Category Archives: Cattle Production & Management

Sustainability: My point of view

I am going to explain this word from my point of view.  Many things have led to my definition of it like the way I was raised, the environment or area of the country I have lived in, the places in the world I have traveled to, and most importantly the different ideas people have shared with me on how to live and think.

For some reason I have a huge desire to learn and develop knowledge and skill, then try to take this even higher. I feel the only way to do this is to is let your ego take you where you need to go, then overcome the ego to learn even more, and allow your skill to improve to the point your ego shows up again to start the whole process over again.

When you get satisfied and think you are as good as it gets, you are right.

To me this is really dangerous not only on a personal level, but also on the world level and industry level as well.

On the subject of the sustainability of beef, ego is playing a huge part.  It has become us against them.  The problem is there are not many of us and a whole bunch of them.

As I said before many things have influenced the way I feel and think.  I am exposed to more opinions from all sides than most folks.  The hard part is getting the facts and not opinions or wishes from both sides.

The place I grew up on in the Helena, Montana area is now a housing development around a golf course.  There are many huge homes and paved streets.  The golf course has a fancy clubhouse, restaurant, pro shop and a very large paved parking lot.

The shop, hog barns, and slaughter house are used for golf cart storage and to keep all the equipment it takes to operate a golf course stored or worked on.  The corrals, feed lot and the fences are all gone.  No animals or crops are raised on the place any longer.  Just big expensive houses and a golf course.

I am sure many of the people that live and play on the place believe beef is bad for the environment.  I beg to differ.  It seems to me we were operating a sustainable operation.  We grew hay and grain to feed the cattle and hogs.  The manure from the cattle and the hogs was used to fertilize the soil.  We rotated crops with alfalfa to put nitrogen back in the soil. We were a part of the community and provided a service with our slaughter house for folks to harvest their own food.

My grandfather’s place bordered the place with the golf course.  We ended up buying the place.  The creek that ran through the golf course came through our place as well.  The plant life in it was so thick that you could hardly ride a horse through it and the flow really slowed. It was much different than before the golf course.  We had real big trout in it before, but I think they have all disappeared.

With so many houses and sewers the ground water contamination was getting to be a concern.  Most of the people had dogs and that was always a concern to have them chasing stock and I would sometimes see the cattle running.  I think it was a fun pastime for some golfers to see if they could hit a cow with a golf ball.  We also got a lot more traffic on foot and in cars.  The golf course and subdivision really changed everything.

My definition of sustainable is this:  Using something in a way that maintains or improves quality.

That’s it.  Producing beef, pork, and growing crops on that land was sustainable.  Not only for the land itself, but it was not hurting the surrounding area, and was creating protein for humans while improving the land.

Something had been grazing and  putting manure and urine on that few hundred acres for thousands of years.  Grazing had made it sustainable for all those years.  From the way I see it, our farming and ranching enterprise was as good or maybe better than the previous use, and I am certain it was much better for this land than a housing development and a golf course. I guess I can see this because I was there.  I am proud of the way it was taken care of by my family.

Mother Earth is what is important.  We need to sustain her.  I truly believe grazing animals must be a part of that.  It’s not about the beef, it’s about what the cattle can do to improve and sustain the soil and water.

Big companies like Walmart and McDonald’s may not know what they want from those of us raising beef. The customer may be unreasonable in their desires. It may be a conspiracy theory by the United Nations. We may not be able to feed the world because of it, or one of the many other reasons I have or haven’t heard.

It’s really about figuring out what is right for everyone and then doing it.  If the consumer doesn’t approve they will change their consuming habits.  If the producer can’t make a profit long term they will change the production model or stop producing.  The government can regulate us out of business, or subsidize to keep us in business, or stay out of it and let supply and demand control it.

I don’t care what you call it, but it has to be right for two reasons, first to be able maintain or improve soil and water in a profitable manner, and second to produce a product the consumer wants.  That is sustainable beef.

The way I see it sustainable beef is the best term for it.  If you have a better term, let’s hear it. I would really like to here what you have to say about this, and how you would label it.

Watch this YouTube video and it will show how I feel every time I go by the old place.

~ Curt Pate

Proper pressure

My focus this week is working with bulls. For those of you that don’t work with livestock, I think the same principles apply to people handling. I challenge you to think of handling humans with proper pressure for better results, and hope by reading this it will get you thinking about how to work better with all things with a mind.

The subject this week is proper pressure. When working with bulls not applying and using pressure properly will result in negative results quicker than any other class of cattle.

There are many things to consider when working with a single bull. The distance you work from the bull should be determined by the bull. If you try to work the bull to close and keep the pressure on he will get agitated or find someplace to keep the pressure off (i.e. going in the brush). If you are hesitant, and work to far away the bull will learn very quickly that he is in control and can control the handler.

Most bulls are thicker and more muscular than other types of cattle and can’t bend as easily as others. If you get behind them they can’t see you as well and can’t bend so they either stop and wait for you or they turn and look at you. Either result is negative and creates the need to reapply pressure to start the process over.

