Sunday, October 07, 2012

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

Drought in the digital age

By Julie Carter

Going, going, gone. The cattle trucks are rolling -- sending this year’s calf crop down the road to -- I started to say “greener pastures” but I’m not sure there are any of those left in the West.

Right behind those calves go a good portion of the industry’s mama cows because once again, the enduring drought cycle has pushed producers to the breaking point.

It is a bad deal for a whole lot of people including all those associated with the cattle business -- from banks on down to the feed companies, fuel suppliers, and local merchants. It gives the “trickle down” theory a big fat slap in the rear and turns the trickle into a raging river.

The rancher has done all he knows how to do to outlast the whammy Mother Nature has put on the land. Those September showers that ran water in the ditches and put ruts in the roads came too late to grow enough grass to hold a herd over for another year.

Technology has been trickling into the ranch industry for 25 years. In the late 1980s the satellite livestock auctions took selling cattle to a new cyber realm. Not long after, cowboys who couldn’t figure out how to turn on the TV with a newfangled remote control were now watching cattle markets and weather forecasts via new computers.

Universities began gathering data on a plethora of behaviors and nutritional processes provided by a grazing cow. They were looking to not just bring convenience, but had a main goal of increasing productivity with the best spent dollar. Technology companies began specializing in the cattle industry with a focus on software development, content publishing, and livestock supplies.

More recently, the smartphone has become a source to hold information. It also provides the cattleman with an efficient way to communicate with feed suppliers and veterinarians by text message and link up with buyers over the Internet.
The weather is one area that technology can’t improve or redesign.  In a world where everything is computerized, digitized, and data overloaded, Mother Nature hasn’t signed on for any of it.

Man can’t change the weather, order the weather or force the weather. And, most of the time he can’t predict it with any accuracy. Still, very faithfully, people in agriculture watch the weather reports daily seeking a glimmer of hope dosed with some optimism for tomorrow.

Only God knows what next year will bring. Hope and prayer remain, but the cattle will go. People in the industry, generations of them, have already ridden out market cycles, and continuing fuel and feed price increases. But they can’t make it rain. They can’t make the grass grow. There isn’t an app for that.

Julie can be reached for comment at

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