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Lee Pitts: Everybody Looks Better In A Cowboy Hat

When I taught myself how to engrave silver conchas I practiced on coins. Most of it was foreign coinage but occasionally I'd practice on U.S. coins. And yes, it's legal as long as a person doesn't try to defraud anyone. Turning nickels into quarters would be a good example. This is why little kids who squish pennies on railroad tracks aren't arrested and thrown in the slammer.

Back when homeless people were called "hobos" some tramps used nails to engrave on buffalo nickels and produced remarkable art they'd then trade for a meal. Today such coins are called "hobo nickels" and they can be quite beautiful and very valuable.

While the hobo artists turned the faces on nickels into remarkable likenesses of Marylin Monroe, clowns, skeletons, cats and self-portraits, I turned my nickels into cowboy coinage. You should see the look on people when I hand them one of my coins with the head of a horse where Abraham Lincoln (penny), Thomas Jefferson (nickel), FDR, (dime) or George Washignton (quarter) should be. My favorite coins to engrave on are newer dimes because they haven't been made of real silver since 1964 and if you scratch one your mark will turn to copper and you can get remarkable two-tone effects.

In the course of turning George Washington and his cronies into cowboys I made a rather remarkable discovery: all I had to do was engrave a cowboy hat on all the former Presidents and every single one looked much more handsome. This was especially true of Abraham Lincoln who, let's be honest, had a face that could keep the crows out of 100 acres of corn.

I was mesmerized by how much better people look in cowboy hats. I gathered up all my wife's magazines and drew cowboy hats on everyone from Queen Elizabeth to the entire Kardashian clan and they all looked better. Even Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nancy Pelosi, who both need extra large shopping carts when they shop in the beauty-aid aisle of a drugstore, looked better. And if that isn't conclusive proof that everyone looks better in a cowboy hat I don't know what is.

I even went to the store and bought some magazines for men and drew cowboy hats on all the males which were surprisingly few and far between because most male magazines are filled with photos of guns, trucks and naked women. Everyone from Snoop Dogg to Miss January looked better in a cowboy hat. And I hope this isn't blasphemous but may I say that even the Pope looked better in a Stetson.

Try it for yourself. Get yourself a Sharpie® and some magazines and start drawing hats on everyone. If you can't draw, cut out the picture of a cowboy hat and put it atop everybody and you too will see that everyone looks better in a cowboy hat. It really is an amazing transformation. Although I must warn you to be careful because, speaking from experience, some wives get a little touchy when you defile their Vogue, Family Circle or Good Housekeeping. But they'll get over it. Eventually.

I remember a few years back when the entire U.S. Olympic team was outfitted by Ralph Lauren and every athlete wore a cowboy hat in the opening and closing ceremonies. I don't remember the medal count that year but I clearly recall that we easily won the award for "best dressed" and it was all because of the cowboy hats. I think it would make a great advertising program for Stetson, Resistol or some other hat company to put one of their hats on photos of high profile people. If they did so they could extend their market beyond just selling hats to cowboys, truck drivers and country western singers.

Speaking of country western singers, can we please lose the earrings and pony tails guys? Willie Nelson can get away with it but can you imagine Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford or George Strait wearing an earring? Although I don't think anyone looks better in a cowboy hat than George Strait, I still can't get the image out of my mind of him wearing a pony tail in that movie he made. Guys, take it from me, we'd look a lot more manly if fewer of us were wearing earrings, tattoos and pony tails and more were wearing cowboy hats.

Baxter Black: That Time Again

It's fall on the cow outfit.

Time to get out the WD 40 and grease up the handles on the squeeze chute. Maybe find the three or four syringes that work, buy some new gaskets and barrels along with a box of needles. Time to look for the ear tagger, nose tongs and dehorning saw. You could stock up on hot shot batteries and plastic whips and shovel out the chute floor before it freezes.

That'll be the easy part of workin' your cows this fall, the mechanical tasks associated with good management. Yet, laying in wait like the hangover after the night before, is that ominous responsibility that all good cowmen dread… that's right, boys… the open cow.

