My dad talks about the days of running cattle in this country when he was a kid.
His Granddad was more of a farmer than rancher but he had quite a few cattle. Once a year his granddad would gather up his older steers and trail them to the railroad in Hardin. Dad always laughed about the way his granddad did things. He said they would trail in a bunch of steers that were mostly three year olds but there would also be some four and five year olds that had gotten away in previous years. As an aside here when dad bought the place he said that there was a half dozen huge steers that were over 8 years old that he played hell trying to get rounded up. It would take two days to trail the steers to Hardin and load them on the train. They took them to what was called the Y and load them out. They usually went to Omaha where they were put on grain for a few weeks and then slaughtered. Dad always talks about the trips into Hardin. What he really remembered was the trip back. After the steers were loaded Grandma would have the vehicle there and everybody would load up for the ride home except him. They would stick him on a horse and he got to follow the horse herd home to the ranch. He always enjoyed the trip back. He said it would only take few hours and they would be back.
My dad's dad was a little different story though. When he shipped stuff it was all two year olds. He was always right on the ball doing things right and getting them done in good order. I worked for the man once when i was younger, he was a hard man to please. Dad never talks about these trail drives much. He did say they trailed down Tullock Creek like his granddad did to the Y in Hardin sometimes but they also trailed down Reno creek to Benteen where they loaded cattle too. Same deal, they loaded these older animals up and sent them to the Midwest, Omaha, where they were fed grain for about 30 days before being slaughtered.
How times and things change, when my dad started ranching the thing was not to sell older critters like he described. Calves were what most guys sold. That allowed you to run more mother cows and have more production capability. Why did this happen? Cheap feed in the Midwest allowed them to put the gain on calves cheaper so they would feed them out in feedlots.
I really wonder with the price of corn and other feedstock like they are, are we going to see the cattle industry move back to selling older cattle? Is a cow calf producer like me going to go back to selling yearlings instead of calves? Is the industry going to be able to afford to take calves and put the expensive feed in them or are we going to have to raise them up to yearlings on grass and then put 30 days of corn in them to get them fat like my Grandpa and Great-Granddad did? This would really save on the feeding expense to get cattle fat.
These thoughts have been running around my mind the past couple of weeks. This last year, yearling prices were really strong. Is that the signal that we need to start doing things different? Should I jump now to a different way of operating or wait and see? I think the high feed prices are going to be a new norm for quite a while with the push for ethanol we see so I think it would be smart to adapt early. But is this the right move? I'll have to consider for a while. Step back to the way Granddad did things, quite a paradigm shift to think about.