My dad fed cattle most of his farming life, as did his father and his brothers going back to the 1930s.
They had other livestock, but the beef cattle seemed to be where they put their greatest efforts with barns, silos and concrete feedlots.
When I drive anywhere in farm country, I enjoy looking at silos and then check the area around the silo for signs of livestock present. In a high percentage of the time, not only are the cattle gone, so is the feedlot and fences that I know were once there.
Empty silos with nothing around them tell of a farm that once fed enough cattle that the owner made the commitment to invest and erect a silo just for the purpose of feeding cattle.
Those empty silos stand as a monument to the past generations of farmers when almost every farm fed enough cattle that the farmer thought he needed a silo and built one or more.
My dad erected six stave silos during his farming career that were used until the late 1980s.
My uncles put up two stave silos and four Harvestores that were used until about 1990.
My uncle and I were feeding around 350 head of cattle through the 1980s and when we were looking at buying replacements for $600 a head, we remembered that less than a year earlier, we sold the fat cattle for $600 a head.
My uncle decided to wait for better prices and that day never arrived. It would seem that since he was approaching 75 years of age had something to with it, too.
In the last weeks of his life in 1999, my dad looked at his silos and feedlot that were no longer in use and questioned his wisdom of having invested a significant amount of money into these items that were now idle.
I told him, “Those silos and feedlot let you do something you enjoyed and made money while you were doing it. They don’t owe you a thing.”
They remain empty and unused, serving as a reminder to what once was.
Actually, they serve as an indicator as how the cattle business has changed.
In the 1950s and ’60s, my dad had the choice of selling his cattle to five different packing houses, all less than a two-hour drive, plus many weekly livestock auctions. Today, all those packing houses and most of the auctions are long gone.
However, before anyone reading this starts thinking that the future of the cattle business is over, I can tell you about one thing that has not changed.
The people in the cattle business today are the same kind of people as my dad and uncles. It does not take long when visiting with them to feel their dedication and enjoyment of the cattle business.
While those wonderful days of feeding cattle enjoyed by my family and all other cattle producers over 25 years ago are gone, there are cow-calf and feedlot producers who will buy and sell cattle and as long as they can make some money at it, will keep on doing just that.
It requires different skills and management now to show a profit because the business itself has changed. Usually there is a long truck ride some time in that cow’s life when it is either bought or sold as a yearling or finished.
Those places of support are fewer, be it veterinarians or equipment dealers or anything else livestock related, but there are a few available reflecting a business that has downsized but certainly not gone.
Even on our farm it appears that cattle feeding will return as my son is working towards having cattle once again. He has his work cut out for him to rebuild fences and install water tanks, but he has that same dedication I see in cattle producers around us.
Yes, the cattle business has changed in 50 years and so has everything else in agriculture.
The thing that has not changed is those people still in the business who just cannot imagine themselves without cattle, whether it is around 100 head or more than 1,000 – the people like my dad and uncles.
Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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