You know they are in the bunch. And you can bet your hired help, your neighbors and your family will all be lookin' over your shoulder anxious to see your decision. They will be full of advice. But, in the end, whether you keep that open cow or not, will be strictly between you and her.

Say she bangs into the chute. Her teeth are good, she's fat, five years old and just weaned a 550 lb calf. The vet shouts "Open!" The vaccinators are poised waiting for your decision. You rapidly calculate that open cow will bring $$880 at the sale Wednesday.

You dither, remembering her first calf. You had to pull it. It was a cold night in February. The two of you spent four hours in the shed getting' that calf to suck. Once he was goin', she took'im and never looked back! Dang, you hate to see her go. You bite the bullet… "Cull her!" you say, but you can't look her in the eye.

In comes a first calf heifer. Sorta thin, not full grown. She's showin' some potential but when the preg checker calls out "Open!", you realize she won't have a calf next spring. If she settles, she'll wean her second calf 24 months from today. That's a long time to hold your inventory. "Cull'er," you say. Wow! Yer, feelin' like a business man!

In the last chute load, an old red neck mama comes through. You recognize her. When the boy punches her with the hot shot, you wince. Popcorn teeth, hollow flanks and a scruffy tailhead. Her bag hangs like a four dollar drape. She raised a big strappin' calf this year but it took all she had.

She was in the first bunch of heifers you bought when you took over the ranch 12 years ago. She put you over the fence a time or two but now she doesn't seem to care. Too old, too wore out. "Open," comes the intrusion.

The silence is heavy. Your eyes travel down her spine and back to her lifeless eyes. "Run'er one more year!" 'She'll die on this place.' Nobody says a word.

Farm Management Minute: Turning a Cashflow into a Budget

Turning a Cashflow into a Budget

August 27,2018 By: Blaine Carey, instructor for SD Center Farm/Ranch Management

In this very tight margin time of production agriculture we as producers need to watch all income and expense with great diligence. As the 2017 South Dakota Annual report indicated, and neighboring state's results also show, that gross farm income has steadily decreased but thru tight budgeting and the cutting of expenses the net farm income rose slightly. This trend has producers looking for tools to help them remain solvent thru these tight economic times.

Changing the view of a cash flow as a form completed for the bank to obtain financing, into a budget or plan of action for the year is a good practice to help producers remain profitable. Although a budget is sometimes difficult to predict, it will help in determining risk. We must be very realistic during the budgeting process as many times we overestimate income and underestimate cost. Information for each operation's budget is best if it comes from your own actual records from previous years. There are also many sample budgets available and using county or state averages can give you tools to predict your ability to remain profitable.

All producers must determine how they use their resources of land, labor, capital, and management. These factors of production need to be used in the most profitable way possible. Using budgeting we can run many "what if" scenarios to determine our plan of action by experimenting with possible outcomes before committing actual resources. Also, identifying fixed and variable costs and other potential income that may be overlooked is important. The moral of the story being careful planning equals increased returns. Each operation needs to track income and expense in their operations throughout the year and be diligent in following their plan of action or budget for the year.

Cash flow monitoring is something our students in the South Dakota Center for Farm and Ranch Management program are moving forward with to keep better records by tracking income and expense to continue developing the best information to create each individual plan of action.

For more information please contact me at either 1-605-299-6760 or Blaine.Carey@mitchelltech.edu if you would like more information about the SD Center Farm/Ranch Management.

BeefTalk: Cows as Combines

Cows are harvesters, sort of a biological combine, and dining on crop aftermath can be a real component to profitable commercial beef production.

Yes, bison, yaks and many other four-legged precursors were company competitors, but as far as production units, the cow combines win out. Cow combine units come in various colors, depending on the dealer one chooses, but all have pretty good track records.

