Too many irons in the fire 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 your cup.

You can’t work with what you don’t have.

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 is 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. You need a calving-ease bull that produces a heavy weaned calf that can thrive in your 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 you 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 that 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 that doesn’t mean you can’t have it all.

A wise friend once told me, “You can have too many irons in the fire, as long as your 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 that matters if we’re heaping irons into a bed of ashes.

In an industry where 75% Choice is barely average, cattle need to start with genetics that can reach higher grades than yesterday. The No. 1 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 you hoped for, but that 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 that means more money in cattlemen’s pockets.


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