A professor of mine once said that successful ranchers should spend at least 75% of their time working on improving the ranch business, as opposed to working on day-to-day operations for the ranch. At the time, I thought he was dead wrong and he had his percentages backwards.
Based on my ranching background and the love of ranch work, it seemed impossible for a small- or medium-sized rancher to spend 75% of his time behind a desk. I continued to view business-focused ranchers as only being applicable to the large operations. It just seemed impractical to hire employees to conduct all the daily chores and manage periodic work events.
After 15 years of working with some of the most progressive ranches that have continue to be successful in a landscape of tight margins and high cost of production, I am convinced he was right.
The lack of skilled labor that can be hired to accomplish ranch work is generally viewed as a barrier. However, I have come to realize that the best employees are trained, not hired. Some of the best ranch hands that I have worked with haven’t grown up on a ranch. Or if they did grow up ranching, they generally state the they do things very different now from how they did in the past.
Moreover, many progressive ranches have employed new equipment and management strategies to reduce labor requirements, while maintaining optimal levels of productivity. But ranchers must take time to identify these opportunities or daily tasks will continue to consume their lives.
Another barrier to overcome is the perception that there isn’t enough profit in ranching for family-owned operations to support a boss working full-time on the ranch, not for the ranch. While this may be true based on current levels of production, strategic changes in ranch management can unlock profit potential unrealized by ranches that have been stuck in a rut.
Suboptimal lamb and kid crops are a great example. I have had the opportunity to work with producers that raise lamb or kid crops that are 50 to 100% above industry averages. For the most part, these advancements in reproductive efficiency were realized because the producers dedicated time to set goals for improved reproductive efficiency and took action to achieve these goals.
If you are unsure where to start to make improved management decisions, the next time you are performing an important ranching task , ask yourself “why am I doing it this way?” If the answer lacks certain buzzwords like “efficiency”, “economics”, “productivity” and is simply “because it has always been done this way”, then this is an excellent place to begin. Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” We must recognize our weaknesses and look for opportunities for improvement.
In general, I have found the key areas where a laptop, budget, expert advice, and management plan can lead to more productive sheep or goat operations than simply putting in more hours of boots on the ground are as follows:
• Source animals with genetic potential to rear multiple offspring
• Optimize nutrition to achieve genetic potential
• Strategic prevention and treatment of disease
• Develop strategies to eliminate predation
• Refine marketing strategies for all sources of livestock sales
Don’t get me wrong. I highly respect and value the work ethic of the ranching community. In my biased view, this community of people are the ones who made this country great. I also realize that working with your hands and caring for animal and the land directly give many of us purpose. I am not advocating that we all must put down our sorting sticks and trade in the old feed truck for a sedan to zip into the office in town all the time. But, there is a balance between doing what you love and doing what is needed to maintain the future of that lifestyle. You are the most important part of your ranching business so make sure your knowledge and talents are being used in the most beneficial way.
We must recognize for animal agriculture to continue for generations to come, we must take time to capitalize on opportunities. Don’t miss these opportunities because you are too busy doing chores!
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.