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Published January 30, 2012, 02:04 PM

That one paycheck

TOWNER, N.D. — The past year had its ups and downs, but luckily for the family, one of the ups has been the cattle market. Having just sold last year’s calves and having close to 20 years of cattle markets to compare it to since I came back to the ranch after college, I can say I much prefer selling into an up market than a down market.

By: Ryan Taylor, Agweek

TOWNER, N.D. — The past year had its ups and downs, but luckily for the family, one of the ups has been the cattle market. Having just sold last year’s calves and having close to 20 years of cattle markets to compare it to since I came back to the ranch after college, I can say I much prefer selling into an up market than a down market.

Watching the markets is a nerve-wracking pastime. When the market’s going up, you wonder when it’ll start going down. When the market’s down, you wonder if it’ll ever start moving back up. If you sell your calves or your corn or your baseball cards when it’s down, you kick yourself for not selling before it went down or for not waiting longer in case it would move back up. If you sell when they’re up, you question whether you got enough of the up.

My watching of the calf market is a little less intense as of last week when our calves got on the truck and went down the road. A guy hates to admit it sometimes, but I’m pretty darn satisfied with the price this year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not apologizing for the price. Once I paid the feed bill, ordered another load of diesel and settled up the operating note and the tractor payment, I figured the good price was justified.

It felt good to pay the bills and have a chunk left over to head into the next year. It’s nice to be ahead of the game. I remember lots of years when that wasn’t the case. I distinctly remember the 62-cent steers and 56-cent heifers I sold a couple years after I borrowed the money to buy my cows in the mid 1990s. They were maybe 550 pounds and didn’t generate many dollars for a highly leveraged young guy just starting out.

So now we need to make it last. We basically get one check, and aside from some cull cows and off-farm income from writing these lucrative columns and such, it has to get us through an entire year. But with this year’s prices, I think we can do it.

Family budgets

Every family gets to go through the exercise of making ends meet, whether the paycheck comes once a year or once a month. Sometimes, it’s like the poster I saw years ago, “Just when I made ends meet, somebody moved the ends!” The wages might go up, but the apartment rent goes up more. Health insurance, day care, the car payment, it all has to come from somewhere and balance out.

There is satisfaction when the credits and debits come together. Head out the door and head to work each morning, come home to your family in the evening, and know that the sweat or the skill you traded for the day’s dollars put supper on the table for the family.

I tried to explain to our kids when we got the cattle check how this all works. I told them there might even be enough to put a little away so they could go to college someday. The five-year-old told me college was too expensive, he’d rather we buy a toy instead.

He was right about college being expensive, and realizing that at the age of five probably means he might do well in college someday, but his cuteness and cleverness wouldn’t get me to invest his future in a junky plastic toy today.

Here’s hoping the cattle markets, and paychecks up and down the line, are high enough to even consider putting something away for college. Soon enough, the little beneficiaries will learn it’s a better investment than toys and games.

Taylor, who ranches near Towner, N.D., is a columnist for Agweek. Reach him at cowlogic@ndak.net.

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