Category Archives: Environment

Avarice

This is a word I did not know of until recently. It kind of is the same as greed but it’s more about an uncontrollable desire for money and riches no matter what, and the desire to hoard the wealth.

The way I learned about this was someone talking about big companies being avaricious. This may be true with some companies, and I have even saw the results of this in one company.

When I first started in the world of horse expos I got involved with Purina Mills. They had been a company with a great reputation in all ways. They were purchased by another company and I was in on some of the process. A bunch of young greedy fellows that knew everything came in and managed with a total different philosophy. They bankrupted the company in a few years. This was a great lesson in how greed and arrogance will get you. Purina Mills was then purchased by another company that was managed with integrity and sound business practices and now they are making a profit providing a valuable product for consumers.

The thing I saw was the sales people, mill managers, research farm and even some of the tops in management knew that things at the top were not right, but kept on trying to do the right thing for the customer. That seems to be the only thing that saved the integrity of the checkerboard.

I have been fascinated with Walmart for several years. I have read several books about the company. They have a reputation for being a tough company to do business with and have probably been the reason for some companies demise. My conclusion is they are all about the customer and they will do everything they can to provide their customer with value and moral satisfaction.

Ryan Rupert of the NCBA invited me to attend the Walmart Global Sustainability Milestone meeting. Ryan presented on behalf of the beef industry. It was a great experience and I really was proud of what Ryan did and was amazed at how people in the audience responded to him and the message he shared about beef.

If Walmart is interested in sustainability, the majority of the consumers in the United States and the world are interested in sustainability. Walmart is also very interested in animal welfare. This tells me the customer is very interested in animal welfare.

From what I have read and from my experience at Walmart world headquarters, I do not feel Walmart has avarice. Instead it is almost like a culture to create great value for the customer. The Walmart mantra is “Save money, live better.” That is what Sam Walton was about and that is what the company is still about.

We in agriculture would do well to watch and learn from them. It seems we have to overcome the reputation of exploiting resources because of grazing. We need to refine our resource management and animal welfare practices. We need to work with the Walmarts of the world to learn to be better and help the customer understand “If it isn’t right, we will fix it.”

After thinking about it avarice is kind of the opposite of Stockmanship and Stewardship. We are about working with Mother Nature to create a quality lifestyle that is sustainable and profitable. For most, it is an honor and a huge responsibility to do it the best we can.

It would be time well spent to watch the Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting. Here’s the link: http://corporate.walmart.com/global-responsibility/environment-sustainability

~ Curt Pate

South Dakota storm

Close to twenty years ago, I drove from Miles City, MT to Belle Fourche, SD.  For some reason it struck me as the place I needed to live.  Western South Dakota in my mind is one of the really great ranching areas in the U.S.

I also found at the time it was one of the least expensive places to purchase land.  We bought a place North of Nisland, SD. It was the perfect place for all the things I wanted to do. Things in my life changed and we ended up selling it.  We have been back and forth to South Dakota several times and have owned some real nice places but I think we made a big mistake in selling the place in Nisland.  Another word for mistakes is experience.

Rial, my Son always liked South Dakota and went to work on a ranch near Faith.  He learned a bunch about the harshness and the productiveness of the environment.  We were discussing the recent South Dakota storm and he questioned the running of livestock there.

He always has a way of looking at things that set me to thinking.  We were tearing out some old fence on a place we had in Newell, South Dakota. He wondered what the people that put it up some 30 or 40 years before were discussing. It probably had something to do with the weather.

It was just a few years back that many of the ranchers in that area lost a lot of the livestock due to an late spring storm.  Then 2011 had the huge drought in the south and hay prices were very high.  Most of the excess hay was sold and trucked out of the country.  Then South Dakota had a terrible drought and the hay crop and grazing was real short.  Hay prices doubled if you could find any at all.  2013 was a great crop year and pastures were very good. When I drove through the area in August it was like driving though it in May.

Everything seemed to be great.  Then this storm hit.  It is so incredible how hard Mother Nature can be.  It is also incredible how in this day and age of communication, technology and equipment how we still have no real defense against the power of nature.

Looking back on the last five years of extreme weather in South Dakota, Rial may be justified in his statement.  We may need to ask a few more questions and try to make management decisions based on these questions.

