Ennis Daily News

Budget woes illustrate a fundamental lack of real experience

The thoughts of a humble cattleman.

I saw in the newspaper a while back that we, the citizens of the United States of America, are going into debt another $1.2 trillion this year. Further, the article stated that our total debt will now exceed $15 trillion by the end of this year.

Now, I believe that all our federal spending budgets originate in the House of Representatives.

I can only conclude, then, that those same representatives have neither the slightest clue about finances and budgeting nor have they ever lived through a drought like the ranchers of Texas did last year.

It takes many years to build up a herd of cattle and to develop a profitable method of operation suitable for your particular piece of ground.

It involves capital investment, genetic selection and long hours of manual labor. There are no shortcuts to profitability. A rancher has plans for good years and bad years. With a little attention to the details everything can pretty much go according to plan — unless an act of God delivers a drought.

By late May of last summer, following an unusually dry winter, it was obvious we were not going to have a normal summer. Grass that should have been knee-high was struggling to sprout a second layer of leaves.

My cattle were working hard, daily, to find a sufficient amount of roughage.

Following my set of plans for just such a situation, I took some steers and older cows to market. I simply needed fewer hoofs on the ground for the amount of forage available.

It was earlier than I had planned; but it was the sensible thing to do.

Then by late June, the sun seemed as though it never set. As consistent 100-degree degree days heated the earth, the grass started to go dormant.

Only the hardiest, heat tolerant grasses remained. I divided the pasture into paddocks with electric fence and started a calculated rotation of the herd through the paddocks.

Daily observations of the amount of forage consumed became my timetable for herd movement. I waited for the rain that I knew would inevitably come.

It never did. By Aug. 1, I took some more cattle to the auction. Now I was selling some of my best cows. It was not only a financial loss, as the sale barn held some of my neighbors’ cattle as well; but it was a profound genetic loss for my entire program and herd maintenance. It was deeply disappointing to have a drought destroy so many years of work and careful planning.

By mid-September with both the wife and I quietly saddened, we loaded up all but our very best stock for a final trip to the sale barn.

It was our calculated decision to take money out of savings for hay purchases that would feed the remaining herd through the rest of the fall and into winter — if we had to.

This was the type of emergency we had set contingency funds aside for.

The scorched, serrated fields reflected the feelings in our hearts as we took our precious cows and heifers to market. Many years of nurturing, caring and planning rode in the trailer behind our truck.

Our ranch is a business enterprise and, as such, sometimes painful business decisions have to be made.

Nonetheless, we didn’t speak much on that trip.

Every business enterprise has good seasons and bad seasons. During the good seasons, a little profit is put back to insure against the bad season which will surely come.

This is not only a sound business practice; it is a prudent and wise thing to do.

To operate otherwise is to ultimately lose the entire ranch. For a rancher operating on borrowed funds during the bad season, ultimately and inevitably results in the next season being a hired hand on some other far-sighted cowboy’s ranch.

Now neither my wife nor I graduated from economics at Harvard or Yale; but we didn’t need to as the basics of finance are pretty straightforward. You must simply make more than you spend to keep your ranch. So how do you figure that those high-paid ranch hands we have in Washington with all their deficit spending and borrowing haven’t figured that out by now?


Larry Burden


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Posted by on Feb 25 2012. Filed under Letters to the Editor. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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