Recap: 2008 Ohio Sheep Day

Curt Cline, 2008 Sheep Day Host

Sheep day came and went on our farm on July 12th. The day went off without a hitch, good people, good food, good times! The day was full of events for all aspects of sheep production or, as far as that goes, any livestock production. From pasture tours highlighting the economics behind the forages to listening to Mr. Gordon Oswalt, a Michigan shepherd that manages 1500 ewes, speak about sheep genetics and his personal experiences with a family farm in which multiple generations work together. There are a lot of people that make a day like this happen from planning to serving food, making presentations, leading tours, to driving the trucks and trailers that hauled people to the field for pasture tours (thanks Wendy!). If I try to thank everyone individually I will forget someone so thanks to all involved, I truly appreciate all that was done!

Speaking of all that was done, I can’t help but to reflect on what I learned that day and during the planning for the day. Rory Lewandowski, the Athens County Extension Educator, is a vital resource for the Cline Farm. Rory helps keep me on my toes with sound advice and he has an open ear for all of my management decisions. Rory has worked tirelessly along side of Dr. Bill Shulaw (OSU Extension Vet for sheep and beef) with me on issues I face from parasites to economics. I feel a vital part of a successful farm is to surround myself with people that truly care about me and my family. Our relationship started as a resource for information and has grown into a friendship of honesty and trust.

As for the true message of the day (ECONOMICS) I feel we just tipped the issue. There are so many issues that affect the bottom line. Some we control, some we have no control over. Daryl Clarke (retired Nobel County Extension Educator) had an outstanding conversation at the end of the day with the crowd titled “Putting it all Together, Making Management Decisions that Affect the Bottom Line”. He used an analogy of standing on railroad tracks with a train approaching with the question posed as “What are you going to do?” I think the train might have been loaded with corn…anyway, with the current trend of rising input cost (that which I can’t control, i.e.: grain, fuel…), what is your plan? Do you have a plan? Do you need a plan? All I know for certain is that failing to plan is the same or worse than planning to fail. Experience has taught me that! So we need a plan…. where do I start, you ask? Well I think Daryl hit the nail on the head with this one.

I’ll get to it in a minute.

I mentioned earlier about cost that I can’t control and I gave an example of grain and fuel. These sorts of things I have no control over and I don’t think many people do. There are a few other things as well, such as the price of lamb, when selling the product. If we could control that it wouldn’t matter what it cost to feed them. We could just set our price and keep going right? Well, what if our lamb price was so expensive people could buy our competition that is right beside us in the retail case at the grocery store for much, much less? There are other things I have no control over on our farm…rain, sunshine, temperature (wouldn’t that be grand if we could control these) all of these things we have no control over, not even as much as a small influence, at least not on our farm.

So where is this taking us? I have listed the obvious that most everyone knows and that’s where I get puzzled. If we can’t control any of these why are we basing our operation on these things? Well experience told me that corn has been $2.00 or less a bushel for many years and I will never see $4.00 corn. Guess what? I sure was wrong on that one. And that scares the heck out of me! What if all I know about these things is wrong? That’s where it is time to get off the tracks and maybe find a new set going in another direction and let that train full of corn go right on by. It will not be easy, old habits are hard to break especially for a thick head such as myself but, I am willing to try. Why? Because it maybe the only way for me to survive and maybe I might just make a little more than I was before. Dr. Shulaw once told me that people are not willing to change habits unless one of two things are present. The first is there must be a big pay off, really big and second there must be a huge expense to maintain what they are doing.

I mentioned before about Mr. Clarke hitting the nail on the head before in this article. What he said was “Saving one lamb puts value in that one lamb, lowering cost puts value in all lambs”. I could keep going on and on about this but I think he said it best and I’ll let you figure out what he means.

In closing I’ll say these things. I can’t control the cost of fuel but I can control how much fuel I buy. I can’t control the price of corn, but I can control when, how much and to whom I feed it to. I can’t control the parasites reproduction cycle on pasture but I can control where and how heavily the pastures get contaminated with pasture rotations. I can’t control the spring flush of grass on our pastures but I can control how many animals I have and their nutrition needs and match them to it. I can’t control the fact that we can get resistance to chemical de-wormers but I can control the speed that it happens by using selective de-worming. I can’t control what lamb prices will be but I can control how much it cost me to raise the lamb. I can’t control if a ewe is going to prolapse or have other issues but I can control if she is on the farm to do it again.

Some of the above may seem a little presumptuous to some people that I can control some of the things I listed but I think you get the picture. We as livestock producers need to do an extremely good job of controlling all the things we can control to the best of our ability and when the train comes down the track at you that you can’t control, weather it is loaded with corn or fuel, it might just roll right on by.

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