Has the weather always been this extreme or are we in a different weather pattern?

Can we change management practices to deal with extreme conditions?

If we do experience losses should the government be obligated to help financially even though history shows the risks?

What will public opinion be?

We hear all the time how animals should be free range.  Now I hear how people are questioning the ranchers care of the livestock.  They are being criticized for not having them in shelter.

Weather has always been the big influence in profit or loss in agriculture.  It seems it will always be.  South Dakota is extreme climate country.  It can be bitter cold in the winter, and scorching hot in the summer. Flooding, drought, snow, wind – South Dakota has it all.

From what I have seen, it is wise to have a years worth of feed in stockpile.  With the uncertain weather conditions it looks like it is real difficult to have a set stocking rate.  With the extreme climate conditions I think I would want to run all my livestock from about the middle of May to about the first of September.  From what I have seen in the past this is the only way to keep from the extreme harshness of South Dakota weather from getting you.

What I am going to say now is as harsh as the climate in South Dakota.  We must be honest and face reality.  When you are in the livestock business there are chances for loss from extremes in the weather.  If we keep doing things over and over and it is not working that is crazy.  This last storm was a terrible thing.  All these storms are terrible and devastating to ranchers especially if they are impossible to prepare for.

I go back to Rial’s question of “Should we be trying to ranch in Western South Dakota?” I think so, but we better really pay attention and maybe the best thing to do is to shut off all the technology and get to the highest point on the ranch, sit down and look and think things over for a few hours with no distractions.  Ask the important questions and find the best answers.  We must blend today’s technology with yesterday’s traditions.

South Dakota ranchers are tough people.  It is a terrible thing they have gone through.  I really feel for them, but know if they are tough enough they will stay and continue, if not they will go away.  This is called the survival of the fittest, and it’s the way of the land in South Dakota. It always has been and it always will be.

For the rest of us, let this be a lesson.  The power of nature should never be forgotten.  Don’t get careless.  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

If you want to help you can check out the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund started by the Black Hills Area Community Foundation.

~ Curt Pate

Monday Morning Photo: Grazing, U.N. reports, and what makes the world go round

This is a video my daughter sent me and it shows exactly what we can do with grazing animals all over the world.  Grazing animals guts are the original recyclers.  It is a good thing to graze properly, our world depends on it.

The Patagonia video along with the recent United Nations report (see U.N. says animal handling key to cutting emissions on the farm, Drovers Cattlenetwork, 9.26.2013) are two contrasting but positive views to livestock production.  I feel the report released is much more positive than the one titled, Livestock’s Long Shadow, and goes right along with the science-based solutions I hear at seminars all the time.  The natural nutrient recycling through grazing is also needed to make this world work.  We need both technology and Mother Nature’s natural system in this world to progress.  Is it not an amazing time we live in?

Curt Pate

This is the stuff that makes the world go round, and it might be B.S.

This is the stuff that makes the world go round, and it might be B.S.

Sex, nutrition, and electric fence

This may be a shocking title to some.  Sex is not a bad word or a bad subject, but it sure makes me nervous even mentioning it.

Sex has a purpose.  It is to create life, maintain and increase the species that performed the act, and ensure the species does not become extinct.  If there was not pleasure in this act, it would be kind of like oiling your saddle.  You know you should do it but you just don’t get it done as often as you should.

The good and the bad of it is, sex is pleasure. Anything that creates pleasure or satisfaction can loose sight of the main reason for doing it. So humans exploit it. We focus on the pleasure and forget the real reason for sex, the survival of humans.  If you don’t use self discipline it can create real problems in life.

Nutrition has a purpose.  It is to maintain life and create a healthy environment in the community of cells that make up the human being and hopefully create enough energy to make you desire sex.

As the human being has become more sophisticated, life has gotten pretty easy compared to our ancestors. Food has become more of a focus of pleasure and social status than a means to sustaining life. It may be evolving into the opposite of its purpose and actually killing us rather than helping us to live.

We need to take nutrition seriously and learn to eat the right stuff, in the right amount, at the right time.

There happens to be many different opinions on the right stuff.  If we get down to the basics, we need certain vitamins and minerals in the proper balance and amount, along with energy and protein in the correct amounts.

