Are we making the right decisions?

Every day, no matter who we are, we make decisions. We make a decision about what time to get up in the morning and what time to go to sleep. We decide what to eat for breakfast, whether or not to feed the livestock, do we go to work or go fishing, do we cut the hay or turn the bulls in with the cows, and I could go on and on. Each decision we make has a series of consequences that result from that decision. Even the decision to do nothing has some type of result.  I would like each of you to take a hard look at the decisions you are making. Is there a reason you are you doing XYZ or is that the way it has always been done? Do you know the actual cost or benefit of doing XYZ? Is there a better way to do XYZ? Do you absolutely love doing XYZ?

Three boys are deciding where the best fishing  hole could be (Photo: NRCS).

These three boys make what may seem like an easy decision to us, but for them it may be the hardest decision they make all day. (Photo: NRCS).


Sometimes I think, that as land and livestock managers we get bogged down in the rut of doing what we’ve always done. We forget to look at the bigger picture. We forget that change can be enlightening and refreshing. We get stuck in the everyday operation that is keeping the livestock alive and healthy, and the land producing grass. We have been brought up to work hard for everything we want, and there is comfort in knowing that if we work hard we will be blessed. However hard work, while satisfying, may not always be profitable.

It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of running a ranch or farm. (Photo: NRCS).

It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of running a ranch or farm. Stopping for a bit to learn or to really think about why we do the things we do could actually save us money. (Photo: NRCS).


I would like to challenge you to also analyze whether or not you are actually making money doing XYZ. Maybe this year you are, but is that the norm? One way to do this is through a Unit Cost of Production Analysis for each enterprise in your operation. This powerful tool can help you see where you are doing well in your business and where you may need to make improvements or changes. It is not an easy analysis. Math will be involved and it may take some time for the process to be fully learned.  Won’t it be worth it to spend some time learning to fully understand where your operation is succeeding and where it may need improving? I certainly think so. And just think, if you hate doing XYZ and it is not making you any profit, maybe you can figure out a way to not do XYZ, which will give you more time to do what you really love.

It all comes down to decisions and it may be time to answer the question:  Are we making the correct ones for ourselves and our operation?


Check out this video series by colleagues Dallas Mount and Aaron Berger on how to calculate a unit cost of production.  Still have questions?  Contact your local Extension Office for assistance. 


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The Sandhills of Nebraska

Fall is a beautiful time to travel.  The days are warm and sunny, and the nights are cool.  You can unroll the windows in the vehicle and feel the breeze whipping through your fingers.  Last weekend my sister and I started a tradition of heading down through the Sandhills of Nebraska to the annual Nebraska Junk Jaunt.  My-oh-my did we see an enormous amount of junk.  Some of it great, some of it not so great.  However most likely my favorite part of the trip was the scenery.  The rolling stabilized sand dunes covered in sand bluestem (Andropogon halli), sand love grass (Eragrostis trichodes), and needle and thread grass (Hesperostipa comata) passed by as we made our way down the two lane black top road.  Cattle grazed on the rolling landscape and the Niobrara river cut its way toward the Missouri.  What trees were present were planted by settlers long ago or by current inhabitants.  Junipers formed wind breaks near roads and homesteads.

A two lane road cuts through the Sandhills in October (Photo: Wikimedia)

A two lane road cuts through the Sandhills in October (Photo: Public Domain. Wikimedia)


The Nebraska Sandhills were formed around 7,000 years ago and likely have active sand dunes as recently as what is known at the Medieval Warm Period that occurred during the European Middle Ages.  As temperatures cooled and became wetter, grasses and broadleaf plants were able to take hold and stabilize the dunes.  It wasn’t until the 1870’s when settlers moved to the area that their potential for grazing cattle was fully discovered.  Today the Sandhills are a productive cattle ranching area, supporting over 530,000 head of beef cattle.

A cowboy looks on as his herd of cattle grazes contently (Photo:  Wikimedia)

A cowboy looks on as his herd of cattle grazes contentedly (Photo: Public Domain. Wikimedia)


This unique region sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, making both temporary and permanent shallow lakes very common in low-lying valleys.  It has the most intricate wetland system in the United States, containing a large array of plants and animals.  The limited land fragmentation in the area results in continuous habitat and a large amount of biodiversity.  720 plant species are found in the Sandhills and of these only 7% are exotics.  The landscape of the Sandhills can be divided into six main classifications: choppy sands, sands, sandy, sub-irrigated meadows, lakes and wetlands, and blowouts.  Each area has unique characteristics and are host to different types of plants and animals.

The Sandhills as seen from space. (Photo: NASA).

The Sandhills as seen from space. (Photo: NASA).


This fall I encourage you to take some time for a little road trip through a wide open space like the Sandhills of Nebraska.  Roll down the window and let the breeze play through your fingers or even your hair (if you have it). Enjoy the colors the different rangeland grasses and shrubs change.  Watch for wildlife–a buck deer bounding over a fence or a small ground squirrel shooting across your path.  Then go home and learn something about the place you just traveled.  Learn its history and why it is what it is today.  The Nebraska Sandhills are just one of the many wide open spaces found across this great Earth.  Take a chance, learn something new, and have a happy Fall.

Blowout Penstemon is an endagered plant species found in the Sandhills of NE. (Photo: USFWS. CC2.0)

Blowout Penstemon is an endangered plant species found in the Sandhills of NE. (Photo: USFWS. CC2.0)


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