The more things change, the more they are the same
In the average month, I’ll receive close to two-dozen, farm-related magazines, newspapers, or other publications. I subscribe to a few of them, some are sent from the companies with which I do business, and many are complimentary because they print my column…but, I read all of them.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that almost every issue will have at least one article devoted to a farmer who has developed a niche market for their product. From organically grown…to all-natural…to humanely raised, these producers have found a group of customers who are willing to pay extra for the foods they think match their wants and desires. Whether it is grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork or free-range chickens, I respect the individualism and independence of these farmers and admire their business savvy in finding ways to create a specialized market to maintain profitability.
Last week, I spent 12 hours driving to an out-of-state speaking engagement. Coupled with 12 more hours alone in my truck for the return trip, I had a lot of time to think. Do I have a niche?
Basically, I raise beef cattle the same way my father did, which was, pretty much, the same was his father did. My cows calve in early spring and we castrate, vaccinate and brand in late spring. The calves suckle their mother most of the summer, while both graze on grass and I sell them at a livestock auction barn in the fall before the yearly cycle begins again. I don’t get rich, but most years I earn enough to stay in business…and I love what I do.
Oh, sure, I’ve adopted easier ways to do things than my predecessors; I have bigger tractors, fancier trucks and nicer cattle handling equipment, all to make it easier on me and the animals, but it’s still the same basic operation. Through the years, I’ve tried lots of different approaches to producing steaks and hamburgers. I’ve dabbled in synchronized artificial insemination, embryo transfer, newer breeds of cattle, and staggered calving times. I’ve tried creep-feeding, weaning and pre-conditioning, different types of vaccines and minerals, every method of fly control available, and contract marketing. My cattle have sampled every brand and kind of feed, medicine, de-wormer, and mineral supplement in the world and yet, all these years later, I find myself raising cattle much like we did 60 years ago.
The breeds represented in my cow herd and bull battery represent the same three breeds that dominated the beef industry a 100 years earlier. They eat grass in the summer and hay in the winter and only get grain, in the form of range cubes, to bait them into the corral when I need to catch one. My cows have numbered ear tags instead of a metal number dangling from a neck chain, and a few still have nicknames like “Short-Ears.” “Black-Eyes” or “Short-tail.” But…it’s still the same basic operation, so do I have a niche? I think I do.
“Sustainable Beef: Just like Grandpa’s.”