02-02-17 Managing in Tough Times Part 3: Sometimes we are our own worst enemy!

CSU SEA Ext Says logoManaging in Tough Times Part 3: 

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy!

Written By: Bruce Fickenscher, CSU Extension Agent/Southeast Area, Range and Livestock, 719-688-3043, Email: bruce.fickenscher@colostate.edu

A few years ago I walked into a local eating establishment about this time of year and met a producer walking out.  Of course I asked how he was doing and was informed that he was so tired of feeding cows because of the cold and at that time snow and they were calving.  I said, well if it is so hard why are you doing it and why don’t you change when you do it?  I got a blank looked and he asked back – “well why would we do that?  This is when and how we have always done it.”  How do you respond? 

Traditions are fine, but just because past generations did things a specific way does not mean they have to be done that way now.  I don’t think very many, if any, agriculture producers use the same farming practices, the same animal genetics, even the same plant species or varieties that were used in the past – even five to ten years ago.

I have also had several discussions with producers lately about various topics and looking for answers from me about production practices such as decreasing production costs, revegetation of former cropland, establishing better grasses on their pastures, etc.  I get the same blank look from them that I got from the first producer I mentioned when I ask them – What do you want to achieve for your operation or for you personally?  What are your goals in changing the way you are doing things?

In previous articles in this series, the stresses of life, stresses of the occupation, etc. were discussed.  A good way to start reducing stress is to have a plan – have a goal.  What do you want to achieve by changing what you are doing now?  Just because Granddad or Dad did it that way does not mean you have to or that it will even work now.  Economics change, weather changes, climate changes, families change – those are more or less givens.

This is a good time of year to take time to evaluate your operation and enterprises and start to ask yourself if it is really worth it to include them financially or, if you are like a lot of us – getting a little longer in the tooth, physically.  Here is another novel concept – it might be a good idea to include other family members, or even your banker, in some of this discussion as well!  Especially if they are already or will be involved in the operation now or in the near future.

To decide where you are going, you have to know where you have been!  BUT, you have to be honest – brutally honest!  The gurus call this a SWOT Analysis and should be done for each enterprise – cow/calf, yearling, small grains, hay, etc. – that occur in the operation.

What are the Strengths?  You enjoy this enterprise; you are really good at doing what is required for this enterprise; the majority of your income comes from this enterprise; etc. You have a competitive advantage over others who have similar enterprises.

What are the Weaknesses?  Here is where you answer: what is your cost of production (very few producers can answer this truthfully!)?  Is this enterprise draining resources from another, more viable enterprise?  Is your age becoming a factor in making this enterprise viable?

What are the Opportunities?  Is there a younger family member or employee who could take this enterprise over, still have it in the operation, but benefit them and allow you time to get away and enjoy a hobby or do something else you have always wanted to do or are better at?  Is there another enterprise that could be added to add value to the product of this one and thereby make both financially viable?

What are the Threats?  Usually this involves outside regulations, vulnerability to weather or diseases, but can also include death, divorce, disability, etc.

This process may not reduce your short-term stress level, but if you answer the questions truthfully and are honest with yourself, the long-term effects will be positive – financially and emotionally.

Once you have gone through an analysis of where you are at with the enterprises in your operation or with your personal life, it is time to set some goals.  The best place to start is with some short-term goals and build on them as they are attained or situations change.  Goals also give you the satisfaction of reaching them and moving on to higher achievements.  Here it is suggested that the goals be SMART.  Baby steps are good!

Goals should be Specific.  You want to have five percent more of your cows come in bred next year.  You want to increase the organic matter in your soil by one percent in two years.

They must be Measurable.  Reference both of the examples above.  There are specific parameters set that can be measured with either a pregnancy exam of your cows or soil testing methods.

Goals must be Achievable.  Either one of these goals are probably within the realm of possibility within the desired time period, but it is going to take planning and work, and probably a change in a few practices, to make them happen.

They must be Relevant and Recorded.  Records are more than likely already being kept to some extent in each of these enterprises, but they may have to get a little more specific.  What is going to have to change to reach the goal in each enterprise?

Finally, they must be Time-Bound.  Give yourself enough time to reach the goal.  Things don’t usually change overnight, they take time, planning, and commitment.

Stress can be reduced, but you also have to remember to be flexible.  Unforeseen things happen beyond our control.  Paying attention to our goals, identifying the small things occurring, and adjusting to them can help soften the big things that happen and making adjustments to them much easier.

In a recent blog post by Dave Pratt, Ranching for Profit, he states, “The best time to create a drought plan is before it gets dry. The best time to create a debt restructuring plan is before the banker calls your note. The best time to create a succession plan and a family employment policy is before your adult children ask to come home. It is easy to procrastinate when these issues aren’t problems … but when we wait until they are problems they are much harder to deal with and our options are much more limited.”

There are many resources available to assist you in performing a SWOT Analysis and setting SMART goals.  You can also stop by your local CSU Extension Office to at least run a few ideas by an impartial source and maybe hear a few ideas to assist you.

For more information, contact your local Extension Office:  Baca County 719-523-6971, Bent County 719-456-0764, Cheyenne County 719-767-5716, Crowley County 719-267-5243, Kiowa County 719-438-5321, Otero County 719-254-7608, Prowers County 719-336-7734 or your local health department.  Find us on the web at:  http://www.extension.colostate.edu/SEA.  CSU Extension offers up-to-date, unbiased, research-based information to families in Southeast Colorado.  CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.

Submitted to BARN Media by: 

Bruce Fickenscher

CSU Extension Agent/Southeast Area

Range and Livestock


Email: bruce.fickenscher@colostate.edu