We've Always Done It That Way - Not Me!

Fodder for Thought

I ask inconvenient questions and examine the orthodoxies our industry takes for granted.

Published on: April 12, 2013
 

Bertrand Russell once said, “In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”

In addition he also once said, “I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn't wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.”

While I do not agree with many of the other ideals that Russell stood for during his lifetime, I can agree wholeheartedly with these two statements.

About a month ago I questioned the economic efficiency and profitability of winter calving, a practice many have long taken for granted in the cattle industry, in a two-part blog series you can read here and here.

Discussions with individuals on social media yielded a variety of reasons to justify why producers used this management tactic compared to calving in other times of the year such as late spring or summer. I then proceeded to share research conducted by researchers at both Colorado State University and University of Nebraska-Lincoln examining the profitability of calving during these different time periods.

Through this examination I reached the conclusion that when looking at things from a strictly business standpoint, with profitability as your main concern, calving in winter was not as profitable as late-spring or summer calving.

Not surprisingly, everyone did not share my viewpoint on this topic. I did not expect them to. In addition, I received comments that my statements were short-sighted. Some wondered why I would even ask such a question, as if it truly has become dogma.

Part of me wonders if I would have received similar reactions if I had questioned other practices in the cattle industry which seem to me long overdue for a change; things such as the need for increased adoption of rotational grazing practices or the lack of importance placed on monitoring land health.

No matter the subject, at this point I refer you back to the two previous quotes from Bertrand Russell. I ask these kinds of questions and examine these types of issues because we do take them for granted.

It’s been said that the most damaging phrase in our language is: “It’s always been done that way.” Sadly, I find this phrase an all-too-common utterance by many in agriculture.

To remain relevant and be successful in business, managers must see the necessity of adaptability. They must also keep a discerning eye out for new ideas, techniques and technologies that could potentially add value to the product or services they offer. Not keeping an open mind to consider new things can extremely limit a business’s chances of future success.

I am not saying I have all the right answers. I also realize that my lack of practical experience and as my friend Doug says “skin in the game” makes my opinion just that…an opinion. However life is a continual learning process and while I may gain more knowledge and experience as I progress down the path I lay out for myself, I will never truly be an expert at anything. All I can do is collect these experiences and share what I have learned from them.

In the end, my success will not be determined by the skills or knowledge I lack. Instead success will come from my ability to understand my own limitations and challenges and find those who make up for what I lack with their strengths.

The important thing is I can still share the experiences and knowledge of those who wente before me and ideas I think are worth spreading. I plan to continue to do just that. As a journalist that’s my job. In the meantime, I hope we all can work a little harder on letting go of our sacred cows, maintaining an open mind, and actively listening to each other.

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  1. G.S. says:

    ...and due to weird behavior with the comment box, I continue... I agree that - if one hopes to survive in a changing environment - basic improvement-related questions need to be asked. You are not re-inventing the wheel by asking those questions, you are improving the wheel! Not asking questions, examining, & re-examining practices is a path to eventual failure. Thank you for asking!

  2. G.S. says:

    While larger companies might incorporate "process improvement" into their business practices, that is not my experience with typical small farmers/ranchers. They have not studied things such as quality improvement through planned experimentation, instead, relying on ag-oriented institutions to do research, etc., and then tell them how making this or that change will result in an improvement. Even then, they are slow to change. Why? My first guess is because their livelihood depends upon success, and they do not know HOW to design a small-scale experiment... too much risk.