The things I know are really important in all of this is sunshine and soil nutrients.  Sunshine is the only ingredient in the nutrition puzzle that is free for anyone to absorb.  Everything else has a cost to it.  The soil is easy to take the nutrition out of and when depleted difficult to put the nutrients back in.  If we eat foods that are lacking in minerals and vitamins our body needs, it will create the desire for more, leading to over consumption and obesity.

When nutrients are harvested from the land it is like mining the soil.  If you mine the soil you must put back the stuff you took out or the soil will not be as healthy as before you harvested.

Conventional farming practices have replaced soil nutrition with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, also know as NPK.  This leads to good growth of a crop, but I wonder about the true nutrition that comes out of the soil.  I wonder if this is why we have so much obesity in our country.  We have plenty to eat but always crave more.

Lets look at haying.  When you harvest a hay crop and sell it, you mined the soil and sold it to someone else.  If you make a hay crop and feed it to animals in a different location on your operation you transferred the nutrients away from the hay field.  If you take you must give back or sacrifice quality.  Putting back nutrition takes energy, energy costs money, and it is difficult to put it back as well as you took it away.  I have read that the Amish farmers always rotate grazing into the farm system.

So lets graze that same field.  When a grazing animals eats forage the body absorbs what it needs after its digestive system has broken the cellulose down and passes the rest through. This seems to me the quickest way to start recycling the nutrients that there is.  A very small amount of the minerals and vitamins were absorbed by the animals, the excess goes through and it goes back on the soil it came from to be recycled the way it has done for thousands of years.

I have been told goat meat is the most nutritious meat of the domesticated animals we eat. This is because of the varietyof grass and brush they eat.  You are what you eat, they say. And goats know how and are athletic enough to get the good stuff.  We need to provide our beef with a highly nutritious diet so they will provide us with a highly nutritious diet.

Farming seems to be difficult to do without depleting the soil of valuable nutrients.
As we go along here it looks like we will have to come up with ways to put proper nutrition back in the soil.

In some parts of the U.S. the wheat is grazed for some time before the cattle are pulled off and the wheat makes a crop.  This looks to be a great way to increase profit and nutrient density.

Thousands of head of cows are grazed on corn stocks in the winter as a cheap source of feed.  It looks to me like this is a great system to add nutrients back into the soil.

This is all done because of electric fence.  Power fence is the technology that has the potential to help us graze animals for better sustainability of resources, graze areas that were impossible to graze without it, increase profit with more effective grazing, and control animals in a safe and effective manner.

The energizers of today are so much more reliable than in the past (30 years ago). Along with this, the components it takes to make an electric fencing system work such as the grounding methods, wire, insulators, posts, and all the other components are better too.

Buy high quality products and they will last longer with less problems.  Learn how to put the fence up correctly. You must also learn how to train animals to power fence.

I keep hearing how we are going to have to increase production to feed the world as the population  increases.  As I drive around the country and other parts of the world I see so much wasted or unused feed that cattle could utilize, then naturally fertilize, then be used for highly nutritious protein to help feed the world.

This looks to me like a great opportunity for young or newcomers to agriculture to get started in the business when they have not much capital.  It also looks like a great way for operations that don’t have the time or the energy to utilize these areas of production to get them used and create more profit, as well as creating a more healthy environment through proper grazing.

To get this to work we need to learn to use the technology of power fence and water systems, plus the skill of animal handling, and use proper grazing methods that ensure sustainability.

It is so exiting and encouraging to look to the future and see the possibilities that beef production has for helping the world solve some of the challenges it faces.

The use of the technology of electric fence will help make this possible.  I encourage you to use it.

Don’t forget nutrition.  We need to eat a good balance of foods that nourish and satisfy our body’s.  I believe beef can play a big part in this.  I also know that by eating it I am helping create balance in nature.

Eating a good steak is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Well almost …

~ Curt Pate

 

Eat Steak

As Curt said in his latest blog post, we all need to do our part to make this environment work. Climate change and other environmental issues have a real effect on our industry. It’s up to us to be the best stewards we can be of the land and livestock under our care in the ranching way of life. So in the spirit of Curt’s latest blog post, I propose we all do like Reverend Horton Heat says and “Eat Steak. Let’s do our best to contribute some positive energy towards the balance of things.

