Gypsy Wagon Feb./March 2019

By Betty Jo Gigot, Publisher

Many, many years ago I heard a speech by the president of an airline that was, for me, a benchmark in my education about how the world works. The speaker told about his company training pilots coming from Ethiopia and from the Arctic area of North America to fly jet planes. At that time, those new pilots had a 100-percent safety record. What he marveled about was that some of the Ethiopians’ parents were still head-hunters, and the Eskimo students were coming out of igloos, both straight from “the bush.” However, they had no problem mastering the most complex modern aviation skills.

His analysis was that, when you came right down to it, all children are born savages. “If you don’t believe that, look at your neighbor’s kids,” and we then share the entirety of civilization with each generation. Thus the ability of the new pilots.

The same premise should hold true today, although there are instances where I don’t think civilization has quite taken hold. In writing Recollections for this issue I was struck, again, by the upward development of the feeding industry. From “maybe we should mix the ration well,” to the specificity of today’s feed ration formulation, is a perfect example of teaching each generation. And, like flying airplanes, is a high-risk profession.

This issue’s cover asks the question, “Where from Here?” The answer is just as complicated as it was when Louie Dinklage put a few cattle in a pen in Nebraska, or Earl Brookover painted “Eat Beef Stay Slim” on his grain silos in Kansas, or when the government got involved in the early 1970s and devastated the entire industry. I have often described those early pioneers as the next generation after gunfighters walking down the street (see my picture in Tombstone). In our business, many times your success is gauged on what the market was doing on the day you die.

One part of the industry that can’t be emphasized enough is all of the partners who helped break the trail. Ladd Hitch talked about the implementation of technology in the development of feed trucks and mixers. Dozens of companies developed better and better working chutes. Major pharmaceutical companies came up with better and safer antibiotics and vaccines, and the equipment to administer them. Software companies developed not only financial programs but analysis tools to go with the complete record-keeping needed in today’s scientific world.

And then there were the technicians. The professors who taught the entirety of civilization in one generation, and the veterinarians and the nutritionists and environmentalists and, yes, the bankers who were there to advise. Groundbreakers like Temple Grandin helped us be credible, and organizations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the state associations enabled us to prosper.

Feedyards were the companion of the ranching community, providing an outlet for their product. Breed associations figure into that part of the advancements of the business. Many of those ranchers were a part of the development of cattle feeding, investing in its development across the High Plains.

So “Where from Here?” hasn’t really changed. It has just become more complicated. Dr. Del Miles told me years ago that as science advances, parts per million would become parts per trillion, and we would have to keep in step with consumers’ evolving demands in order to prove, time and time again, that our product is safe to eat. Nutritionists change their minds daily about what’s “in” and what’s “out” of fad. What’s good for you today may be bad for you tomorrow.

Trade agreements are up in the air, and one still hopes we don’t have a catastrophe on a slow news day – we don’t do this for the fun of it. We proudly feed the world, one steak at a time.