Ranchers: Raising cattle risky business

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Raising cattle has always been a risky business, according to local cow and calf producers who gathered in Craig for a workshop on Wednesday.

"We don't have to go to Vegas," said Moffat County rancher Marilyn Hering. "It's a gamble every day trying to keep up."

That's what brought her to the mid-week workshop at the CSU Extension Office to talk about ranch management.

"I'm here to learn about the new tagging system and pasture rotation, mostly," Hering said.

Her friend Lilly Johnson also came to learn.

"You have to keep up or you don't sell your livestock," Johnson said. "It's a gamble every day, absolutely."

Rod Sharp is an economist from Colorado State University who knows agriculture and business management. Working with Jeff Tranel, CSU regional extension specialist, he developed a risk-management section of the workshop that informs ranchers how to better understand probabilities of success and the risks they face in today's cattle markets.

"What we do is give ranchers the tools to do a better job managing risk," Sharp said. "They should leave here understanding the financial consequences and impacts of the decisions they make on their business."

Chad Green understands the need to keep up on current issues. He is a third-generation rancher in Moffat County and said he appreciated the workshop.

"It's good to see a program designed to keep us on top of issues," he said. "There was no question I was going to do this for a living. It's a great way of life, but you won't get rich. You gotta have your heart in it."

Running 300 head of cattle and some sheep on his family's ranch north of Craig, he is managing to "stay in the black."

The workshop was designed to look at many aspects of ranching, Sharp said. "We cover hay production and cattle buying, along with marketing and legal risks faced by ranchers."

"We also look at herd replacement," Tranel said. "It's a decision-making tool where you can plug in information and see what you can afford."

Ron Oesterle grew up in northern Wyoming, and he's been ranching all his life, "except for those 11 years in the Army," he said. He's now a contract ranch manager for the Beaver Valley Ranch near the Flattops.

"We run a summer grazing operation with about 200 head of cattle," Oesterle said.

He also noted that cattle ranching is a global business.

"These days you need to keep up on world events. We lost the Pacific Rim contracts due to the mad cow scare. The Canadians went belly up because of that. It's global politics."

Oesterle also pays close attention to fuel prices.

"We had to re-evaluate when gas hit $3 a gallon," he said. "We took our fields out of hay production because of the fuel costs to bring it in."

Despite risk issues that are a constant in the business, Oesterle said that cattle prices are good now.

"The best they've ever been," he said.

The agents from CSU presenting the workshop hope to help keep it that way.

"Some people like to take risks and some are adverse to it," Tranel said. "We want people to leave here understanding their tendencies. They all are risk-takers just by being in this business. We know that."

Lilly Johnson is well aware of risk.

"I've been in ranching all my life," she said. "It's a great business if you like to take risks and like hard work."

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