The help I get are the cows I never have to touch.

By Dave Winninger (2015 updated by Saige Albert)

My wife, Lora, and I have an E.T. service, Cow Country Genetics, but we also have a little ranch on which we run cattle for Sinclair Cattle Company. Our deal with Sinclair has been on a handshake for about 16 years.

We have a lot going on, and somebody has to look after the details - that's Lora, but she can't tend to 325 baby calves. That's why we "hire" 325 momma cows. Their job is easy if they love it, stinking difficult if they don't. And I don't have time to teach each one how to do it. These days, cows need some common sense, some innovative ability, some hustle and sure enough need to take orders. They also need to get it when I am having a bad day.

Most states have employment "at will," meaning than an employee can quit if they want, and I can sure cull a cow if she doesn't do her job. If a cow gives me a problem, any problem, she goes into the recipient pen. We don't want to carry her genetics forward in this breeding program. If she doesn't conceive to an embryo, she goes to town.

I'm darn sure overworked, so I need more help. You do, too. The help I get are the cows I never have to touch. No pulling calves, no suckling, no bad feet, no hanging around the barn because they can't keep up with the rest, no getting out, no getting sick (she and her calf), and no touching me. I'm getting older, and this one is getting more and more important all the time.

One time Lora and I were at a conference in Denver, and they had this panel of smart guys evaluating feeder cattle - professors, purebred types, researchers and this one cowboy/cow trader. This thin, gaunt steer came in and most of the panel criticized him unmercifully - poor muscling, poor conformation, poor hair coat and mixed unknown ancestry. The this cowboy rubbed his balding head and said that the most money made may be on this calf, for he won't cost much and he has a lot of compensatory gain to give that is going to be cheap. I thought, "Now here is a guy that know what works." I can remember a cow forever, but I can't remember that man's name. Anyway, I'm rather into what works, both in our embryo transfer business and in the cows that we manage for Sinclair Cattle Company.

Publicity many times overshadows or distorts what works - it is easier to promote an extreme that is new or different than to promote what is in the middle of the bell curve that works. On my dad's ranch, I saw an antelope running around with his lower jaw shot off; someone tried for a head shot and missed by a few inches. I'd rather aim in the middle of the ribcage, where I can miss and the shot is still fatal. To get sales we promote things as innovative and new, but what works, works. George Strait still wear Wranglers, and so do I. We have raised a number of bulls for Sinclair that are in bull studs, but one of my favorites (Sinclair Excellency 5X25) doesn't sell a lot of semen, because he is just where we need them. Not extreme enough in any trait to be a "changer," just moving closer to the middle all the time.

This economic downturn will cull some of us that cannot keep up. Ones of us that can't cut costs enough, can't produce enough, can't sell enough. We're no different than a bunch of cows. It's not fair - some will have a bad stroke of luck, calving in a 20 below cold front and getting culled for not raising a calf and some will cheat and survive, like a robbing calf that ends up weaning at the top of the bunch. Some ranchers will make it by reducing risks, cutting costs, marketing well and repeating over and over what works. I just hope I can end up in that group.

Dave Winninger can be reached at 307-754-2053 or