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6 tips to significantly up your odds in the cattle business

Dakota Everts leads the Growing Forward program for the cooperative lending institution Farm Credit Mid-America, and hosts in-person Know to Grow conferences for its young farming clients (under 35 years old, less than 10 years in farming). Attendees get two days of instruction for making their new farm successful. Everts believes strongly that there are a few practical tips from the conferences that will greatly improve your odds of long-term success. Here’s her six-step formula.

1. Find a mentor. This is someone to invest in you – not monetarily, but as your first adviser and sounding board.

“This person can help you identify your best skills and maybe your weaknesses, too,” Everts says. “They can fill in your gaps in knowledge.”

The important thing, she says, is that your mentor has the experience of been-there-done-that. They might be from your immediate family, but there is an advantage to a mentor who is not a relative to reduce the bias factor. “If you need help, ask your lender to help find a mentor,” Everts adds.

2. Be a record-keeper. This chore may seem tedious, but its value comes to full fruition when you’re building a new farm business.

“I look at it this way,” Everts says. “If you don’t know where you are today, how can you know where you are going? Good record-keeping shows you the path.”

This includes everything from production records like breeding dates to business records such as fence investments or pasture leases. They are your best tool for knowing which group of cattle or individual cows are making you money, and which aren’t, Everts says.

“As a lender, I can tell you detailed records help us,” she says. “We want to sit across from you or visit your operation and point out a few things that are your strengths. Without the records, that information is missing.”

3. Have a marketing plan. It has to be more than simply to sell at the high market of the year.

“You have to realize that marketing peaks are beyond your control,” Everts says. “Nobody hits a home run every time. If marketing isn’t your strength, seek out a mentor who can provide their expertise.”

A good marketing plan, says Everts, takes into account things such as your particular cattle, where you’ve found success in the past, market alternatives, and unforeseen events.

“It sets a course of action without letting emotion get in the way. A good marketing plan will carry you through both the ups and the downs.”

4. Mitigate risk. What happens if the weather turns against you, or prices collapse unexpectedly? Or you lose a pasture lease?

“As a young producer, there are plenty of things to keep you awake at night. So anything you can do to think ahead and put risk protection in place can give you some peace,” says Everts.

A good farm insurance specialist can help with risk mitigation, including knowing all the options for livestock risk protection.

5. Track your financial progress. “Do an end-of-year balance sheet,” says Everts. “This is how you and your lender can see your success. It’s very important you do this every year.”

6. Put your lender on your board. It may not be a formal board of directors, but good farms and ranches at least have an informal board. They are your most trusted helpers – your mentor, your veterinarian, your accountant, and your market adviser.

“If young people at our Know to Grow conferences get nothing else, I hope they get this: Put your lender on your board. These are the people who really want you to reach your goals and build a future. Your lender needs to be a part of that team.”

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