Mixing and matching the header unit with the combine unit is possible and certainly a producer's choice, realizing that many producers prefer a solid-colored unit. But keep in mind, the performance level of the mixed unit seems to have more production capacity than the straight units.

The use of cows as biological combines is not new, and the Dickinson Research Extension Center has been studying the impact of extended grazing in extensive beef cattle operations for many years. All these studies have a common outcome; that is, cow-calf producers tend to underutilize their cows when harvesting forage. Some harvesting opportunities simply never are utilized.

More recently, beginning in 2016, center scientists Songul Senturklu and Doug Landblom tested several harvesting units under various scenarios. The results were amazing. The units that only harvested grass were more expensive because their overwintering costs were greater, $209 per unit. Interestingly, finding some more cropland and cover crop to harvest into the fall reduced wintering costs by almost a third (32.5 percent), to $141.

So, carrying that thought farther, letting those harvesting units go around the agronomic fields a second or third time and complete a late harvest of standing summer grass growth cut the overwinter charges by more than two-thirds (65.1 percent), to $73. No question about it: The cow is the vehicle to harvest fall plant growth.

This win-win scenario lowers costs and improves production maintenance of the cow. That leads to another thought: Cows need to be in good condition at calving next spring and even better condition at breeding next summer.

The middle three months of gestation, or pregnancy, in other words, are the time to improve cow condition. Can this be accomplished while the cows are harvesting well into later fall to early winter?

The answer is "yes," but keep in mind that herd management and calving dates also need to focus on grazing. In other words, calve on growing grass in the spring to maximize a cow's grazing potential.

But fall crop aftermath grazing is beneficial regardless of calving time. Right now, cow milk production is decreasing for spring-calving cows, the weather is favorable and, generally, crop aftermath is bountiful. When moisture tends to run short, grain production acreage often is shifted into potential cow feed.

While crop production has many variables, standing plants are meant to be tasted. I always ponder, when I drive by fields that are not fenced nor have access to water, how much a cow would enjoy that field. A moderate-milking, 1,300-pound cow would like to eat her fill of good, green grass prior to weaning, actually eating all that she can to produce milk.

After weaning, that same cow keeps eating if feed is available. When a cow eats above her requirements, she gains weight. In this case, replacing the weight she lost raising her calf, along with adding more body condition (commonly called fat) in preparation for winter, is the hoped-for scenario. Now that is the scenario cow-calf producers like.

Because the third trimester of gestation has not been reached, milk production ceases at weaning and good weather provides the opportunity to utilize cheaper feed resources. Essentially, the cow will eat in excess of her requirements in the crop aftermath buffet.

In addition, a good management option is to sort the thinner cows and send them to the best fall pastures. One scenario is to consider weaning the calves of those cows early, reducing the milking stress on their mothers. The fall pastures will put the needed feed in front of the thinner cows and the cows will improve their body condition score.

In the meantime, the moderately to heavier-conditioned cows can be grazing areas that are less lush. However, most producers will let all their cows enjoy fall aftermath grazing, keeping life simple. All the cows should respond with increased conditioning and be better prepared for winter and next year's calving and breeding.

Remember that when the third trimester of pregnancy starts, rebalance the ration and involve your local nutritionist to develop a proper herd nutritional program. Also remember to keep an eye on the cattle, identify potential fall plant toxicity and visit your local Extension agent, particularly if you are implementing new grazing strategies. Input is always good.

May you find all your ear tags.

Outside Circle by Jan Swan Wood: Big money in youth rodeo, lots of roping, goat tying, clinics, horse sales

The days are getting shorter and mornings cooler. A few mornings have given the saddle horses that velvety look. They haying is nearly done here. It's all baled, but I don't consider it done until we have it in the stack yards. It's a good feeling to have it though, instead of writing those big checks for overpriced, under quality hay like last year.

New for the 2019 rodeo season, the NHSR Finals and NJHR finals will have bigger payouts. The high school level will have $100,000 added cash payout, plus $375,000 in scholarships and $150,000 in prizes. The Jr. high level will have $50,000 cash payout, $110,000 in scholarships, and $140,000 in prizes.

