This Week’s Column: Sometimes You Don’t Get What You Pay For

One of my hobbies is raising Shorthorn breeding stock. I love the cattle community, I love the cows and the people, and I especially love the Shorthorn breed. From buying my first Shorthorn cow back in my 4-H and FFA days to my budding herd of present day, I’ve long considered myself a cowhand with a day job. Because of my busy professional schedule, I can’t adequately manage every aspect of the cowherd myself, and have always partnered with other breeders and farmers to get the job done. These partnerships have always proven themselves to be both rewarding and extremely challenging.

Partnerships in farming are often fraught with peril. From miscommunications and differing expectations, the number of opportunities for friction in a partnership is as numerous as the days in the year. On one hand, I’ve worked with partners who were so generous and enthusiastic that a careless partner could easily take advantage of a good situation. On the other, I’ve worked with those who micromanage the relationship to the point of exasperation, leading an otherwise well-meaning partner to feel “nickeled and dimed” to death.

The best partnership I’ve ever had, past or present, is with my Dad and my Little Brother. “Little Brother,” as I often call him, has a very successful grain operation he’s built basically from scratch over the last six or seven years. I give him some insights to the grain markets based on our reporting at the radio network, and we’ve enjoyed some opportunities to help him sell a good crop. Dad, meanwhile, has forgotten more about farming than I’ll ever know, growing up on a very diversified operation that fed dairy and beef cattle, hogs, sheep, and chickens, and raised corn, beans, wheat, and forages. The two of them, sharing very different perspectives, provide me with the best set of partners I could ask for.

It’s always challenging to work with family, at least so the conventional thinking goes. The annals of history are littered with the carcasses of business (and farms) that failed because of bad blood in family partnerships. Generational differences, spousal interference, and just good old-fashioned sibling bickering can really do a number on an operation. The secret to success, in our case, is that each of us genuinely wants the other to succeed.

Perhaps it’s because we each have a slightly different interest/passion on the farm that we’re able to do so well working together, but I’ve enjoyed working with my family in growing my herd as much as anything I’ve ever done in agriculture.

Since moving my cows back to the home farm earlier this year, we’ve done things I’ve never done before, like flushing three of our donor cows at our own facility. The cows are in great condition, I’m excited about the calves we have on the ground, and even more so about the matings we’ve created for next year’s crop.

As I mentioned, we each have a little different passion and area of expertise. In my case, my main focus is on the cows and the marketing of the operation. From giving Little Brother my thoughts on the grain markets to planning the matings of our cowherd, I stay focused on the areas of the operation from which I derive the most fulfillment. Likewise, Little Brother is better every year at growing corn and soybeans. He’s got a great crop in the ground this year, even in spite of some weather woes from time to time.

Dad, of course, is the linchpin of the operation. His biggest strength is that his desire for his kids to succeed far outweighs his own personal interests. Fortunately he derives a lot of personal pleasure from raising cattle and growing corn and beans, but he consistently demonstrates that his biggest goal in life is for Little Brother and I to do well and be happy. It’s a lesson I’ve learned through his example in more ways than one, and I just hope I’ll be half the father to my own kids some day as he’s been to us.

While the old adage may be that “you get what you pay for,” working on the farm with Dad and Little Brother has continually proven this conventional wisdom wrong. Far from getting what I pay for, I get infinitely more from the two of them in our farming operation than I think I’ll ever be able to give in return.