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Everyone Needs a View From the "Cheap Seats"

By Evan Whitley, Ph.D.
Cattle Systems Contract Research Manager

Posted Dec. 1, 2005

If you received tickets to a sporting event you were somewhat interested in attending, what would be the first thing you looked for on them? I'll bet most of you would check to see where and what row the seats were in, and your level of interest in attending from then on would be directly related to the answer found on those tickets. Why is that? I think it is human nature to want to be close to the action, especially if you have to spend your own money to do so. Therefore, nobody wants the "nose-bleed" or "cheap" seats, because they are not close enough to the action unless someone gives them to you, and then it is a "tough" decision to go or not. However, it is my contention that sometimes we need that broader perspective that only can be obtained by sitting in the "cheap" seats that are positioned a little farther away from the action.

Multiple times, I have heard the rhetorical question, "Are you spending your time working in the business or on the business?" Essentially, what the question implies is that sometimes we get so wrapped up in day-to-day issues that we lose sight of the long-term future endeavors that are vitally important to sustained success. This is very easy to do, even here at the Noble Research Institute Agricultural Division. This is the sole reason we rely on a group of people, called non-resident fellows (NRFs), to come in at least annually and give us their view from the "cheap" seats. This group is made up of four individuals with diverse backgrounds in industry and academia. Their review and report provides us with critical insight that assists us, as a division, in planning for the future. This insight is very helpful because it comes from an "outside looking in" perspective that is very hard to obtain from within.

Specialists here at the Noble Research Institute, along with lots of other professionals, essentially have the same motive. To be an effective consultant, you have to change a person's perspective or mindset. Sometimes this is done easily, but most of the time this change comes with resistance because the entity in question has gotten too close to the action and thus is working in the business instead of on the business. It takes a third person's perspective to serve as an agent for change and break this vicious cycle.

During my tenure here at the Noble Research Institute, I have been privy to many interactions involving Foundation specialists and agriculturalists using our services. During these interactions, I have witnessed a theme being generated regarding deficiencies, not only in the NF service area, but within the beef industry in general. The reason for these deficiencies is varied and includes misinformation, miscommunication, unwillingness to seek out information and just plain old hardheadedness. There is not much that can be done about the last two, but the first two can be addressed by all of us simply getting on the same page as an industry. Here are my thoughts, from the "cheap" seats, regarding the five most common oversights plaguing beef producers.

5) Not implementing a feed program to meet a "defined" nutrient deficiency.
If you are not sitting down every year and calculating what and how much to feed, then there is a distinct possibility you are feeding too much or too little.

4) Not taking optimum advantage of heterosis.
If you implement a "straight" breeding program (Ex: Cows are mainly one breed and bulls are of the same breed.), then you are most likely reducing weaning weights (along with other very important economic traits) by about 10 percent. Value that on a 600-pound calf at today's market.

3) Not marketing calves to a specific end-point that complements the breeding program.
There is no reason to employ a high-quality breeding program if you are not going to take advantage of it when and if the market allows you to do so. It has been my experience that very few producers do this.

2) Not taking bull purchases seriously enough.
One of, if not the very, most important decision a cattle producer will make is the breed of bull to purchase and which individual within that breed best fits the goals and objectives of the operation. Remember, the quickest way to polish up a calf crop is to buy a "good" bull that complements the cow herd and assists in meeting marketing objectives. There are ways to determine a "good" one from a "bad" one, but they involve more than just looking at him.

1) Not seeking out and taking good advice.
As a whole, it is human nature to be independent. In society, we reward folks who "are their own person" or "dance to their own drums" all the time. However, it has been my experience that folks who can not only be independent thinkers but also incorporate someone else's good ideas turn out to be the most successful.

There you have it, my views from the "cheap" seats. Remember what you paid for them in assessing how good they are.