Sunday, February 26, 2006


Barkalounges and pawdicures: a world gone to the dogs

By Julie Carter

It was in 1982 that Hank the Cowdog first showed up on America’s bookshelves and now, six million copies later, there are very few folks who haven’t at least heard about Hank.

For those of you that perhaps lived in a cave somewhere and don’t know Hank, he is the creation of Texas born cowboy turned author, John R. Erickson.

Based on actual dogs Erickson once worked with at the ranch, Hank the Cowdog is a scruffy, smart-alecky super-sleuth with a nose for danger and an eye for the ladies. And as “Head of Ranch Security” on a West Texas ranch, he’s usually up to his ears in all kinds of amusing trouble.

Whether he is called upon to bark-up the sun, investigate suspicious goings-on, or defend the ranch against marauders, Hank’s hilarious, hair-raising adventures delight young and old.

Hank, his timid sidekick Drover and his sworn enemy Pete the Barncat have shared adventure after adventure at the M Cross ranch through soon-to-be 48 books.

To know Hank is to love Hank. He is the epitome of the typical ranchdog. He represents the thousands of his brethren lying in the shade of the gas tanks, under the porches and behind the stock trailers of America’s ranches.

Hank and I have a lot in common -- beside the scruffy, smart-alecky, and laying in the shade parts. We are just who we are. The ranch is where we want to be and assigning ourselves jobs that surely make the world a better place is what we do. I don’t bark at the sun but I have barked a few varmints into a corner, usually two-legged ones.

I have often wondered what it would be like for the Hanks of the west if they were to visit one of those fancy city salons for pampered pooches. I’ve been told about a couple with intriguing names. One is called The Grand Paw and the other The Frou Frou Room.

For the pampered canine, these “kennels” offer overnight suites and plush cabanas, a training and agility course, oral hygiene, organic and holistic foods, a grooming salon and a day spa that include milk baths as well as hot oil and silk treatments.

For DOGS they offer aromatherapy, massage, birthday cakes, pawdicures, a day camp or social club, an indoor barkalounge (as opposed to an outdoor one I suppose). Of course exercise, affection, a chauffeur service and doggy psychology are also available.

This is a world where the dogs have names like Ambrose, Guinevere, Tranquilla and Nicolette instead of Gus, Slick, Murphy and Damn U.

Hank would be amazed at the money spent on dogs. Fifty dollars a night can buy you a pawdicure and time in the barkalounge (whatever that is!). Hank and I both know fifty dollars a day in our world is called “wages” and a barkalounge sounds very much like a cowboy honky tonk.

And about Nicolette. Hank would like her to know that if she wants to visit the ranch, he’d be happy to give her a tour of the machine shed and the post pile. If she was real adventurous, he would even take her out to meet his coyote buddies, ole Rip and Snort.

Nothing says cowdog romance like a night howling at the moon.

© Julie Carter 2006

The Business of Farming

By Larry Gabriel

What is the business model for your farm or ranch? Every business has one.

If we ask the average farmer or rancher what business model he uses for his operation, we might get a blank stare.

That is because most of the world doesn't view farming or ranching as a "business". Only in some of the developing countries are agricultural stories in the business section of the news.

Those of us not paying attention to our business model are following one selected by other people.

The model can be inherited, because that's the way dad always did it. A model can be suggested by a lender who requires a business plan. Sometimes it is created by trial and error. Other times it is created by a government program. Often it is formed by intuition.

Some people believe the government should design a universal business model for all of our farmers and ranchers. Such people usually crave uniformity and control.

There are two reasons a government farm model won't work. First, most of us don't appreciate being told how to run our operations. Second, every operation and every operator is different.

A model that works well on a farm with heavy loam soil and 24 inches of annual precipitation will not work on poorer soils with 16 inches of precipitation.

We all have different abilities. Some people take pride in doing all the labor themselves, while others cannot do the labor. Some can skillfully supervise only one employee, while others can supervise a hundred.

A model for a grain commodity operation might work well for someone skilled and knowledgeable about using the futures market to reduce his risks, and not work at all for someone who views the commodity market as a place to gamble.

Whatever your business model may be, it should include three things in my view: 1) something you enjoy; 2) something that meets your family's financial needs, and 3) one that does not infringe on the freedom or rights of others.

Within those parameters, the options are almost unlimited. We can diversify production, develop specialty products, integrate vertically in the market, learn to use futures markets, improve production, lower costs, add value, expand use of renewable energy, develop new markets and sell services, just to name a few.

When we view our farms and ranches as businesses, we will see business opportunities we otherwise would miss. Someday, farming and ranching will be accepted as businesses.

It may not be today, but it is closer.

Mr. Gabriel is the South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture

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