The year 2010 marks the beginning of a new decade. For many, such a milestone often marks an opportunity for reflection – and a commitment to self-improvement for the future.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate embarking on a new career in the beef industry or a seasoned ranch or feedlot veteran, what goals have you set to guide your journey through the unchartered waters of the beef industry in the decade ahead? These industry leaders share the principles that have been important to them – and may prove to be sage advice for you.

Find your passion

Seedstock producer Kit Pharo of Cheyenne Wells, CO, recalls the important lesson he learned as a 12-year-old lad from his father Alan. “My dad told me: ‘Find something you love to do and you will never have to work for a living.’

“I’m sure that statement didn’t originate with my dad, but at the time I thought it did. I’ve pondered it many times since that day. It became somewhat of a litmus test for all of the occupations I considered or took on ever since.”

Pharo discovered that not all jobs are fun all the time, but that didn’t discourage him. “I eventually realized that the trick is to make everything you do fun and enjoyable. With the right attitude and mindset, that’s not as difficult as it sounds. Knowing what lies ahead can be the incentive you need to hurry up and get through the less-than-pleasant things that are standing in your way,” he says.

Pharo believes this principle of finding profit and enjoyment in farming and ranching is key to achieving sustainable agriculture. He says, “There’s a reason the next generation, for the most part, isn’t coming back to the farm and/or ranch. If agriculture isn’t profitable and enjoyable, it will never be sustainable.”

Pharo concludes, “For the past 15 years, the mission of Pharo Cattle Company has been to help ranchers put more fun and profit into their business. This isn’t nearly as difficult as most ranchers think it is, but it does involve some creative, outside-the-box thinking. Helping and watching other ranchers create a profitable and enjoyable business is extremely rewarding and enjoyable for me. I’ve found something I truly love to do.”

Give 100%

Kevin and Lydia Yon of Ridge Springs, SC, followed their passion and started a farm with their three young children.

In achieving this, Lydia Yon says one of their mantras has been “Quitting is not an option, and always give 100% or more.”

“I’m not sure who instilled this in us, but it must be imprinted in both Kevin and me pretty well,” Lydia says. “We were told on so many occasions by lenders, other farmers and various pessimists that we could not just go start our own cattle farm. Fortunately, we were also encouraged – by a smaller number of people – who were pretty sure we could do it if we had a plan and were willing to stick to it.”

And the Yons did just that. In just 12 years their farm has grown from 100 acres and 100 cows to 1,500 acres of crop, hay and pastureland and more than 800 Angus cows.

The lesson of working hard has also been instilled in their children. “Our kids are well aware that if you sign up for something, you better be sure you want to see it through. We realize there are legitimate justifications for throwing in the towel or changing business plans, but at our place it won’t ever be for lack of effort,” she says.

Additionally, the Yons put a lot of stock in keeping an open mind and continuing to learn. Lydia often recalls this advice from a college professor: “Remember that every day after your college graduation, you will have an opportunity to realize how much you don’t know yet.”

She adds: “There’s no substitute for learning from other more experienced cattlemen and from other businesses, even those that have no relation to agriculture. We all tend to get stuck in a rut and do things out of convenience or familiarity. It’s always a good idea to ask for input from others and to never get to a point where you are satisfied with the knowledge that you already have.”

Look for opportunity

Tom Field, director of producer education for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, counts one particular piece of advice he got as a teenager among his most valuable life lessons.

“We were moving a herd of about 500 cows and calves from one high-country pasture to another and the weather was cold, rainy and dreary. I was riding drag and after 5-6 hours of rain, I started complaining to a neighbor who was helping us. He listened patiently and then said, ‘Young man, this is the best weather we’re going to get today; you just as well enjoy it.’ ”

Field says that conversation “helped me think about hardship and challenge differently. When things get tough, I try to remember Mr. Howard’s advice and keep my focus on the bigger picture and actually look for the opportunity in each situation.”

Kindra Gordon is a Whitewood, SD-based freelance writer.

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Living the rule

South Carolina Angus breeders Kevin and Lydia Yon still use the Golden Rule – treat others as you want to be treated – as a guideline in their business dealings.

Lydia recounts how several years ago they were negotiating a price on selling their first load of sight-unseen cattle to Sam Hands at Triangle H Feedyard in Garden City, KS. “We didn’t know him, and he didn’t know us.”

As he and Kevin tried to work out a price on the cattle, Hands asked Yon if he knew the Golden Rule. Yon replied he did, and Hands said, “Well, I’ll keep my end of it if you keep yours.” To that, Yon replied, “Agreed.”

Lydia says, “We’ve been doing business with Sam for many years since then and our relationship has been built solely on this principle. We always send him good cattle and he always gives us a fair price.

“We’ve tried to model our business around that Golden Rule. While it may seem extremely simplistic, it’s really the source of all sound relationships in business and in life,” she says.
— Kindra Gordon