You should start the pressure from the side in an area the bull can see you without bending its head and move towards the bull at an angle that keeps the head pointed in the direction you want it to go. You will also need to step forward at an angle that will keep the head pointed in the desired direction. If the head turns, step back immediately, then step forward at the given angle and speed the bull is indicating will work. This is reading the bull. He will tell you what to do if you are observant and can think about what to do at the right moment.

The more you work with a single bull properly, the better he will be to work. You are communicating to the bull that if he moves you will not put more pressure on than he can take. If you work a single bull properly and enough, he will learn to work, and not get as agitated because of this training.

When working a group of bulls it is much different than any other group of cattle. Fighting is the problem. When one bull challenges another bull it causes the bulls to have their minds on the other bull. The other bull puts much more pressure on than the human can safely do so the handler can’t do much until the fighting stops. If you get to a spot that you can get the bulls attention, it is very dangerous because one bull running from or being pushed by another is very fast and hard to get out of the way of. The first few times you handle a group of bulls they will have to have some time to work things out amongst themselves. If you don’t have time and space it can get dangerous. Once the bulls get things worked out, they will be good to handle if you pressure them properly.

By teaching bulls to understand pressure you will actually teach them to fight less, because they have learned to respond and move away from pressure. This relates to other bulls’ pressure as well. It will not eliminate fighting, but reduce it and make it easier to stop once it has started.

From my observations it is very important to learn how to teach bulls to work. Safety is the main reason, productivity second. If you are a professional, these things are important. Make the time to train bulls to work. If I was selling herd bulls I would train them to load in a stock trailer out in the open. This would be so valuable for the purchaser, and would force the herdsman to teach the bulls to take pressure to get them to load. Just an idea …

I purchased a bunch of bucking bull yearlings from D&H Cattle Co. a few years back. One of the bulls was a great looking bull but real mean. He was trying to hook the horses when they were bringing them in and when I was feeding would try to hook me when I was taking strings off the bale. I challenged myself to change him. He still gets on the fight if he gets to much pressure, but he seems to enjoy being worked properly and likes to be around me. I really like this bull. He taught me a lot on how to work with an animal that is on the fight.

curt rides cow 2

Curt and the bull named “H”

I can pick his feet up and and scratch him all over, but I am very careful about how I approach him and move him. I like the savvy old saying, “Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.” Now those are words to live by.

~ Curt Pate

Farm Bill

Everyone sure seems happy the farm bill got passed.  I don’t know anything about what is in it and don’t really care.

The thing that I would be interested in is people’s attitude about how important it is to agriculturalists’ success.

I had some real good things set up in my morals when I was younger.

First my grandfather Leonard Frank was really against borrowing money.  It was not the borrowing that he did not like, but he felt by working and saving and starting small and growing you grew your skill ahead of your business and therefore could maintain and improve the business.  The farther along I get in this life I am seeing how smart he really was (ornery, but smart).

My father Tex Pate was very good at seeing a good business and then learning how to make it work.  He was not afraid to borrow money, but was real serious about getting out of debt.

Lee Pitts had a big impact on me as we got his paper The Livestock Digest. He was outspoken about things in the beef industry and I liked his philosophy at the time when I was just starting to think about things in the cattle industry.

Then I read a book titled The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton.  It is a tragic book about the drought in the 50’s.  Charlie Flagg is the main character, and he is very set in his ways and does not believe in government programs.

I totally agree.  When you put your hand out to the government to pay or partially pay for something it will most likely cost you money or effect your business negatively somehow, but it is just so hard to turn down something that appears to be for nothing.  This is a thing that is very hard to see, especially when everyone is justifying it.  Nothing is for nothing.

Most of us know there will be a drought in whatever part of the country you live in.  Before all the assistance programs you kept your numbers down, and the feed reserves up just in case, or were willing to sell animals to match available feed.  When we started getting disaster assistance it changed the grazing programs, cattle numbers, land prices, age of ranchers, type of equipment, number of auction markets, added to the national debt,  and caused a ripple effect across the entire cattle industry.

From what I see we have become a nation that lives beyond our means and our country can’t support all the things we all think we are entitled too.  This goes from farmers to auto manufacturers to folks that have lost their job.  I would be willing to bet this is going to change.  It has to and it should.

I learned this the hard way.  I got into a situation that I had to make a payment on a grazing operation based on paying for it as the cattle grazed.  A very extreme drought caused us to reduce numbers and remove cattle early.  It did not cover the mortgage and it’s a good thing I had another income.  I was sold on a deal that couldn’t lose.  But in the back of my mind I could hear my Grandpa saying, “You had to be a big shot.”

Like I have said before when I share an opinion if you don’t feel the same that’s fine with me. These are just my thoughts and it really is not that big of a deal to me if you agree or disagree. I don’t farm the government and never have.  I got a check for $700 dollars and tore it up and threw itin the garbage. I had no idea what it was for. I also let a neighbor talk me into letting him get some money from the government for some farming he did for me. The money came to me and I gave the check to him, but I did not like it.