If you haven't been to Wright, Wyoming's Southern Campbell County Agricultural Complex, you need to go see it. They want to extend a big invitation out to anyone who wants to ride by the hour or the day, associations that need a place for an event, or anything else livestock related you can think of. They have recently installed 48 covered stalls, plus RV and trailer hookups. You can bring your own stock and hold practices all fall and winter in the big indoor facility for a very reasonable fee. The outside arena boasts good lights, so if the weather's nice, evening events can be held there. They also welcome dog trials, FFA and 4-H groups, and long term boarding for horses that is equipped with shelter and water. If you're interested in learning more or pricing out the facility, call the town hall at 307-464-1666.

BHSU Rodeo Team, Spearfish, S.D. is hosting breakaway and goat tying on Thursdays, Sept. 20 and Oct. 4. Entries open at 4:30 (cash) with the roping at 5:30, goats to follow. You can enter one or two horses. The breakaway will have two rounds and a short go for $80 and goats are two runs for $40. It's at Seven Down Arena east of Spearfish. You can call Coach Lammer at 605-381-9531 for more info.

The Big Horn Basin Livestock Auction, formerly Worland Livestock, at Worland, Wyo, will be having an open consignment monthly horse salt n Friday, Sept. 21, 6 p.m. Tack will sell from 5-6. Rideins will sell first, then loose horses. A Coggins is not required on Wyo horses, but it's recommended to encourage out of state buyers to bid. You can call Terry at 307-431-1226 or Scott at 307-272-3743.

There's going to be a really big roping at the Custer County Fairgrounds, Hermosa, S.D. on Sept. 29-30. Events include Sr. Men's Breakaway, Half and Half Roping (team tie three, dally three), Marathon Team Roping (aren't they all?), Team Tying and Open Steer Roping. On Sat. is starts at 10 a.m., Sun. at 9. You can enter there. Call Les Tiltrum at 605-390-8407 or Ora Taton at 605-484-2131.

The 2018 SDJHRA fall meeting will be Sunday, Oct. 7, 2 p.m. CST, at the Covered Wagon Cafe, Murdo, S.D. Be there or get appointed to a committee in your absence.

The fabulous Black Hills Horse Expo is back and will be at the James Kjerstad Event Center, Rapid City, S.D. on Oct. 5-7. There are lots of events including clinics, a ranch rodeo, colt starting challenge, exhibitions, stallion alley with nearly every breed represented, and a trade show to end all trade shows. You can find out more by going to the website http://www.BlackHillsHorseExpo.com or check it out on Facebook.

The 29th Annual Alzada Cowboy Poetry, Music and Art Show will be Oct. 7 at beautiful Alzada, Mont. The hall opens at 10 a.m., lunch will be at 11, and the show at 1 p.m. For info on how to perform or enter your art, call Gay Arpan at 406-828-4517 or Chris Maupin at 307-467-5260.

The PBR is coming to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Rapid City, S.D. on Oct. 13, 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now!

You probably need to get signed up now for the Ken Smith Pole Bending Clinic on Oct. 12-14 at Wall, S.D. It's $400 for the clinic with $200 deposit to hold your spot. It's at Merrill's Arena. Email April Zilverberg at garyzilverberg@hotmail.com to get more info or to get on the list. They are only taking 15.

Well, that winds up my circle for this week. Have a wonderful week and be safe out there.

Lee Pitts: Name Your Poison

Today's lesson is about poisonous plants, dangerous delectables and fatal feedstuffs. I'm talking nightshade, lupine, milkweed, and the poison used to kill Socrates: hemlock. Water hemlock is said to look a lot like parsnips and a human can die in half an hour just by licking the blade of the knife used to cut a hemlock root. That's why I avoid all feedstuffs that look like vegetables!