~ Jesse Bussard

Climate change

At first it was ” global warming ” now it more common to be discussed as ” climate change.”

I have been watching people’s reaction to this for quite sometime. I am seeing less resistance to acknowledging that something is up with the climate, but not much change in the opinion on either side of the argument.

I will tell you right now I have no idea what is happening. This same thing may have happened 1000 years ago, or may have never before. I do believe Mother Nature has a way of taking care of herself. When man gets in the way of her job she always seems to take care of it in another way, and if we would have listened to her and learned from the past cycles we would have benefited.

In the Western forests we have a huge die off of timber because of the pine beetle. With forests the cycling of nutrients is what makes it work. Fire, blow downs, insects and animals all help with the balance in nature. Man can help to maintain the balance or hinder it.

When we took control of the management of the forest, mostly with the suppression of fire or the wrong kind of logging, Mother Nature took over and said I need more nutrients to put back in the soil and her solution, the pine beetle. We have learned so much in the way we manage our forests. The managers of the past were trying to do wrong, it was just that they could not know the damage they may have been causing until the mistake was made to learn from.

Most of the time when humans are dealing with natural resources we have a two sided split of take more or take less. At first both sides are to the extreme and time creates the balance that is needed. The big challenge is to not making mistakes so big that Mother Nature must go to extremes or it takes so long to repair the damage that the whole ecosystem is thrown out of wack causing changes in plant and animal population.

From what I have seen from the past and the power of Mother Nature, I am not worried about the environment as much as the ones that are messing with the balance of it.
The United Nations predict we will have billions more people on the world in the next 40-50 years. The people that know about forests predicted we would have a bunch more trees in our Western ecosystem as well.

I always try to look at what I call the big picture such as what is happening with the human race that is positive and what can we do to improve our quality of life while not creating poor quality of life for our future generations.

When I look at the over consumption and waste of us “civilized folks” I get a little embarrassed. In times past, the royalty and the very rich were the only ones that lived life of excess and waste. Now a great percentage of our population live the life of royalty, and a small percentage live a life non-abundance. The big question should be, “How much does it take to have a good quality of life and while we are having this good life, how can we improve it for the future?” It looks to me as if we should try to manage consumption and life like we manage our pastures.

So this brings me to the critics of beef, and how they say the beef industry is adding to the problem of global warming, which is causing climate change.

Before the Industrial Revolution, or even before man, the ecosystem worked in a wonderful balance of growing things out of the earth, then sunshine and all the other energy from the sky was captured by these plants. These plants had to break down to feed the things that had no way to get the energy from the sun and sky. The purpose of lightning is to break up the nitrogen in the atmosphere and it is taken up by plants to get it back to where it is needed. In forests, fires and other predators break down the fiber to go back into the earth. With grass, fire and grazing animals have been the harvesters of nutrients to break down the fiber. This is why cows are not better converters. The manure has great nutrient density to go back into the soil. Before the west was settled it had millions of bison, as well as elk, deer and other grazing animals.

To me it seems this is what made the environment work. Just because we have messed up the balance since the invention of the internal combustion engine, should we get rid of a valuable piece of the environmental balance?

I read a book called Freakonomics several years ago. They looked at things in a simple numbers type of analysis. It taught me to look at things how they really are, not just how they appear.

They looked at the gun issue. One of the big arguments of hand guns is the accidental death of children. The image of a child dying from a gunshot wound is almost unbearable. If you look at it from a statistical point of view way more infants per thousand die from drowning in man-made swimming pools than by gunshot. I don’t hear much talk about swimming pool control or banning them.

Let’s look at professional sports. How much energy does it take to run a season of football?What does that do to the environment? The horse industry uses huge amounts of our natural resources and puts lots of diesel smoke in the air. I am not saying we should not do these things, just that we have many more critics of the beef industry than most anything. Yet, at least it is providing balance in the environment and providing nutrition for a good bit of our population.

I was at a large feedlot recently and we were loading finished cattle to go to harvest. The cattle were of excellent quality and they walked on the semi very nicely. As they went on the truck I got to thinking that all the feed, petroleum, time, and infrastructure that is the beef industry was loading in front of me. This was the end product that all the production has lead up to.

