Archive for the ‘cattle industry’ Category

Flight of the Orange Juice Perspective

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The past few months have been intellectually decadent, to say the least. I spent a lot of time “working” according to my time sheets. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with a lot of different people, from many different areas of life. Some were students I was mentoring, others were scientists, ranchers, performing artists, hunters, educators and, well, the list is just too dang exhaustive to type.

In the spring I was on a short flight heading back home from a meeting, I honestly can’t remember if it was early morning or late late evening. Either way I was tired. And then the stewardess delivered a much appreciated cup of orange juice. Who doesn’t love a cup o’ juice when tired & travelling, slagging away at work stuff whenever you get a spare moment?

As I sat there working away with the OJ on the tray beside me, a thought developed. The curious cup of OJ At a glance towards my liquid delight, my first thought within seconds was: we’re rolling slightly and vibrating at a set frequency. No duh. It’s a plane. This was promptly followed by: why the deuce did I think that? Post hoc explanation within the next minute was that I watched how the juice oscillated and moved around, thinking of how it was transmitting the movement of the plane and that not only was there vibration at a certain frequency causing a repeatable pattern of rings moving in the horizontal plane, but we were also likely tipping side to side a bit based on the shifting of the surface of the juice relative levels of juice at each side of the cup. Both of which were discernible to me because of the reflection of the light on the surface of the juice changing with motion of the juice relative to the incidence of the light.

Yup. Nerded that up.

I debated sharing the deconstruction of that thought process, largely because when I did most people just laughed and said it was because I was working too hard or just a big geek. Neither remark really bothered me, but I just felt that a bigger concept was at play. Perspective.

Although the discussions these past months have been over a wide variety of topics, I couldn’t help but circle back to my flying OJ experience when the topic arose of conflict. Especially when discussing the progression of “ag-vocacy” and inevitably with the arrival of the fall hunting season. Conflict is present in many things, but agriculture and hunting are two that I’m currently exposed to a lot. I recently went hiking with a hunter, encountered a “small” bear while I was on my own. Personally, the bear seemed damn huge at 10 ft away, but of all things what struck me was the curiosity in the face and gestures. Thankfully the encounter wasn’t detrimental for either the bear or I. After the hike, the hunter (a former guide from the north) gave me a book I just finished, Grizzly Heart. The book is about using a difference perspective for sharing the world with “dangerous” animals.

In the book Charlie Russel and Maureen Enns (an Alberta rancher and an artist) use a different perspective on bears, one that encompasses actually trying to understand the bears’ perspective on space, resources etc., to make sharing space with them possible not only for them in their remote cabin, but also for villages in the surrounding area. The book reminded me of my view of the flying OJ, and how it is just a different perspective on something. People’s responses just didn’t encompass that perspective.

I keep taking the OJ and the grizzlies back to ag-vocacy and the brewing discomfort that I have been developing with it. Sometimes it seems like a large amount of support for agriculture and attempts to “educate” about agriculture don’t encompass that other perspectives are seeing things in a whole different way. A lot of people may recognize that there are other perspectives on agricultural production. But I often am left wondering if people take the time to really try and see the world through the other eyes, how those eyes see the conflict and what we, as humans, might have to re-learn if we are going to peacefully share the world.


Raise your voice for the cattle you care for

Right now, there is opportunity for you, every person involved in the beef industry from the cow-calf to the consumer, to voice how you care for cattle or want them cared for.

The Canadian Codes of Practice for Beef Cattle are being updated. That means they are being reviewed

Humor Time: Always makes me giggle about some special society that abides by "The Code" (must be said in ominous tone).

The Code

and revised to

incorporate new knowledge about beef cattle. These codes are said to be educational material for the public, reference material for the authorities and indicate what are the regulatory, industry basics and good practices (there’s nuances to that, but the homepage of the website will tell you all about it). From my experience, these documents perform all those functions and more.

To put it bluntly, in many different ways this document is the industry standing up and saying “Here is how we care for our animals”. I completely support the use of social media, outreach and education programs to say the same thing. Those are a part of the story of beef. But codes are becoming a big deal. Don’t believe me? Ask JBS, one of the big guys in the beef industry worldwide. They just used codes to certify production practices of some of their Australian feedlots. The codes that I’m referring to here, the Canadian Codes of Practice, seem to be aiming to one day be the reference document for those certifications.

If my understanding of the process is right, there is a period of public comment where you’ll get a chance to review the document before it is finalized and make comments about what they are proposing. I’ll make sure to post that when the time comes. But I believe that every person has the right to have the opportunity to speak up for the cattle we care for. And this is one of those moments.



Categories: beef, cattle industry, legislation Tags:

What Ag Innovation is going to FAIL

April 20, 2012 4 comments

oooooh, dooom!  glooom! AAAAAAAAH FAILURE!

