many times I think it would be so much easier if we did not have to deal with all of the expenses and bills. I then think about our ultimate goal...ranching full time. I know I want my children to grow up on our place. There are lots of sacrifices that we have made along the way, but they will be worth it in the end! We owe a great deal to my mom and dad that have been behind us when we may have doubted ourselves! Being a teacher at a tech school many of the students know that my parents encourage us, but also know that my parents don't owe me anything. That is the biggest thing to get through their heads, is that their parents owe them nothing. I know that our sacrifices and hard times will pay off in the future!

Charlie Kraus (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2012

Typically, US farms and ranches earn about 3.5 percent return on equity. Numerous economists confirm this. To make a living and fund retirement therefor requires a huge chunk of equity. Look around the neighborhood at the typical farms and ranches. Your farm or ranch WILL NOT look like these. Get that through your head before you do anything else.

Jason Fly (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2012

We've just started a small herd of Belted Galoway cattle here in Oklahoma with the express intention to build a retirement income stream from the direct marketing of beef produced by raising our calves on pasture and selling the beef. Pasture lease is $20 ac and because of the efficiency of the Galloway breed, my supplemental feed cost for wintering the herd is $40/cow; consequently, I can keep my costs down and produce a solid profit per unit at the same time. I am also leverageing the low-fat and low cholesterol aspect of Belted Galloway beef to sell my product at a premium to the market prices. It is a bit more challenging to run an operation this way compared to a typical cow/calf operation, but the rewards have been worth it (so far.....)

Mexican breeder (not verified)
on Sep 26, 2012

Amanda, I enjoy your writing.
I have been ranching for 25 years in a 100 yr. old family cattle operation.
There is no recipie for success in the cattle bussines but here are some things that have helped:
Get an expert to help you build your bussiness plan, it is worth it.
Budget and compare with reality.
Cash flow is more important name it! But your net worth is in your balance sheet.
Keep informed,-from politics to marketing-, locally, regionally, nationally and internationaly. Beef is global. Be ready for what is comming.
Plan ahead at least 4-5 years, herd structure, genetics, markets...
Diversify, seek for different sources and times of income within agriculture, commercial, seedstock, stocker, feeder, recreational, hay...
Hibrid vigor, low mainteinance cost cows
Adapt, be ready for change.
Be different and be the best.
It is nice having young people in the cattle industry, I wish you the best in starting your operation.

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What's BEEF Daily?

BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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