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Published September 13, 2008, 12:00 AM

Black Ink Column: Learn from example

Your dad would climb up on the tractor, pull out the choke, push in the clutch and start it

By: Miranda Reiman, Agweek

Your dad would climb up on the tractor, pull out the choke, push in the clutch and start it

up. “Putt, putt, putt,” and he was off to plant or rake hay or bale.

As a youngster you might have watched this routine over and over again, so it didn’t take

too much formal training when you were old enough to take the helm. The first time you started

the tractor by yourself and set off to mow, you felt freedom, accomplishment. That’s just one way

you’ve learned by example over the years.

There were the siblings, cousins or friends who taught you how to build forts, play ball or

maybe even how to find a little mischief now and again.

It seems the older we get, the less likely we are to apply this principle of watching

somebody else to gain knowledge. Maybe our independent American nature deters us, or we just

get so involved with what’s going on in our own shop that it’s hard to look down the road for


Now is the time to tap into that unused resource of fresh ideas. Perhaps you’ll find some

profitable approaches to put into practice on your farm or ranch.

The fall brings readily available opportunities to observe. Across the country there are

hundreds of field days, cattlemen’s tours and demonstration plots that can teach you a thing or two,

if you look.

Trying a new technology can be a big step and take a significant investment in time, money

or both. Seeing what the producer in the next county does might give you an idea of how to apply

it on your operation. Cattlemen might even have suggestions on what they’d do differently if they

had it to do over.

Why not learn from someone else’s mistakes before experimenting yourself? You were

probably glad when your brother tried riding his bike off the silage pile instead of you. Turns out

the landing wasn’t so cushy after all.

By Miranda Reiman

There are plenty of local opportunities to engage this learn-from-example method, but even

national tours hold appeal. Some might attend these events as a way to see the country and meet

new friends — but to get more bang out of your travel budget, include education in the list of


Challenges can be region specific, but their solutions can often be applied in unique ways

for diverse locations. A rancher in North Dakota might plant a few more windbreaks to deal with

wintertime wind chills, but the same ideas of cattle comfort apply. A Texas producer could see

those “windbreaks” as shade to ease the blazing summer sun.

A northern rancher may worry that it is too hot to wean on Labor Day, until he sees it done

successfully 500 miles south where the weather is hotter.

In the same vein, perhaps a local came up with an ingenious fencing method that quickly

spread across a several-county area. To everyone in that vicinity it’s second nature. It’s just the

way they build fence now. To you—an outsider looking in—it could be just what’s needed to beef

up your five-wire.

If a few producers in the next county are planning a 1,000-mile trip to look at potential

custom feeding partners, volunteer to help pay costs if you can go along. You need to understand

that next segment of the industry and how you can add value to your calves in their eyes.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to balance all your production goals while keeping your

business in the black, but some make it look easy. Step back and say, “How are they able to keep

cowherd function, while pushing the envelope on efficiency and carcass merit?” Tour their

operation and find out what could work for you.

Once you identify their secret to success, it won’t be long and you can return the favor as a

voice of experience for cattlemen looking to learn from each other.

Next time in Black Ink, Steve Suther will look at the gap between producer and consumer.

Questions? Call toll-free at 877-241-0717 or e-mail