Several years ago I read in Allan Savory’s book on holistic management that if the amount of energy to produce a kernel of wheat is more than the energy that comes out of it, then world is out of balance. It hit me that our finished beef is the same scenario. To me this must be the question we ask for any natural resource we are harvesting for consumption.

From what I have been told feedlots as a whole are very efficient. They have gotten very good at feeding and caring for animals in the maximum use of resources to convert this to protein. They can do this in large numbers that fit with the huge demand for high quality beef. From what I have seen, beef cattle in the feedlot are well cared for, and if the weather conditions are not extreme, they are content to eat, sleep and be happy. If you don’t see things for what they really are, either because you can’t see the whole picture or don’t want to, you won’t believe me.

For someone driving by a feedlot at 75 miles an hour, that can see the dust and smell the smell, and see all the pens full of animals, you probably won’t be able to see this. I don’t blame you, but all I am saying is that the cattle are living an easy life that everything they need is provided for them, and that is what a beef animal needs. I don’t have the resources or knowledge to speculate on the energy in, energy out scenario I spoke of earlier, but I sure hope someone does and is honest about it.

Here is what I think is the perfect production model for the beef industry. We need to manage the cow-calf and the stocker portions in a way that keeps the natural balance with nature’s ecosystem. We should always remember this is the first priority of grazing animals. We must harvest animals or the balance will be off because of too many animals. This is also the problem with the wild horse population in the west. It is out of balance, and people driving by at 75 miles per hour can’t see it.

We produce an abundance of grains in the US, Canada, and Mexico. If we don’t feed it to animals, what will we do with it? At this point in time we need to feed this to animals to convert it to human food in the form of protein. We need to do this in a way that is environmentally stable, and we must be producing a product that the consumer can benefit from on the health side and want to consume to help keep the numbers in balance to make it all work. The thing that scares me is that with climate change causing commodities to become more expensive, and fossil fuels becoming more expensive, the current system may not be profitable. If we don’t have profit in the feeding sector it could force us to discover a new business model for beef cattle.

We may have less cattle that stay on grass longer, or different genetics that finish easier. The main thing we must protect in my opinion is the need for grazing animals to keep the balance.

My grandfather was a butcher and I grew up on grass fed beef. My wife and I enjoy the challenge of finishing beef on forage to get a great eating experience. In my opinion it is a real skill to get a quality product on grass alone. Many say this is the best way to raise beef for environmental stability, many say it is not. At this time in the world there is a place for both.

Some folks don’t like the flavor of grass fed. I feel we are finding the balance. When I am home I enjoy beef raised on grass. When I am on the road I love a good grain-fed steak. The reason I like them both is because I feel they are actually good for the environment. My mission in life is to make sure all animals have a good quality of life while they serve their purpose on this earth. We in the industry should be very careful of criticizing the other product just for marketing purposes.

I feel the real problem in the affluent societies is that we are living way to high on the hog. There is so much that we have but don’t really need. We go to much, eat to much, drink to much, borrow to much, and the things we eat, drink and borrow for don’t make us happy or content so we eat, drink and spend some more.

Just look around you. How much stuff do you have that you don’t need or how much do you do that really makes you happy. We all need to slow down and smell the roses and figure out what really adds to our quality of life. I feel credit cards and borrowing money have created more to climate change than all the cows in the world.

I am not saying we should live like we are in the poor house. Have the very best that you can afford for a high quality life. Waste is a terrible thing, and is really a lack of discipline. It looks to me like the past 50 years or so has been about getting as much material things as possible. I think the younger generations have watched this and see it is not the best and are not as material hungry as the my generation. This will truly add to the quality of life and reduce the human impact on the worlds natural resources.

Ranching is a interesting life. The thing is you may have a million dollars in assets, but you can’t afford to buy groceries because all your money is tied up in the assets. This creates a very frugal lifestyle that teaches you to enjoy the important things in life while conserving resources that you can’t spend money on. When you do get some money you have learned the habit of conservation and not spending money on things you don’t need.

We all need to do our part to make this environment work. All sides need to quit trying to get our own needs or desires filled and do what is right long term. This is not something to take lightly. Never underestimate Mother Nature’s ability to protect herself.

Are you a positive to the balance, or a negative?

I am going to eat a steak tonight to help the balance.

~ Curt Pate