As a youth growing up on the ranches that my father managed, we often discussed ideas and ideals.  Dad would ask somewhat loaded questions and then work me through a discussion that covered the pros and cons of whatever the topic of the day was.  It took some time, but I came to realize the great value he had provided me in helping me develop grounded, or at least thought out, opinions of things pertaining to ranching.

One summer when I was a teenager I got the chance to ride several young horses.  Most all of them were coming along real well and they were enjoyable to ride as they learned fast and seemed to be better each time I rode them.  Periodically Dad would ask to ride one a bit to see how they were coming along.  One day after trying a young horse he asked me, “Do you think genetics or environment is the most important in developing a great ranch horse.”  I tried to sound wise in my responses but I based them all on individual horses I knew rather than on principle. 

I quite liked the race bred colt I was riding that we’d acquired from a university where he was bucking off horsemanship students.  He could outrun any wild cow I’d found in our part of Nevada and I was sure he would make me look good heading in an arena.  His genetics were top notch and must be the most important.

Then I thought of the roan colt I’d bought off of the reservation while he was still sucking his dam.  His bloodlines could have included anything and were most certainly mongrelized.  He grew up on the ranch and seemed to want to do his best to help out.  His athletic ability was marginal but he was very pleasant to ride and gave his all.  Maybe the environment was top priority after all. 

I stumbled through some kind of a disjointed explanation to my dad that didn’t even make sense to me.  After listening, he replied, “Do you mean that good horses could have good genetics or good environment, but the very best ones most likely have both?”  I’d been saved.  That sounded so good I knew that was exactly what I had meant. 

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about that discussion.  Then I came to realize it fit ranchers too.  While a lot of us claim ranching is in our blood there are also some that have ranching in their head or heart.  May your ranching be great wherever you got your start. 


I had the opportunity last week to spend a couple of days at the National Western Stock Show with my wife.  We had wanted to go for some time and volunteering to work at the Beef Council booth was the commitment we needed to actually prioritize and get there.  I was impressed by the good attendance and felt somewhat out of my element in the heavy traffic of people.

The booth was a great learning experience.  There were a wide variety of people who came by with a full spectrum of questions.  It ranged from children who wanted to know where the beef cuts displayed in the refrigerated case came from to the elderly man who wanted advice on what beef he could cook for himself since his wife was a vegetarian.  Some folks walked by in a determined fashion, seeming to be afraid of any interaction.  A few approached stealthily in an effort to get a complimentary cutting board without talking to anyone.  The best ones engaged, interacted, and asked questions or gave personal experiences.

There were some who wanted to compare the beef they ate to the show cattle they had watched competing in the ring.  Others related their love of beef and their favorite cooking methods, being careful not to expose any secret family recipes or ingredients.  Some were just downright friendly, visiting with and enjoying people around them wherever they went. 

As I reflected on the people I had met, I recommitted to interacting with and enjoying the people around me more.  In a digital age where we spend a lot of time face to screen, there is much we miss in friendliness, good nature, and mutual support.  The world has lots of people from all kinds of backgrounds who care about each other and are willing to invest the time to show it.

Let’s all smile a little more, take time to ask how someone is doing or even offer sincerely to help out.  It could be helpful to our contacts and healthy for ourselves.  We may teach something, learn something, or both.  What if we created more happiness?   



The cattle industry is trapped in tradition. It is typical for ranchers to measure cattle operations by production per cow. This is not a production measure at all but just a disclosure of the packaging size. Since ranching is a land-based industry, true production is measured in production per land unit (acre, section, etc.).

I thought the recent article by Alan Newport published in the PCC Update of 12/26/2018 demonstrated this principle clearly and accurately:

Profit Per Cow Is A Loser

Change is necessary for survival. Changing intelligently is essential for profitability. May your ranches be profitable.


Eastern Nevada includes some big country that is unfenced but divided by mountain ranges or roughly controlled by water availability.  A bovine with an urge to travel can end up a long way from home and the fall works is a good time to look through the herd to see if the total count includes some cattle bearing your neighbor’s brand.

One winter my neighbor Bob (names have been changed) called to say he had found a cow of mine that I could pick up at the little feedlot at his headquarters.  Although our headquarters were almost 130 miles apart by road we had summer ranges separated only by a small, rugged mountain range.

I had been to Bob’s feedlot before and the confinement and the facilities were minimal so I loaded a good horse in the trailer and headed to get my cow.  It was no surprise that Bob wasn’t around when I got there.  I figured he was at a distant corner of his place, so I backed my trailer into his loading area, unloaded my horse, and sorted my cow out of the odds and ends in the second pen.  Everything went smoothly and I was soon loaded and pulling out for the drive home.

I was just to the ranch gate when Bob showed up and we stopped to talk a bit.  He asked if I’d also take the cow he had back to my other neighbors that were 70 miles on past me.  Bob said he was sure she was their cow since she was just as destructive and ignorant as Fred and Joe and he was sure tired of having her around.  I wanted to be helpful so I returned to the trailer chute and started round two.

Bob pointed out the cow which did demonstrate a surly attitude but had no clearly visible brand.  I wasn’t anxious to haul a cow 200 miles in the wrong direction so I declined to take her unless we could verify she was branded to Fred or Joe.  This offended Bob who was confident of the cow’s origin but his desire to be rid of her prompted agreement to take her to the squeeze for a cowboy brand inspection.

The more we worked with the cow the less she liked it and by now she was trying to retaliate at every chance.  We did get her in the squeeze chute and started looking for ownership clues.  There were no definable rib or hip brands and Bob’s old chute didn’t allow much access to the shoulders.  We wrestled her head to get a look at the Bangs vaccination clip in her right ear.  It showed a state code number for Utah that increased my skepticism that she belonged to Fred or Joe since I knew they raised their own replacements that would have a Nevada vaccination.

As the cow fought us and the old chute, Bob became more and more committed to his theory that she belonged to Fred and Joe.  She finally repositioned to where I could feel her left shoulder and I was confident I could feel a brand there but could not determine what it was.  I asked Bob if he had some clippers so we could trim the hair and see the brand.  He cussed a blue streak at the additional effort but went to the barn to get his clippers.

On his return, Bob started a violent job of clipping the cow’s left shoulder.  He was almost done when the cow lunged forward in the chute, pinning the clippers and mashing his hand against the head catch.  Any unspent animosity was now put into words as Bob stomped on the pedal to open the side door and relieve the pressure on his hand.  The door opened and the cow swung away awkwardly with her head still caught.  Bob’s hand came free and the clipping was sufficient to reveal Bob’s own brand on the cow’s shoulder.  I really wanted to ask where he would like me to haul her to, but decided the time wasn’t right.

I have made plenty of mistakes myself.  We all make mistakes, but they are sure more bitter when we make them in public.