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Lessons Learned as a Livestock Consultant

By Bryan Nichols,

Posted Jul. 1, 2017

My tenure as a livestock consultant will draw to a close at the end of July. I'm grateful for the opportunity I've had to work at the Noble Research Institute, and I'm also grateful for the opportunity to return to my family's farming and ranching operation. I truly feel I have learned as much or more than I've been able to share. Following is my attempt at relaying some of the most important lessons I've learned or had reinforced in this job from agricultural producers and fellow professionals.

  1 Know what you're trying to accomplish; set goals.

This gets repeated often but is critical. It is very hard to make decisions if you don't know where you're trying to go. It is impossible for anybody to help you get to an unknown destination.

  2 Keep meaningful records.

Keeping records is very important, but keeping records that have no value is a waste of time and effort. Figure out the variables that are important to your operation from a production as well as financial standpoint and monitor them. It is hard to know if you are meeting your goals or building a solid budget without records from your operation.

  3 Know yourself.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. Know your tolerance for risk. Don't spend time trying to make yourself something that you aren't. Find ways to use your talents to your advantage. In other words, know your comparative advantages.

  4 Think in systems.

Every decision or action we take has an effect on something else. It's important to take time and evaluate a specific action's impact on other facets of the operation.

  5 Cut your own fuses.

A friend shared this phrase with me not too long ago. Essentially, each of us should take the reins of our own decision-making. This doesn't mean we should not seek out advice. It means that at the end of the day, the one who signs the checks must take all factors into account, including their own risk tolerance, and make a decision they can live with.

  6 Timing is everything.

I feel strongly enough about this one that I wrote an entire article about it: www.noble.org/timeliness. The most successful producers get things done when it's time to get them done.

  7 Build a team.

It is impossible to be an expert in everything. Be humble enough to admit it, and put people around you who are experts in their given field.

  8 Don't automatically say "That won't work here."

We have to be willing to change. That being said, I wouldn't encourage somebody to bet the farm on a drastic change the first year, either. Many times a change may not be beneficial to an operation. However, don't miss out on the one that could be a game-changer by being closed-minded.

  9 Don't get too comfortable listening to your own bull.

A local veterinarian told me that he shared this with veterinary students. It's easy to become isolated and develop our own way of thinking, whether it's the truth or untested hypotheses that we convince ourselves are true. Challenge yourself to make data-driven decisions. Seek out people who will challenge your thinking. There is almost always someone who knows more than ourselves.

  10 Never quit learning.

The opportunity to learn is greater now than it has ever been. Conferences, webinars, podcasts, social media, newsletters. The list goes on and on. Figure out what works for you and use it. Perhaps the biggest challenge now is being able to sort fact from fiction.

  11 Do what you love.

If you don't love it, chances are you won't expend the time and energy that is necessary to be successful.

I look forward to putting these lessons into practice. One thing is for certain, there are always more lessons to come. All you can hope for is that they aren't too costly to learn.

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