Some plants are poisonous only in huge doses. A 500 pound calf would have to eat one and a half pounds of cocklebur seed to die. The preferred plant for cows considering suicide is locoweed, but a bovine has to become addicted to it and eat it for two to three weeks to go nuts, or develop what cow coroners call "wet brain". (Also known as Congressperson brain.)

An old cowboy once told me to just remember that most poisonous plants are yellow and have three leaves; "Three leaves stay clear, 5 leaves no fear." I've never had a cow die from eating a poisonous plant but that doesn't mean there aren't some really dangerous feedstuffs a cow can consume. Here's my list of the worst:

Floral Arrangements: Although I've never engaged in the practice, I understand there are some men who buy their wives, girlfriends, or both, arrangements of flowers at a place called a "florist". If you're a cattlemen you have a good excuse for not buying such things. One time a neighbor threw an old flower arrangement over her back fence and one of my cows ate it and got really sick. Although we could never prove it, the vet and I believe it was the delphiniums.

Alfalfa: I'll never forget the time I saw two dozen bloated carcasses by the side of the road and a rancher sitting on top of one of them bawling his eyes out. He had drug them there to make it easier for the tallow man to put them in his truck. The cows died from instant gasification, you might say. I heard later that the rancher thought a change of pasture was just what the cows needed but the next day there was another batch of dead cows. Prussic acid has killed more cows than your vet and Mad Cow put together.

Hay: Ranchers routinely throw their net worth out of the back end of the feed truck and every flake they throw is one dollar not saved for retirement, or spent on a romantic vacation with the wife. Putting up hay is a leading cause of exhaustion, accidents and divorce. This is why when they hear of an approaching fire most ranchers, instead of saving their herd, their family, or their barb wire collection, will scream, "Save the haystack."

Vegetables: Although there were nine wires on the fence between a rancher's cows and his neighbor's carrot and lettuce fields, the hungry herd broke through and trampled and consumed 40 acres of lettuce and carrots on a $25 per carton lettuce market. Like most vegetarians, the cows were clammy, pasty looking, aloof, smelly, and sickly afterwards. They got the Trotsky Two Step and their cow pies glowed an iridescent orange. The legal settlement was so huge the rancher couldn't even look at a salad bar without upchucking.

Corn: Cheap corn is one of the most dangerous plants in the world. In order to "capture extra profits" that economists opine about, it causes farmer/ranchers to feed their corn to their cattle instead of just taking their lumps and selling the corn and the calves. A farmer friend once told me he would have lost less money if on the day he put his calves in his own makeshift feedlot every one of them would have dropped dead.

Green Grass: Easily the most dangerous plant known to man. It has ruined more ranchers than trich or the BLM. The symptoms of grass fever are a constant smile on the face of cattlemen, an outbreak of new trucks and the sight of ranchers treating their wives to lunch at the sale yard coffee shop. Green grass fever disrupts the cognitive process and regular function of brain cells and causes ranchers to pay crazy prices for old, barren, toothless cows. The prognosis is bad and the sufferer should be quarantined until the market crashes or the brain synapses start firing again.

Outside Circle: E.I.A. still troubling, ranch rodeos, youth rodeos, benefits, bronc riding, cart clinic

What beautiful late summer weather we're having. The calves are really on the gain since the mid-summer black fly scourge has ended. They can handle the horn flies just fine apparently. The passing cycle of black flies (or whatever you call them that is printable) has also ended the footrot outbreak here. I've got to say, I'm not missing that long stretch of doctoring. I hope everyone else has seen an end or letup too.

The E.I.A. saga continues in Wyoming and Colorado. There have been 9 more Wyoming premises put under quarantine from that one positive horse that was shipped in without waiting for a Coggins test to get back, therefore without a health paper from a vet. The recent quarantines are in Sweetwater, Lincoln, Teton, Park and Fremont counties. More horses and premises are being traced in Natrona and Laramie counties as well. Check with your state animal health board for info if you are from that area.

The King's Saddlery Roping on the Grass will be Sept. 16, enter at 10 a.m., rope at 10:30. It's a progressive after two head. Call Gary Mefford at 307-751-2962 for info and directions.