Stick with me here. I’m going to share a though on why Ag Innovation is doomed to fail, and what twitter and other social media have to do with it.

There’s a lot of talk about the need to invest in innovation in Agriculture in recent months. Just google “Agriculture Innovation”. It was one of the questions when I was a CYL candidate, and it was brought up again for this year’s group.

But here’s the thing: Innovation, of any kind, is going to fail.

Now, I don’t fancy my self a true innovator. Or at least not yet. So maybe I should just keep my yap shut until I actually do something. But you see, I’m in the process of it. I think. As a student, I’m in the process of creating an innovative brand for myself that, hopefully, will land me a sweet job when/if I graduate (yes, some days I do wonder if I’ll ever get there, but that’s another story). And I don’t see enough of the conversation about innovation being realistic about the process. We’re sick with destination fever. So worried about where we’re going we’re forgetting about how we get there.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles @

School teaches us that there’s something horrid about being wrong. But in being innovative you’re not going to get it right on the first, second, third or maybe even 30th, try. And innovation requires that you try (fail) try (fail) try again. At least that’s what history’s and today’s innovators say. So I’m thinking they might know.

If we’re truly going to foster innovation in Ag, we need to give failing an big ol’ bear hug and get used to it. Yes, I’m saying accept failure. But never, ever ever ever, accept failure as “good enough” or as the end point and just leave it with “well, I tried”. That, my friend, would, ummmmm, well I can’t even think of how to describe that. It would just be bad, ok?

Part of failure is being ashamed of it. And shame is this really cool, interesting, curious thing. So get shame in that big ol’ bear hug too! Maybe that’s were social media comes in. It is a connection tool that’s rather instantaneous and worldwide. Putting out a tweet about how frustrating some failure is, and you get tweets back of understand and support. Maybe some connection will further your idea, help your innovation become more than an idea. Maybe social media is one of the ways we’ll get Ag Innovation from a hot topic into a wildfire. Or maybe it’s something the innovators out there might want to consider.

In Honour of all those calving right now

April 19, 2012 Leave a comment

’tis the season of new life in the cattle industry. Babies everywhere! My chats with the ranch-man always start of with “how’s calving?”, but usually I don’t even have to prompt to get told about the 24 new calves this morning. Followed by a run about mishaps, hilarity, frustrations and weather updates. Some days it is a call from being huddled under a sleeping bag to warm up a bit, others its from cooking a steak on the back porch (gotta love Alberta spring weather!). None the less, there is always the resolve to go back out, no matter how tired/cold/hungry, to check that calf and make sure all the moms are ok.

I’m so proud of the commitment and drive to give these calves and their mommas the best life possible. I was inspired to create a little graphic for his (and many others) resolve. And thankfully there is a website for that! The wording still doesn’t seem quite right to me, but  TA DA!


Categories: beef, cattle industry, love, media

My experience with Cattlemen’s Young Leaders

April 17, 2012 1 comment

Sigh. A great road trip has just come to an end. Bummer eh?

Oh no, I don’t think so!  Like hell this is the end! BOOYAH!

That about sums up my current thoughts on being a graduate from the Cattlemen’s Younger Leaders mentorship program. We had a graduation event on Friday in Saskatoon (more on a bridge there later), and the new crop of candidates was there for selecting the next  gen of participants on Saturday.

I think all us grads were bemused at how much we had in common with the newbies. We all share a love for the industry and at some level are all AgNerds. What was more surprising, was how it was like a window into the past, right back to the selection event we were all at last year. The nerves, the excitement, the fact that none of us could stop, not even for a minute, talking about cattle (yes, it really was heaven).

I was paired with Owen Roberts, the Urban Cowboy and a general aggie-awesome media guru. A little bit of hometown for me as I went to Guelph for my BSc and did a LOT LOT LOT of growing up there (but somehow still manage to get told that I’ve never grown up…fancy that.) Owen is in Guelph, I’m in southern Alberta, so yes there were some challenges for communicating and it’s not all rosey-posy. But, we really exploited us of social media and e-mailing to connect, which I think is totally intriguing as we’re both game-on for communications and use of such things. I have no problem calling him up or shooting off an e-mail, something that I think we’ll be doing long into the future.

But the mentorship is more than my mentor. I made connections with other participants and their mentors. I learned so much from grabbing a coffee or just saying hello to someone else in the program. There’s also all the connections that were made from people in the program connecting me with people they knew (there’s going to be an upcoming video on the need for grazing in maintaining our natural grasslands that spun off some connections). Although I started with my focus on communications in the beef industry, I ended up learning a lot about things like foreign trade and international law, marketing beef, business accounting and planning, land issues, environment….and oh so much more. So for this year’s crop, don’t get too caught up in who specifically is going to be your mentor.  You functionally get more than one.

