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The Weekly News Source for Wyoming's Ranchers, Farmers and AgriBusiness Community

Good news, bad news

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Sometimes people complain that all they ever read or hear in the news is bad. They may blame the messenger. “Why can’t they tell us about all the good things that happened today?”

The news people are just doing their job. Things are supposed to go right, so it is only news when they go awry. If no news is good news, it is also largely true that good news is no news. 

An old setup line for jokes is, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?” Real-life research, like most of the jokes, has it that people want bad news first. Unlike the jokes, bad news is not usually followed by a funny punch line.

Psychologists have studied how young people react to news of good or bad consequences for actions and found that we tend to disbelieve the bad until learning from experience as we mature. All age groups believe the good consequences.

Other research says our brains are wired to recall and react more strongly to bad news because at the dawn of time the most important things to remember were dangers. Of course, we learn early on that fire always burns, just like cattle learn the electric fence is to be avoided.

Moving to a practical model, psychologists have noted a typical pattern response to bad news, represented by the acronym SARA – shock or surprise, followed by anger or anxiety, then rejection or rationalization and finally acceptance.

We vary in how long we spend in step three and whether we simply accept it or try to change the situation. 

Good and bad news are common in every business, including cattle enterprises. Bad news is much more important than good, and again, it has much more impact. Since things are supposed to be going right, you want the bad news first and as soon as possible – not so that you can come to accept it, but so you can make changes.

When selling cattle in a market that has evolved to expect better-than-average performance, you can be sure of a quick shock of bad news if your cattle even look subpar. Bad news grows if they go on to disappoint in feedyard performance and grade, and that news more than likely comes back to your doorstep like a slow-burning fuse.

Buyers, feeders and packers keep good records, marking down gold stars or red marks by source. A bad experience means they will try to avoid your cattle, and you can only hope to learn why so you can adjust.

The final arbiter in this market is the consumer, however, who cannot usually exert direct influence on your cattle price. 

A bad eating experience stays with them, however, and they exert an influence further down the beef supply chain. A rule of thumb in the restaurant business is that people may tell somebody if they had a great steak, but they will tell 10 if they were disappointed.

Those who sell beef at today’s prices have increasingly adopted a strategy that few predicted a decade ago.  Creativity in making better use of new cuts and grinds was to be expected. But the surprise – and a good one if you produce high-quality beef – is that the beef marketers are turning toward premium brands that cost even more.

They are doing so to minimize the chance of diners spreading bad news about their food, and to build repeat customers who just want to share the good news with their taste buds.

Whatever link you call home in the beef supply chain, be thankful for bad news. Be proactive in looking for it and take corrective action when and where you can. Then, join with other consumers in celebrating your success with a flavorful, juicy steak.

Next time in Black Ink® Miranda Reiman will compare market share and demand.  Questions? Call 330-465-0820 or e-mail

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