Isabel Saddle Club Youth Rodeo will be a fun event to go watch on Sept. 16, 10 a.m. It will be at the Isabel Arena, Isabel, S.D. and will have all the youth events including rough stock and age groups from 1 to 18.

The 21st Annual Stirling Family Ranch Rodeo will be Sept. 16, 11 a.m., at the Stanley County Fairgrounds, Ft. Pierre, S.D. The ranch rodeo raises funds for the Cancer Warriors to help with expenses that folks incur while taking cancer treatments. The evening before there will be a barbeque with free will offering at 5 p.m., and a silent auction of the ranch rodeo teams. The event will also have open ranch broncs and kids wild pony race.

Go to http://www.stirlingfamilyranchrodeo.com for further information.

Many of you know Kevin Willey, cowboy, silversmith, blacksmith, knife maker and all around neat guy. He's originally from the Perkins/Meade county area and now resides in Sheridan, Wyo with his wife Lori. Kevin had a strange medical episode earlier this summer that rendered him blind in his one good eye. It is hoped that he'll regain his vision, but until then, life has gotten a bit difficult financially. His friends are putting on a fundraiser on Sept. 22, 5 p.m., at the Big Horn Mountain Eagles Lodge, Sheridan, Wyo. There will be a silent and live auction, plus you can just donate money if that's what you prefer. You can mail items to Kelli Anderson, 655 Riverside St., Sheridan, WY 82801.

The 1st Annual New Underwood Invitational Bronc Match will be Sept. 22 with a calcutta at 6 p.m. and the match at 7. The top 20 Badlands Circuit bronc riders will be up against the top stock in the region, so should be quite a show. It's at the rodeo arena right there in New Underwood, S.D.

Sept. 23 is the date for the Benefit Roping 4FooFoo (Seth May) at Hunter Memorial Arena, Kyle, S.D. Seth was injured in a roping accident. His friends are holding the roping to raise money to help with his medical and living expenses. There will be a silent auction along with the roping, plus a great meal that will also to go the fund. Find more info on Facebook at Benefit Roping 4FooFoo.

The 4th Annual Darleen Swanson 4D Barrel Race will be Saturday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m., at Wheatland, Wyo. All proceeds will go to the Darleen Swanson Memorial Scholarship Fund. The race is NWBRA approved. Call 307-359-0578 for info.

If you have an interest in driving your horse, this is the clinic for you. It will be Sept. 30, 1:30, at Harmony Stables and Equine Training Center, Bismarck, N.D. Allan Voeller will be instructing and participants will learn the basics of tack and equipment, proper hitching, and what to look for in equipment and a cart horse. Horses and carts will be provided for the clinic. Register right away by calling 701-319-0086.

The S. Campbell County Agricultural Complex will be having team roping practice nights on Mondays and Fridays. It will be at the outdoor arena through September, then will move to the indoor. Call 605-210-3179 for details.

That's another circle ridden. Have a wonderful week and enjoy the weather.

Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Love is a verb

"You can't make a person love someone." I was told a couple weeks back, followed by a long dissertation on why it really was alright, likely best, that one spouse had left another.

It has weighed heavily on my mind since. It weighs on me every time I hear that little frequently tossed about phrase. It's correct in that neither you, nor I, can make a person love another.

But, frankly, we shouldn't have to.

Love was never designed to solely be an emotion, though people have fallen into the trap of limiting it to just that since the beginning of time.

Love is so much more. One of the best ways I've ever heard it described is that love is a verb. It is a decision leading to action chosen over and over again, despite what our human emotions feel at a given time.

The Bible backs the statement of love being a verb repeatedly with verses that say, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink," in Romans and, "Do good to those who hate you, bless those to curse you, pray for those who mistreat you," in Luke. In John, God's expression of love to his people is demonstrated by sending his only Son into the world that we may live through him. On the more romantic side, the well-known passage in 1 Corinthians says, "Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."

