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Too many irons in the fire

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Nicole Lane Erceg

     Imagine turning the handle on the water faucet and nothing comes out. Reaching the scoop into the feedbag only to scrape the bottom and come up empty. Picking up the coffee pot to pour, but no liquid fills the cup.

     Seems obvious, but it’s an obstacle I stumble on regularly, putting too many things on a mile-long to-do list, certain I’ll just figure out how to get it all done. I offer up time and resources I don’t have, to try and fit all the priorities. When this state of chaos takes over my life, it yields few positive results.

     Overbooking days and weeks are common across the cattle community, too.

     In the sea of never-ending ranch demands with a to-do list longer than a roll of barbwire, it can be hard to prioritize. We need a calving-ease bull producing a heavy-weaned calf that can thrive in a certain part of the world and beat the breed average for all important criteria in a balanced phenotypic package.          

     When it comes to management, balancing nutrition, health, pasture rotations, fence maintenance and office tasks are more than enough to keep a person busy – and that’s leaving a lot of things off the list. 

     In the midst of these demands, it’s easy to forget an important factor in producing good beef – the marbling to satisfy consumers. The end result may be a heavy calf that looks great, but yields a final product that fails on the plate. All this work for a sub-par eating experience or a disappointed buyer who won’t risk trying beef again for some time.

     If everything is important, nothing is. But this doesn’t mean we can’t have it all.

     A wise friend once told me, “We can have too many irons in the fire, as long as the fire is hot enough.”

     There’s a lot of economical relevance that can be bred into cattle these days and plenty of new technology to apply in management – but none of this matters if we’re heaping irons into a bed of ashes.

     In an industry where 75 percent Choice is barely average, cattle need to start with genetics that can reach higher grades than yesterday. The number one reason cattle miss out on premium Choice programs is a lack of marbling. The bar for high-quality beef keeps rising.

     Today’s cattle markets may not be as strong as we hoped for, but it doesn’t have to squelch profitability. Cattlemen who prioritized carcass traits along with other economically important requirements are still running in the black. Premium programs still pay a premium when the market disappoints.

     But without the genetic potential built in, there’s nothing to be realized, nothing to be gained with longer feeding or better management. It’s like trying to fill a bucket when the well is dry.

     If we set a good fire, keep it stoked and then stack the irons by prioritizing the consumer first, we’ll get a whole lot more beef in the branded box. And this means more money in cattlemen’s pockets. 

     Next time in Black Ink®, Miranda Reiman will talk about our common ground. Questions? E-mail

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