As the year winds down drastically lowered cattle prices and rainy, muddy weather make for a slightly dismal Christmas season. Cattlemen everywhere are struggling with muddy yards and sick cattle because of unseasonable warmth causing the usual moisture to be in the form of rain instead of the snow that we are accustomed to. On top of it, no one wants to sell their cattle right now because prices are so low that would mean a significant net loss. With cattle prices for winter of 2015 being 75-100 dollars lower than they were last year, it makes the down market seem even further down.
Most people who aren’t in the industry think that farmers are wealthy and that they always make huge profits when they take their cattle to market. Unfortunately for them this is not the case. When the original cost of the cattle is added together with feed, operating costs, yardage, interest etc it all adds up pretty fast, especially when feeder cattle prices are high and market cattle prices are low. This being said, after cattle are sold most farmers only see a profit of a couple dollars a head (if they are lucky enough to be on the positive side). Sometimes this is their only source of income, making for a tight living. There are means to help “insure” against significant losses but they are no more than a complicated form of gambling. Contracts are bought and sold with considerations made to the current markets, future markets and the basis between the two. If you do everything right and are accurate with your guesses you may be able to increase your profit if the market is favorable and you act at exactly the right time. Some may ask themselves why anyone would take part in such a risky endeavour, especially when all the work involved is so labor and time intensive? It all comes back to the passion of the farmers and ranchers.
The thing about farmers and ranchers (and if you know any you know this is true) is that they are eternally optimistic pessimists. Yes, you read that right, it’s not an oxy-moron. The markets are usually not in their favor and there is always some hardship that they are dealing with, yet they always talk about how it will be “when the market is up again”. They are constantly just doing what they can to get by in the hopes that tomorrow will be the day that the market shoots up 10-20 dollars over night. And when the market is up? Oh man, that is the highest high you will ever see. Yeah they still find something to complain about but at the end of every conversation they say how blessed they are to have a good market right now.
This behavior is more noticeable during the holidays. No matter what the market or the weather is like, they make time to visit neighbors, friends and their local Co-ops to see how things are going. They may bring meat and cheese trays or home baked goods, but mostly they just want to come wish you a Merry Christmas. These men and women can be hemorrhaging money, digging every piece of equipment out of the mud and working every single day including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years but they take time out of their day to spend time with those they care about. They take the time to thank those that help them during the hard times. They realize the importance of their families and communities and how they can make or break the hard times. They know that these are the things that can’t be bought when times are good, and they will stay with you when times are bad. More than anyone farmers and ranchers know that hard work and honesty pay off within their personal lives and their work.
So if you are not in the Ag industry just keep in mind that the men and women that worked to provide food, clothes and often the gifts for your holiday celebrations are still out there working on the actual holiday. This year especially they are probably working extra hard to try and make up a few cents here and there to cover the losses that they have suffered. So be thankful, and show appreciation if you can, because it’s not a glamorous life and the most rewarding part is knowing that their hard work is noticed and appreciated.