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For a few dollars more

Life is full of decisions. Some are easier to make than others. Some are pure guesses. Some yield disastrous results. Some yield apparent genius.

This past week had me making all kinds of mating decisions for my cowherd. Actually, the way I have my system set up, most of the decisions weren't too hard. They're a little on the random side. I choose the bulls earlier in the year (for the hard decisions), and then I randomly breed the cows to them as the herd goes through the chute (for the easy part of the decision making).

The other decision I made last year was to use a new A. I. synchronization system where we breed the whole herd in one day. That eliminates the need to do heat detection, and it also concentrates the work into a narrower window — although, that window was a little steamy this past week with killer heat and humidity.

All the extra work pays off in better animals for me to raise and better beef for my customers to eat 21 months later. Data from the packing plant earlier this summer revealed that the group I sent was 36% USDA Prime and another 59% qualified for Certified Angus Beef. That means you have 95% odds of getting some high-end meat from my herd vs. maybe 10 to 20% from the rest of the nation's herd.

To get those kinds of results, you don't just sit by and let things happen. You make them happen. That means doing a little more work than the average producer. Doing a little more is easier if you have a nice place to work. Even the facilities part of the equation was a decision. When I switched my calving season to a much later date in 1999, I was able to use part of my building for new handling facilities instead of using it for calving shelter in the winter. It also allowed me to move my work from the great outdoors into the shade and comfort of a building. This week, that decision looked and felt like genius in action. True genius would have had air conditioning included.

I decided to go with an equipment design that animal-handling guru Dr. Temple Grandin liked. She had a few other pointers for me, too. The things she liked the most seemed to all come together in a package from a company in Kansas. I talked to the company’s representative at a couple of shows throughout the year prior to my purchase. There were a lot of things about their product I liked. One thing I didn't like was the color. Their standard equipment package was sort of a fire-engine red.

When I placed my order with the company, I asked the friendly lady on the phone if there was any way to get my equipment in a shade other than their standard red.

"Oh yes, we can paint it a different color if you'd like, Mr. Ryan. I have a list of options for you right here," she proclaimed as she reached for another sheet of paperwork. She then proceeded to read through a list that would make the people at Crayola very happy. None of the shades really lit my fire until she got quite a ways down the list.

"Black, Royal Blue, Burnt Orange, John Deere Green. . . . "

Whoa, stop right there! We have a winner!!!

"Well, Mr. Ryan, I'd like you to know that there will be an extra charge for John Deere Green. It takes an extra hundred dollars for that option," she said, somewhat hesitantly.

"A hundred bucks? Is that per piece, or for the whole thing?" I inquired, silently doing the cost-per-piece-at-a-c-note-per math in my head.

"It's a one-time fee to set up for the whole thing, but it will be an additional fee above the standard red color, Mr. Ryan," she said, all lawyer-like.

"Ma'am, that's not a problem," I told her. "John Deere Green always costs more money, and it's usually worth it. Paint it green!"

So a couple weeks later, a semi showed up with my new handling facilities. They were not glaring Toro Red. They were a more understated, soothing shade of green. It was a color my herd is used to, so why perplex them with some stark contrast? Don't taunt them with the equivalent of a matador's cape in their face at every turn. Make them comfortable. Keep 'em chilled out.

We used the facilities with great results for several years. The one thing I wasn't too wild about was the headgate that came with the system. So I made another decision this summer and acquired a different headgate made here in Iowa. It's from a company that seems to have about 98% of the vet clinic business tied up when it comes to handling equipment. I've always liked their stuff, but when I made my large purchase several years ago, they didn't have solid sides on their curved working alleys. Temple always told us to make sure you have solid sides in your crowding tub and your circular chute. Cattle that can't see out will move forward. Those who can look through open sides will tend to balk and not flow through the system as well. I've been around both styles of systems in the past and I agree with her wholeheartedly now.

One problem. My latest headgate choice comes in a rather unsightly off-yellow. Not a Canary Yellow to match my John Deere Green system. Not a Lemon Yellow to make a reasonably good fit. Nope, it was more of a Hansa Yellow. (If you know what that is without Googling it, you can probably tell me the difference between Cream, Eggshell and Ivory with only a brief glance. You also obviously DO NOT have a guy card and never will!)

So I went ahead and made the purchase. Actually, I made two. I got the headgate from the vet clinic. Then I stopped by the parts counter at my local Deere dealer and invested in several cans of paint. Care to guess which color?

I did it to keep the herd flowing smoothly. It really wasn't a matter of personal preference. It was pure science.

Guy No. 2

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