All those verses and more explain love through actions and decisions designed to strengthen us and create habits that prevent us from falling into the trap of limiting love to emotion.

That's a tough road, though. Deep stuff. I've fallen short countless times myself. It also goes against the grain that today's society holds so dear; that we should be able to do what we want, when we want. That mindset is a disaster in many ways, one being that it promotes following emotion, which is so often a short-term, knee-jerk thing for we humans.

Our emotions don't think about next week or year, nor do they always take into consideration last week or last year. Emotions are right here and right now, which can cause big issues beyond the here and now.

Thinking of love as a verb has been a perspective changer for me, particularly in the area of marriage. Purposely and actively loving my spouse, even on the days I don't "feel" like it, makes a big difference. I am learning there is real return in treating love as more than just a feeling, and in actively doing all you can to prevent yourself from becoming a person that cannot be made to love another.

BeefTalk: 2018 Cow-Calf Production Benchmarks

Commercial beef producers joined the "500 Club" in pounds weaned per cow exposed, according to the 2018 Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS) records.

The new benchmark is 502 pounds and illustrates better understanding of benchmarks. This knowledge is critical because it allows producers to gauge, adjust and keep track of cattle production based on long-term benchmarks within the industry.

You cannot change what you do not measure. Measurement of a trait through time helps make active decisions to lower, maintain or increase that trait within the herd. Begin by knowing the level at which the cow-calf enterprise is functioning.

The NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center calculates yearly averages of beef cow herd data from producers. The CHAPS team calculates five-year rolling average benchmarks from herds with at least 50 cows that have been in CHAPS for three years or more. Yearly averages are good, but a rolling five-year average buffers yearly ups and downs in the data.

A review of the 2018 benchmarks is a worthy read because understanding normal, or in this case typical, performance allows producers to better understand how to set and guide individual herd goals. Overall reproductive traits, expressed in percentages of cows exposed, and some growth traits, expressed in pounds, are presented.

The typical CHAPS producer has 93.7 percent of the cows that were exposed to bulls be pregnant in the fall, with 93.1 percent calving in the spring. In the fall, 91 percent of the cows that were exposed to bulls weaned a calf.

During a typical calving season, 63.2 percent calved during the first 21 days, 87.6 percent during the first 42 days and 96.1 percent within the first 63 days. The average age of the cows was 5.6 years.

Calf age, growth and weaning numbers were as follows: age, 193 days; weight, 557 pounds; and frame score, 5.2. The weight per day of age was 2.9 pounds and the average daily gain was 2.5 pounds.

"Pounds weaned per cow exposed to the bull" is a trait that factors in management and genetics in cattle production. For every cow exposed, CHAPS producers weaned 502 pounds of calf.

Interestingly, benchmarks do not vary very much across years, which is indicative of a mature cow-calf business. Because of the maturity of the cow-calf business, cattle producers have developed stable production practices that, in some cases, cross generations of beef producers.

Minor ups and downs may occur, but newsworthy changes are seldom. Some individual operations will experience what one might call Mother Nature trauma, but those operations have little they can do about those events, other than to have an emergency response plan in place. As an aside, that emergency response plan needs practice, so go over those plans at least once a year.

Back to the benchmarks. The good news, although small, is that pounds weaned per cow exposed benchmarks for 2018 reached the "500 Club," with an average benchmark of 502.

That's good news because the industry has been on a five-year run of lower pounds weaned per cow exposed. That number was 499 pounds for 2013, 496 pounds for 2014, 495 pounds for 2015, 494 pounds for 2016 and 498 pounds for 2017. These may not seem like huge differences, but the trend is good.

Prior to that, the benchmark for pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed had been quite consistent. Historically (10-plus years ago), the benchmark was 500 pounds for 2005, and 502 pounds for 2006 and 2007. In 2008, the benchmark for pounds weaned per cow exposed was again at 500 pounds, and it was at 507 pounds for 2009, 505 pounds for 2010, 503 pounds for 2011 and 501 pounds for 2012.

