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Animal Health Notebook

Coffee Shop Talk Drags Us Down

I believe in a positive attitude in which we choose to be successful and happy.


One of the few bad habits of which I have never allowed myself to indulge is regular visits to coffee shops, country stores or even sale barns.

I enjoy visiting with friends and neighbors, but I have found that I need good news, not bad. We should all understand the danger in the misery-loves-company concept.

Instead, I believe in being proactive, and that requires a positive attitude where we choose to be successful, happy and pleasing to others.

Coffee shop talk usually fails to meet my criteria for success. The resumes of the chief loafers and experts around these locations too often consist of business failures, a hard-working wife, her inheritance, and/or a workman’s comp lawyer.

In our local country store I generally stay just long enough to pay for my gas and spend 30 seconds starting a little "mess." It often goes something like this:

"Doc, you gonna spend half the day moving those steers?"

"No, I’m going to spend fifteen minutes moving steers while you’re fooling with all that wet hay. Have a nice day."
The weather and cattle markets are the common topics of farm and ranch conversations in most of North America. Focusing on lowering the cost of production, improving soil health, drought proofing, increasing profitability, and having more fun are topics that make more sense to me. Instead, mostly what I hear is something about a new piece of equipment, four-wheelers, trucks, and so forth.

I often find myself thinking aloud: "How many steers is it going to take to pay for the new toy and its first break down?" Then I leave.

When I graduated veterinary school in 1977, US beef consumption was right at 100 pounds per capita per year. Total meat protein was 203 pounds. Today, thirty-seven years later, meat protein consumption in the US is 215 pounds per person, of which beef now accounts for just over 50 pounds annually.

We might have the most nutritious, safest, and best eating experience of the animal proteins, but our business seems to be dying to the tune of 1% every year.

I have previously said that the problems with the cattle business all stem around money and the mind. I continue saying that is true. Most production costs since 1977 have gone up four to 40 times, while cattle prices have tripled. The cow-calf and stocker sectors of the beef industry are the least subsidized of all animal agriculture. In much of the country, pasture land is hard to lease and rent is high. Land purchase is not an option for most young, energetic producers. We old guys are not purchasing much land either. Expenses related to land such as rent, taxes and maintenance should be the major annual cost of producing a calf.

The dismal truth is that most American cattle operations are only seeing small profits with the present high prices.

Profitability in other sectors of animal agriculture (poultry, swine and fish) is slim, with only a few minute exceptions. In our county, there have been 12 or 15 poultry units put in by producers in the past fifteen years. With possibly one exception, all of these units are now being leased back to large integrators with the producer now holding the note but no longer acting as manager or employee.

Knowledgeable persons report to me that animal agriculture in the US is headed "offshore," and that we will likely be dependent on a handful of foreign countries for our meat in less than two decades. This is an alarming and shameful prophesy!

Grass-based agriculture can totally change these directions in as little as two to five years. Planned-grazed cattle in high densities, followed by complete plant recovery can bring back worn out pastures and range land quickly. When that's coupled with tall, warm-season grasses, legumes and forbs, the soil makes dramatic gains in structure and growth.

Soil and pastures that are healed and fully recovered are drought tolerant. With a little learning and experience, destocking basically becomes a thing of the past. The low-cost technology and most of the details and knowledge are readily available to aid in deterring our agricultural demise.

Are you involved in implementing a grazing program that works? Could it be you are hanging around the coffee shop too much?

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