I’ve had a few people in the past couple days tell me that it’s intimidating to talk to me about the industry some times because I know so much (usually follow by a guffaw from me, there’s SO FRIKEN much I don’t know and so many other people who know so much more). Aside from the blow to the communicator in me, I can say that it directly relates to this mentorship program. Kudos to all that got CYL going.

I’ll end up posting more about the program throughout the upcoming months, there’s so much that I took from it. I encourage all participants, and people interested in participating, not to be shy and to see out the previous participants and mentors. I mean, isn’t that the role of the program, to advise/train?

I do want to get this outta my head though before I leave for the day. After talking with many of the candidates and hearing a lot of people ask the panel speakers at the grad event and the participants from my year for advice, I kept thinking “what would I tell other young leaders?”. Well here you go (and yes, it is terrifying releasing such a silly little rhyme onto the web) :Chew hot uranium, evil-doer!

You need to reset your objective, if you’re going to be effective,

and get used to the fact that you’ll fail.

But always remember, that small burning ember,

and let passion put wind in your sail.

You may get confused, and some will abuse,

your youth and lack of experience.

But that too shall pass, you’ll hit greener grass,

let nothing create your indifference.

Categories: beef, cattle industry, CYL

Day 2 @ CIC12: Cattlemen’s College

February 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Cattlemen’s College, first day of school. Actually, only day of school. I think universities should take note.

Having just attended UFA’s Cattlemen’s College in Lethbridge the week before, I was super curious to see what the flashy American version was going to be like. I was expecting my boots to be blown off.

But to be honest, my boots stayed on the whole day. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of interesting information and good quotes. It just seemed to lack energy and practicality.

My first session was on profitability for cow-calf places in volatile times. A volatile subject itself. There was a lot of chat about the historical value of cattle relative to other meat animals and how feeder cattle revenue growth has outpaced the rest of the economy. The take-home messages were: manage your margins (with the suggestion of locking in prices with contracts), increase working capital reserve, pay down debt, leverage expansion, manage costs and don’t let your emotions always rule over your money decisions.     No duh.

I get the point of not wanting to be too specific. I mean they did say that “what’s good for any business is not good for every business”. That totally makes sense, you have to do what’s right for you. There is no silver bullet (well, there is Coors). This leaves a challenge for a speaker to give a message to a whole room packed full of people from different situations. I do, however, think it would have been valuable to have more concrete examples of dealing with volatility within functional businesses. Drive the general take homes with concrete, tangible methods. Might make it easier to envision how it could work on the farm.

There were two points that I found interesting in the presentation:

1) When adjusting for carcass weight (I’m assuming of fed-cattle, not the cows themselves), the current cow herd is still as profitable as previous years despite shrinking numbers. Go mama cows go!

2) Resiliency is a very important characteristic of successful cow-calf producers. Especially when it comes to managing costs (i.e. being able to adapt to changes and be resilient, not resistant, to variability and novelty). I found this neat because I just read a review of a study on how resiliency in young children was found to be a characteristic that was indicative of success later in life. Is it possible that the manifestation within the industry as a characteristic of businesses that will later be successful is just another manifestation of the same behavioural relationships in a different context?

A story to share: Cattle Industry Convention 2012 in Nashville

February 5, 2012 1 comment

So I arrived a touch sleepy in Nashville after having left home at 2pm the day before to head through Calgary, L.A. and Houston. I thought I would sleep enroute, in a plane or a layover, but no luck. But I was very glad to be on the ground and outta the airport by 10:30am.

I grabbed the shuttle to the hotel and chat with some folks from a co-op farm store, one of NCBA’s board members and a lovely rancher’s wife. Got to the hotel, praying like heck that my room would be ready because I had 20 min to get my travel weary tooshie showered and to a meeting that I really wanted to attend. Thankfully it was, and off I went to navigate the 2,881 rooms to find mine. Seriously, this place is enormous. And gorgeous. Very hard not to get distracted or lost, but more on that later.

Talk about a fish outta water. I’ve lived in million people cities, been to very large conferences and I had yet to encounter anything like walking into the USA’s national Cattle Industry Conference. I have never seen so many people involved in one interest, so excited and engaged.

So I naturally started thinking of home and all the folks with whom I wished I could share my trip with. Oh wait, I have a blog now. I intended to blog daily about what was happening. Then I decided that since I’m so good at finding entertaining things, I’d rather get out there and take full advantage of being in Nashville with so many cattle-lovers, and return to the notes later. So I’m going to go over my notes and re-visit my experiences, distilling my excitement into a series of posts. Likely the more coherent choice for those of you that read this.

The next few posts on here will cover the activities at the conference. Some might be on a specific meeting or topic. There was a lot of intense things ranging from profitability of cow-calf operations, to navy seal ordeals, carcass evaluations and predictions for the near future of the beef industry. But all in all, I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to attend and hope this enriches your life at least a fraction of what it did for mine.

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