Earlier today someone called me asking for advice regarding a bid he was about to make for a property he wanted to rent. The property could support 200 cows from May to October and the term of the lease would be 10 years. He hoped that I would have some knowledge about rents in his area (I don’t) and some suggestions for determining what he should bid (I do).

Here’s what I told him:

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I received this email from a young rancher who wanted to increase cattle numbers but was worried about drought:

Dear Dave,

I’ve got an efficient group of cows and my overheads are reasonably low. My problem is that I need to increase my numbers. I am sure I could run more animals right now but I am worried that in a dry year I won’t have enough pasture and would have to destock. Looking for help and ideas to see what my options are.

Thanks,

Doubt About Drought

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I received this email from a Ranching For Profit alumnus this morning:

Dear Dave,

We are back in the ranching game. My partner and I have accepted a job managing a ranch for an owner who has a very serious health problem. He could become incapacitated at any time (it is not an exaggeration!) Taking this job is a major move for us (1,000+ miles) and a big life change. We want to protect ourselves, and not be left high and dry if something happens to the owner. Do you have any suggestions on how to protect ourselves?

Sincerely, High & Dry

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Several weeks ago I included a WOTB quiz in a ProfitTips column in which readers could score the extent to which they work ON their businesses. The column was picked up by some other publications and wound up generating conversations on several other popular blogs. Most of the people making comments said that they had pretty low scores. One person who said they scored a 10 out of 100, justified it by saying that, like with all courses, “…take what fits and leave the rest.” I wonder which thing on the WOTB test he felt he could leave…setting goals? Economic and financial analysis and planning? Succession planning? Drought planning? The marketing plan?

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In a ProfitTips column last month I explained that I walk a mile and a half to work every day and that when I’m at work, I’m at work. When I’m home, I’m home. I have boundaries that separate my work from my life. I also noted that most ranchers don’t have clear boundaries between their work and their lives. If you are like most ranchers, when you are at work, you are still at home and when you are home, you are still at work.

I am convinced that people who have boundaries separating their life from their work tend to be more productive and successful in their work and lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Anna Quindlen is right when she writes, You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.

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I occasionally lead workshops I call Hard Work and Harmony: Effective Relationships In Family Businesses. In it I like to ask participants to explain to the person next to them why they ranch. Some say they love being their own boss, or love working outdoors and with livestock. Almost all of them say something about loving the lifestyle. Near the top of most people’s lists is, “It’s a great place to raise a family.”

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Boundaries

I have an advantage over most of the people who come through the Ranching For Profit School. I have boundaries. The RMC office is about a mile and a half from my home. Every day, unless the weather is miserable, I walk to work. Then at the end of the day I walk home. When I’m at work, I’m at work. When I am home, I am home. I have boundaries.

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The WOTB Test

Most people blame things beyond our control like the weather, government regulation, low commodity prices and increasing costs for their failure to make a healthy profit. These are the things most often discussed at producer meetings and in the coffee shop. These are also things we can do little about. Making them the scapegoats for poor performance makes it easy to absolve ourselves of responsibility.

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An Executive Link™ member brought a map of his ranch to his EL board meeting to show his board the layout of the grazing cell he planned to build. He enthusiastically explained that the cell would help him keep graze periods short while ensuring pastures got the rest they needed. It would increase stock density and improve utilization. Under the current management there were areas his herd (400 cows) never grazed. He said that once the cell was built he’d immediately increase the stocking rate by 20% (80 more cows).

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There are a lot of ranchers that don’t believe that ranching can be profitable. I can’t count the number of ranchers who’ve told me that Ranching For Profit is an oxymoron. They have come to accept that not paying themselves a decent wage and relying on off-farm income are just part of the reality of modern ranching. I understand why people with this mind-set resist change. If ranching can’t be profitable, why bother trying? Somehow ranching for less loss doesn’t sound very inspiring.

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