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Irons in the fire: Hoosiers and Pea Eye

Progressive Cattleman Staff Paul Marchant Published on 23 April 2012

Several years ago, I helped coach the local high school basketball team for a few seasons. As anyone in rural America knows, hitching one’s hopes and reason for living to the success of a small town high school athletic program can sometimes be like a spring spent doctoring scouring calves. Your efforts and heart may be fully invested, but you’re most likely going to lose some.

One particular season, as high school sports are supposedly intended to do, served up a good share of life lessons.

The team consisted mainly of a bunch of undersized, undertalented overachievers. Our two best post players were barely six feet nothing, if we lied about their height; our best shooter could hit a three-pointer but tended to shut down if he missed one or two; our best athlete sometimes forgot about defense and our best defender didn’t want to score.

I’d like to tell you that we had a Hollywood season, but we were more Rudy than Hoosiers and more Newt and Pea Eye than we were Butch and Sundance.We lost more than we won and we knew what it felt like to lose by 25.

We didn’t end the season by shocking the world and taking state, but we did shock the county by coming around through the loser’s bracket and making it to the state tournament, where we barely missed making it to the third day of the tournament.

Translation: We lost our first two games and were knocked out of the tournament without a trophy. However, rarely did I ever feel like that team didn’t do its best.

The point of this story is not that we should accept mediocrity. The point is that, no matter what we do, we should do the best we can.

For Kentucky, that may be the Final Four. For South Dakota State, it may be an eight-point loss to Baylor in the first round. There is no better than your best.

There are about 100 kids who show steers at our county fair. It has turned into a very competitive show. Gone are the days when my kids had a fairly reasonable shot at winning the purple banner with one of our homegrown steers.

That’s not to say that we don’t have some decent calves, but they can’t really compare with some of the high-powered show steers in the show ring.

That doesn’t mean my kids shouldn’t show because they can’t be the best, because they should always do their best. If a steer doesn’t make weight and misses the sale because he didn’t get fed right or he’s too rank to handle in the show ring because nobody took time at home to gentle him down, that is a different story.

It seems like we get too hung up on the biggest, the prettiest or the highest-priced. That’s often true in many aspects of the cattle business.

Does it really matter to me if my neighbor topped the sale last fall with his January-born calves that came off the cows and irrigated pasture at 650 pounds when my March and April calves came off the desert at 500?

Do you really need a new pickup with surround-sound and a built-in Boy Friday? Or will the ’02 Dodge with 190,000 miles but the decent running Cummins work just fine for another year?

The producers who have been able to remain in the cow business and make a decent living for themselves and their families year in and year out are generally the least-cost, efficient producers who don’t tend to jump at every new trend and fad like a pup after a jackrabbit.

Every outfit needs to do its own homework. A frame score 8 Charolais-Holstein cross cow may wean the biggest calf in a pasture in west Tennessee, but is she going to work for very long in southeast Oregon?

Every business decision a cowman makes should be accompanied by the question: “Is this the best choice I can make to help keep me in business?”

It may be cool to see my name in the sale report after I bought the high-selling bull at the sale, but he is just as likely to come off the mountain crippled as the four bulls I could have bought with the same money.

On the other hand, if I’m a seedstock guy making my living off of fancy, top-end genetics, what good does it do me to buy four no-name bulls at the end of the sale when I could have bought the big-named sale-topper that could more than earn his keep in semen sales and as my next great herd sire?

The next big thing is always around the corner. Your next big thing, however, may not be mine. And that’s OK.  end_mark