This is a really tough deal.  Every one says how tough it is to make it these days in agriculture. I disagree.  It is really tough to make it these days if you go borrow money that is impossible to pay back.  It is tough to make it if you don’t do the things that make money in this day and age.  Just because everyone else is doing it a certain way may be a good reason to do it a different way.

It seems we think you must get big to make it these days. I disagree. Start small, gain knowledge and resources, and then try to stay small.  If you are really good that will be the biggest challenge.  The better we get at something the more we challenge the limits and then we either are not as successful or quality of life suffers.

I hope you will read The Time It Never Rained.  I hope you will take pride in the fact that you are making good decisions that will help you prosper on your own.  Then when the time comes and this old country comes down hard on us, like it did to our friends in the North last fall, we can all pitch in and give the kind of help that really works – prayers, physical help and spare money, or commodities from friends and neighbors.  Our founding Fathers, our ancestors, and Charlie Flagg would be proud of that.

~ Curt Pate

Sustainability and the customer

Last week was the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s annual convention.  It’s a big time deal and I am proud I got to be a part of it. I had lots of good experiences, met lots of good folks, and got some new things to think about.

A man from McDonald’s gave an interesting talk on the sustainability commitment that the company has made.  The most interesting thing that I found was that favorable public perception for the fast food giant was very low.  The customer has spoken and they are trying to do something about it.  They may not know exactly what to do, but they are working on it and I bet they will figure it out.

The A&W burger joints in Canada have gone to all natural beef.  They even go so far as to feature the main suppliers and the sustainable practices they use. To learn more about what they are doing check out: www.awbetterbeef.ca

Several companies have been able to already convince or capitalize on the more affluent members of society about sustainability and create or satisfy a customers needs for organic or natural labeled foods.  I did not know if this was a trend or a fad, because it was a pretty niche market.

I used to get kind of a big kick out of going to the natural food store in Helena, Montana to shop with my wife.  We had a big old diesel pickup with a bale bed and brush guard and it would really stand out in the parking lot full of Subarus.

You are supposed to bring your own bags to these stores and I had lots of them from all the cattle trade shows I was involved in.  The trouble was they had been given out by all the drug companies. You will get some looks in the natural health care isle if you are putting natural cold remedies in a bag with a cattle vaccine logo on it.

Just me being in the store with a cowboy hat on created quite a lot of stress.  I would seek out the folks that seemed to be the most opposite of me and ask them questions or try to get them to help me.  Some would be a little hard to catch up with.  At the check out line it was really interesting because so many of the folks had to stay there with me and felt uncomfortable knowing I was a rancher and just maybe a republican.  Most of them had a brace up against me, but if I smiled and asked them some question or complemented them on something they would talk to me, and a few of them would even look at me.

My point is that I was very different in my lifestyle from the people that chose to shop in this store.  They were skeptical of me and I had to make a big effort to change the way they perceived me.

The reusable bag with a medicine bottle and a syringe picture carried by a guy with a cowboy hat and manure on his boots was just as sustainable as the the guy with the tattoos and nose rings and the hemp bag.  I was reusing a bag and expressing my lifestyle through my appearance the same as him.  We may have been more alike than either of us thought. Or maybe not …

It sure looks to me like the sustainable movement is not only here to stay, but is growing at a very rapid pace.  When Walmart and McDonald’s are marketing to the customer as sustainable it’s pretty hard to deny it.

The funny thing is after the seminar I heard lots of negative talk about this whole sustainability thing.  It confuses me as to why beef producers don’t understand that we produce a product for a customer.  Most of us don’t sell directly to to the consumer so we hire someone to do it for us (i.e. Walmart and McDonald’s).  I am pretty sure they know what the customer wants but we don’t seem to want to listen.

Most people don’t see when a bull is on the fight or a horse is going to buck them off, until they have been run over or bucked off a few times.  They just could not see it shaping up.

I don’t know how it’s going to shape up, but sustainability is an important concept for our consumer of beef. If we can’t see this by now we are about to get run over and bucked off hard.

My grandfather always said we need to “separate our wants from our needs.” People don’t have to or need to eat beef.  We in the beef industry “need” to get consumers to “want” to eat beef.  They are telling us what they want and we need to listen.  Enjoy it and profit from it.

~ Curt Pate

Ron Gill and I presented demos at the NCBA Trade Show on working with younger calves. We tried to show several styles with proper Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) protocols and animal welfare the priority in all of them. We had lots of good help.

Todd McCartney and Tom Curtin are horseback in the photo. Ron Gill and Chuck Cogsgrove of Anitrace are doing the tagging. Dean Fish and myself are doing the real work on the ground crew.  It all went pretty good, there were a few times when things got a little out of hand but that is real life, you should always learn from each situation.  The cattle and horses were real good to work with.

~ Curt Pate

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