In cattle country, the next-year syndrome has always driven cow folk optimism—a counter to their too frequent dismal bank balances. When the price of fuel skyrockets, they cobble together the old pickup. Fertilizer prices double? The new baler is put on hold. For some, the double squeeze of higher costs and perennially lower prices for their calves were the death knell. For others, it has been their own fading mortality and the near total exodus of their children from the land. Cattle herds that had taken generations to build were sent to slaughter. Productive ranches were subdivided or sold, some to deep-pocketed environmental organizations intent on saving everything from the Desert Tortoise to the Meadow Jumping Mouse. Worthy goals I’m sure, but at what cost?
For many, this spring’s price relief came too late. Those still in the business sat in sale barns across the country, hardly able to believe the astronomical prices for every class of cattle. The upswing was long overdue. Ranch supply and machinery dealers have been quick to benefit from this pent-up demand, but how long this windfall of cash will last is anybody’s guess. Thirty years of depressed prices and the continuing drought conditions in much of the western half of the continent has created an acute shortage of cattle that under optimum conditions would take four to five years to address. But the economy is on edge, and wages are going nowhere. How much longer will consumers be able to pay for that much higher priced cut of beef? That factor may be the card that turns this sudden windfall into—a busted flush.
This poem was published a number of years ago in Grain News. With minor revisions, it seems to fit again.
I was sittin’ at the auction sale,
Just watchin’ steers go by.
The price of calves was crazy,
And yearlin’s way too high.
Yeah, I know that feed is cheap,
And the Futures look benign,
The market’s stayin’ rosy,
It’s all an upward sign.
But there’s something about this market,
That gives me the feeder creeps.
Like a building flush with one card short,
Should I take that final leap?
So after thinkin’ through and through,
This cattle dilemma of mine.
I decided I would buy some steers,
At two dollars and twenty-nine.
The experts said t’was the thing to do,
The market’s bound to hold.
One more year and maybe two,
Too early yet to fold.
Load up those pens, there’s money there,
The Futures still look fair.
Why there’s still a hundred dollar bill,
For those cattle in your care.
But now we’re feedin’ a pen of calves,
And pitching ‘em grain and hay.
If the market drops so much as a cent,
They’ll need to gain eight pounds a day.
I don’t believe it’s possible
For a profit to appear.
So Merry Christmas to the guy,
Who owns the Mommas to these steers.
©2001 David Griffith