Interestingly, the average producer has not been able to sustain the 500-pound threshold in recent years, so I guess we will wait to see if the "500 Club" pound mark holds.

Has the industry changed much? Not really. Is 500 pounds the right number? Well, each producer has to determine what fits the operation.

However, CHAPS has been calculating the number since the mid-1980s, and after many years of evaluations of CHAPS herds, 500 pounds is doable and a logical goal. A tweak could be that those producers with lower input may accept a little fewer pounds at weaning, but again, each producer needs to do what is right for that person's operation and checkbook.

But the discussion today is simply benchmarks. And as stated earlier, benchmarks allow a producer to measure managerial changes on the operation.

Fall is a good time to review the status of the beef operation as the calves come home. Sitting on the fence and watching the cattle walk by is good, but numbers are needed to offer the details for a proper evaluation. Do you know your pounds of calf produced per cow exposed?

May you find all your ear tags.

Lee Pitts: Slow Moving Traffic

If all the cars in the world were placed end to end… they'd probably be behind a slow moving cattle truck.

Everyone is in such a hurry these days they don't have time to waste behind a Gooseneck filled with cattle. So they pass with no visibility or lay on their horns, as if that's going to speed things up. They'll risk their lives hurrying themselves to death so that they can get to their final destination earlier. And when I say "final" I mean final!

I prefer a less hurried pace. I hate life in the fast lane with everyone crowding, shoving, pushing and running over each other. We live in a fast paced world where we brag about the speed of our Internet service and agonize over which would be faster, the escalator or the elevator? Everyone is so stressed out and in such a hurry that I heard of one housewife who quickly loaded her dirty plates and dishes in the microwave before rushing out the door only to discover upon her return that a microwave is not a dishwasher. We have a frenetic friend who loaded her three month old baby in the baby carrier and then went off and left it and the baby sitting on the kitchen table.

I'll never forget my first ranch job out of college when the owner wanted me to take the bobtail cattle truck and bring back a load of feed from the mill. No problem, I'm the son of a long-haul trucker and I know my way around a set of gears. But I was surprised he trusted me that much and that he didn't want to tag along, but I quickly discovered the reason when I tried to navigate the two lane road around windy curves with steep grades and descents. I was soon being followed by a long line of cars and everyone had one hand on their horn.

The average driver will honk a horn 15,250 times in their life and many of the drivers behind me that day were using up half their quota. I'd have given anything for a bumper sticker that said, "Keep honking. I'm reloading."

I subscribe to the theory that you should never drive faster than your age and If I recall correctly I was about 21 at the time. The speed limit in 1905 was 20 miles per hour and I think that was the year the truck I was driving was made. I considered driving in reverse up the steep grades because the reverse was geared lower and would probably have been faster. I was going so slow algae had time to grown on the tire treads.

I pulled over every chance I got but still every sports car or SUV that whizzed by me had a one finger salute thrust out the window. I was embarrassed and couldn't say I blamed them because I had no right to slow them down. But what was I to do, disobey orders from the boss and get fired from my job that paid a whopping $600 a month? There was simply no other way to get to my destination.

Anyone who has driven a tractor on the asphalt or stopped traffic to drive sheep or cattle across a road has experienced the same hatred as I did that day. We ought to form our own victim's group, get ourselves a high priced lawyer and sue someone.

One wonders why all those irritated folks were all in such a big hurry anyway. If it was work, a doctor's appointment or an IRS audit, what was the rush? I remember theorizing that perhaps they were all in such a hurry because they had to use the restroom facilities ten miles distant, but I came to the conclusion that all of their bladders couldn't have been that bad. I think it's all just part of the human condition that says anyone who is going slower than you is a hayseed moron and anyone driving faster is a reckless maniac who is, "Going to get us all killed!"

It must have been especially humiliating and galling that day for all the high-speed drivers who flipped me off when I passed them in the slow lane when we all ended up at the same signal light together.