The following quote comes from a professional development video I was watching this past Wednesday: “If I had more free time, I would write a book.” This statement is written in the second conditional, and speaks to my month of November. Last year, I won National Novel Writing Month by typing 50,000 words in one month. They never got published, but hey! I did it. This month, I decided not to participate in NaNoWriMo due to my new job in a new place, which is fascinating and will probably make some great novel fodder for 2015.
Consider the title of this post, which comes from a presentation I attended half of, called, “Five Essentials of Ranch Management.” As the room filled up with landed cowboys and their able assistants in work and life, I was spotted by a campus papparazzo. She knows that I’m a humble teacher, living paycheck-to-paycheck for the sake of bettering the world. She knows that I am cut from urban cloth, and my timid deer-in-the-headlights expression probably tips her off to my leaning slightly to the left. She burst out laughing and asked what the heck I was doing there. I told her sociology. Two truer facts are that it was something to do, and it was a notetaking exercise that I could participate in out of empathy for my students. I could take my notes and work with them, turning them into something else (this blog post). In the end, it also turned out to be the least expensive management seminar I will ever attend.
For ease, I will break this post into three sections: How to Run a Ranch, General Management Tips, and Gems. It’s been a few weeks now. The wisdom I will spread in this post is not mine, and I only have what I jotted into my notebook.
Let’s begin at the beginning, when the speaker (Burke Teichert) announced that his audience were readers of Beef magazine, and that we would recognize certain philosophies from that publication. He advocated for a holistic or “systems” approach to running a ranch. From there, the speaker informed that in order to improve land and profits, a rancher must consider three key ratios: acres per cow, cows per man, and fed feed vs. grazed feed. Other things ranchers need to consider are how to choose bulls and heifers. Teichert specifically said, “Do you have to feed your bulls to keep them in condition? If so, do you want their heifer calves?” The things I never knew that anybody had to worry about! Once the rancher has chosen bulls and heifers, the next decision is when to time the birthing of their babies. Teichert explained that calving in May results in calves which are not as fat, but calving in March produces one fatter calf but results in extra feed and shelter-warming costs. Finally, ranchers must decide when to cull their cows (in other words, remove them from the breeding herd). This must be done when they require too much individual attention, when they are acting wild, and when their calves are skinny.
When it comes to pasture quality, Teichert spent some time talking about the decision of whether to use wormers and insecticides. He stated that such chemicals may work to boost production for a year or so, but may ultimately cause some long-term damage. He said that it is possible to eventually lower cattle’s natural genetic ability to fight off invaders in their immune systems. In the meantime, parasites could gain immunity to the chemicals and come back even stronger than before, like taking too many antibiotics. Super sadly, that’s all that my notebook and I retained. For more handy tips about ranching, said in a much more scientific way, Teichert’s Beef magazine blog can be found here.
Now, for my fellow middle-managers, Teichert’s tips for running your show as efficiently and smoothly as possible:
-Use an integrative approach by involving disciplines outside your own to help understand the large scope of potential problems and make good decisions. He talked a lot about visiting neighbors and having problem-solving sessions, especially as part of training for new employees.
-Any time you look for ways to improve performance, there is some sort of cost (basic econ). A mediocre manager thinks that changing one variable changes one result, but the smart manager knows that changing one thing has a cascading effect. A bunch of other stuff will change, too.
-Relationship-building can create a valuable team that you don’t have to pay, and relationships with people mean more than just being their boss. Teichert suggested compiling a list of nearby schools, churches, banks, doctors’ offices, etc., for new employees, much as we create similar lists for our incoming exchange visitors.
-There may be initial performance dips during the learning curve.
-Reports help managers make good decisions, so it is important to have good planning and decision-making tools.
-“Leadership is best gauged by the voluntary response of those being led.”
-Can we empower people? No! We can encourage, facilitate (ie visits to the neighbors), and reward. Empowerment is a personal thing. One must want to work for oneself at becoming empowered.
So, you can see I was inspired and consider my time listening to Burke Teichert to have been well spent. I am now in awe and amazement of ranchers, who spend tons of time, money, and brainpower raising the food that other people eat.
Finally, some gems:
-“It is very difficult to manage that which is not measured.”
-“Very little good can happen without making a profit.”
Before reading the next gem, google the Winter of 1948 in the High Plains. I found a good resource here, even though it’s from the east side of the state.
-“I lose a lot of opportunities if I treat every year like it’s the winter of ’48.” I personally drew a little star by that one, but not by the next one, which I only understood due to sitting in a room with cowboys (only three left their hats on!) for two hours.
-“Good graziers are also good animal handlers.”
-Always invest in a good barbed wire stretcher, and finally
-“Who do you think is going to win? Mother Nature, or a chemical company?”
From day one and every day, I always share three factoids with my students:
1) We’re all new here.
2) We are all far from home, and
3) We’re all a little culture shocked.
I’m glad I got to see Mr. Teichert’s presentation, and I’m glad I chose to write about it here. After all, at the end of the day, this is a geography blog.