A paradigm shift for young cattle producers

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By Rick Greenwell

This article is from Dr. Roy Burris, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky and we want to share it with you.

A paradigm shift is a change in your way of thinking that doesn’t just happen but is driven by agents of change. Young cattle producers will have to deal with these “agents of change” in ways that we could not have imagined a generation ago. In my opinion, some of these changes are in the areas of:

Decreased use of grain. This is a “game changer.” I believe that, in the future, cattle enterprises will not be able to compete for grain. We will have more dependence on forages and by-product feeds. Cattle cannot compete with land-lease prices which are being paid by grain farmers and there will be more pressure to use grain for the rapidly increasing world population.  Young producers might want to background cattle on forages and by-products so that they can spend less time in feedlots. We will need to select and manage cattle so that they can produce acceptable carcasses with less grain.

Public perception of cattle producers. Animal welfare has become the “battle cry” for people that oppose animal agriculture. We must not only continue to produce animals humanely but now we have to show and insure the consuming public that we do that. The “anti’s” are not the consuming public.  The “anti’s” don’t eat meat and they are not likely to change but we can’t sit back and watch them destroy animal agriculture. What they seem to believe is that all sentient (anything that can sense pain) beings are equal to humans.

How will you respond when you see yourself as “animal caregivers” but your way of life is attacked and vilified? You will need to work on this.  Those attacks will probably continue.

Dealing with science. I know how some folks think that young farmers are “good ole boys” who like to be outdoors. Forget that. Good cattle producers will, in the future, have to have an understanding of science that will go well beyond what you get in high school. You will need to have a working knowledge of, not just genetics, but genomics, nutrigenomics, etc. These things sound difficult but will help you take the guesswork, and some risk, out of cattle production.

For example, we can determine the genetic make-up of cattle and select/breed for cattle that carry genes for desired traits.  Or, we might be able to feed and manage cattle to regulate the genes that they have. For example, we might be able to “turn on” genes that control immunity prior to vaccinating and shipping feeder cattle by feeding particular forms of nutrients. This would have obvious health benefits.  But technology is only good if you know how to use it properly. Take every opportunity to learn new things.

Financial management. I would caution young cattle producers not to plan on mortgaging your parents’ farm to get your start. Lending institutions do not want to have to foreclose on land and homes that have been in families for generations. That happened in the 1980s and was a public relations nightmare for them. You should be able to present a business plan and show that you can cash flow your operation. You have to have a viable business plan.
Finally, you will need to be savvy with new and emerging technology.  Opportunities exist for those who adapt to change but doing things the same way as grandpa may signal an early exit from the cattle business. There will continue to be good opportunities for young cattlemen in the future. You will need to be up for the task.