What Keeps Me Up At Night…

I am generally a good sleeper.  My busy days tend to exhaust me so that I go to sleep immediately after my head hits the pillow.  This is a long ago engrained habit that stems from my years of competitive swimming.

Still literally riding the wave after more than 30 years…

However, over the past five years there seems to be an ever increasing number of times when I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about something.  I am sure that all of you can empathize with me on this, as we all go through stages in our lives when responsibility weighs heavily on our shoulders and worry plagues our psyche.

Today, I also ride a different type of wave as I ship these animals to harvest to make beef…

I am used to both literally and figuratively riding the wave.  I have more miles logged into the swimming pool than most folks ever dream of—and I still compete in swimming during the summer months as I simultaneously coach our local swim team.  I find those waves comfortable and easy to ride because my success is directly determined by my own hard work and preparation.

I teach my swimmers to be strong and tough so that they will be successful riding the wave to victory

I love to care for cattle and raise beef.  Spending my days handling and caring for animals is like a dream come true for me.  My heart fills with pride as I watch my animals flourish as a result of my crew’s and my dedication and hard work.  I put my animals on the truck when they are ready to make beef feeling confident that I have humanely raised a high quality and nutritious protein that I am proud to feed to my family and to yours.

This is the face of a well cared for animal who will make safe and healthy beef…

I have less confidence in terms of the business side of my farm.  As the volatility of the commodity markets increases with each year that passes, my confidence erodes alongside the quality of my sleep.  I find myself worrying in the middle of the night instead peacefully dreaming.  My very worst nightmare is to no longer be financially viable as result of turbulent market swings.  The very real truth is that I can work diligently every day from sun up to sun down, produce a high quality beef product, and (due to uncontrollable market swings) still lose more than $100.00 per animal when my cattle ship to harvest.

Click here to see a graph of cattle market volatility:

Cattle volatility graph

Sometimes I wonder if the folks trading on the Chicago Board of Trade realize that the electronic paper that passes through their hands actually affects a real person who physically grows the products that they buy and sell with the click of a button?  Investors make money when the market moves (the direction of movement is really not important)—the more it moves, the more potential for profit.  Conversely, the volatility that drives this ability to profit on the board gravely affects my ability to raise a tangible food product.

Click here to see a graph of cattle feed volatility:

Corn volatility graph 2012

The price of commodities on the board provides the basis for both the cost of my cattle and also the cost of the feed ingredients that I feed to my cattle.  It also drives the price that I receive when I sell my animals to make beef.  The more volatility in those markets, the more difficult it is for me to manage my business to remain viable because the wave of market swings cripples my ability to be financially stable.

I started employing risk management tools about 18 months ago in an effort to ease the worry.  I am fortunate to have a very patient broker who does his best to take care of this animal psychologist / feed yard manager.  I am slowly learning, but often frustrated that I spend so much of my time trying to control something that seems to render me impotent…

I understand his needs and am a good provider for him. I make a better animal caregiver than a business woman…

I have been known to say with great frustration “Can’t I just take care of animals and make beef?  At least I am good at that!” There are times (like now) when a weather influenced volatile market combined with a weak consumer beef demand offers very few risk management options.  As you may guess, the current quality of my sleep is poor…

I know that I must ride the wave.

I have faith that over the long run I will make it.

I worry about tomorrow even as I work so hard to take care of today…

What keeps you up at night?


Filed under Foodie Work!, General

4 responses to “What Keeps Me Up At Night…

  1. Nebraska Farm Wife

    I am right there with you trying to figure out what to do and how to do it, and reading market updates at 3 am when I should be getting my beauty rest (and I sure need it). I worry not only about our farm and ranch (drought effects, market risk, increasing input cost) but also as a feed marketer I worry about my customers as well (what will they do, will they be able to figure out a sustainable plan, can I get them the feed they need when they need it). There is reward in this business but there is still plenty of sleepless nights in the mean time.

    • Bobbi-

      I very much appreciate your support and your desire to work as a team in your job as a feed marketer. I know that you do the best that you can do each and every day with the resources that you are given, and I respect that tremendously.


  2. “It always rains after a long dry spell.” Look for additional ways to conserve water and energy. Keep yourself calm while examining additional measures to reduce stress for yourself, family and livestock. Easier said than done, trust me these are the only and best things to do.

    • You are right, Dr. Haake. Focusing our efforts on all of the “day to day” little things helps to ensure that we do the best possible job.

      You are also correct that things will get better! Until then, we will stay strong and keep moving forward…


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