In the book, "The Big Moo," there's a line that states the time to panic about your hardware business is not when Home Depot is advertising its grand opening one block down the street. At that point, it's far too late.

Panicking when something is already occurring is usually counterproductive, but we're all guilty of it. After all, a lot of people commit to exercising and to quitting smoking while they're staring at the roof of an ambulance after a heart attack.

The time to panic is when you still have time to do something about the issue. The analogy fits our current industry quite well.

Things are pretty good for the cow-calf industry; prices are high and projections call for continued strength for at least several years. Still, we're seeing input costs increase, and branded systems and value-based marketing initiatives grow every day. Plus, the infrastructure is being built to allow information to flow up and down the production chain with a whole new level of accountability for all participants.

Old rules also are being shattered. The price spread between calves and feeders is being altered as cattle are placed into yards at later ages and heavier weights. Meanwhile, costs of gain alter the way we put weight on cattle and assign value. Even the old rules about marketing are being shattered; it's not uncommon to see price spreads now on calves that exceed the annual fluctuation of prices from their seasonal highs to seasonal lows.

Even the days when the highest prices received were reserved for mismanaged cattle with tremendous compensatory gain potential are shifting. More and more data continue to show that cattle will never grade if they've been mismanaged during this critical stage of life.

The changes in how value is assessed, and how one can capture it, are revolutionary. One could write an entire volume on the changes in the last 18 months alone. Genetic tools and direction has been changing almost as rapidly as people adjust to new economics and new marketing incentives.

The time to panic is now, when emergency measures can actually accomplish something. One thing that's certain is you won't be marketing the same product in the same way five years from now. In fact, if you are, you'll probably be way behind.

Challenges become opportunities when dealt with early enough, or major obstacles if people delay in dealing with them. Today may be the perfect time to panic. Start doing the things that should have been started yesterday, today.