Where there are more losers than winners, who would ever want to cross the finish line? The odds of winning are less than ten percent – even less for livestock producers who are just trying to wing it without a livestock marketing plan.

But, more about winning and losing, it’s about the competitive nature of the business and the rewards of success that keep us in the race. (The challenge of winning and becoming a champion.)
Though the odds may sound discouragingly low, it is that goal of winning for which we all strive to achieve. And once we cross the line and see nothing in front of us but a whole new world of opportunity, we know it was worth the ride.
That is my vision as I approach the finish line, the sights and sounds of a whole new beginning – kind of like the county fairs that were. Remembering the taste of a pronto-pup, the aroma of freshly mowed alfalfa hay, or the feel of a finished lamb, is as invigorating now as it was then. My favorite, horse liniment, is still the ointment of choice when it comes to treating those now worn out joints and aching muscles. The difference is in the perspective of experiencing these times versus sharing a life-time of highlights that are being written and compiled into a series entitled “Pony Tales”, by Ponty.
The image of the ferris wheel and the merry-go-round pop up a lot in these stories, and as I look ahead to those bright flashing lights, and the taste of the fruits of my labor, I know there are a lot more finish lines yet to cross. With each breath of life it becomes a challenge to step up a class. We keep running in those claiming races until we claim our level of accomplishment, and the finish line seems to always determine the next level of competition. Like grade school, each graded race gets more difficult, until the stakes get high enough to join the ranks of value added stake races.
The competitive nature of a horse race is much like that of the livestock industry. It doesn’t take long to understand that it doesn’t cost anymore to feed and care for the best. The cost of running behind can be awfully expensive, and can suck the life right out of a good days work. Always running behind is more a matter of choice than it is the luck of the draw or limited resources.
Choice is the operative word here. It not only denotes decision making, but it describes a level of achievement, at least in the beef business. To get so close and still not make choice, is like getting so close, but still losing the race. The difference can be fractions of a second or a slight degree of marbling, but the outcome can be catastrophic. In both instances, there can be a lot of money involved. Yet there are those that will argue, “how can it make so much difference”? To clarify it, may I suggest that it might be best explained, when compared to pregnancy. Close doesn’t count, either you are or you aren’t.
There are degrees of opinions, but again, it can’t be a little bit – either it’s a win or it’s choice. Fortunately, the numbers of cattle that grade choice are in abundant supply, but unfortunately the numbers that don’t quite make it, continue to grow. Those are the ones that come up short at the finish line. Why would anyone go to all the expense of just about making choice, when just a few more pounds of corn might finish the job? The dollar difference is as astronomical as coming up a nose short at the finish line.

Like a horse race, if you’re going to come up a winner, you probably best know a good handicapper. He knows how to pick ‘em, and it all starts with owning the right kind of cattle; the kind that have the potential to make choice. You can no more hope or pound a Clydesdale across the finish line first, than you can feed enough corn to a Brahma to make choice. This kind of decision making requires the help of a good handicapper.
But to be the best, you really have to know your business. Study the blood-lines for genetic potential and know what it takes to develop that potential into a winner. For those that have fallowed my column, you know my passion has been that of selecting and producing high quality livestock, and teaching how to market at the highest possible level of profit. This is what a handicapper does; specializing in helping to pick a winner.
For those that wager at the expense of their livelihood they had best know what they’re doing, this means knowing how to put a marketing plan together that will guarantee a profit before the first dollar is invested. The only difference from horse racing is that of a $2.00 bet rather than having to bet the farm. And every time you make a major decision in the livestock business you’re betting the farm.
You don’t have to cross the finish line first every time you sell a load of livestock, but if you don’t win more than you lose, you won’t be around for a second chance. That’s why thoroughbreds that lose are often given away. They cut their losses and run; run until they find one that can win. That’s more gamble than most livestock producers can afford to take.
Count yourself among the winners if you’ve taken the gamble out of your livestock operation. There are so many variables in livestock production, that like horse racing, it’s not for amateurs. The stakes are much higher, and the rewards are not nearly as glamorous. But for me it’s been a fun ride.
Just as hitting the top of the market every time you sell is less than even odds. So it is with always crossing the finish line first –  less than 10%. When considering the other 90%, you don’t have to cross the finish line first to be a winner. In fact if you’re always trying too, you’ll probably end up last. It’s called greed! Many a feed-lot has been left finished and full as the market erodes slowly but surely, until you’re nickled and dimed to the bottom of the heap, kind of like Pearl in “Pony Tales” – just never cross the finish line.


Ken E. Knight is the author of the “Knightro Report”, a nationally syndicated livestock-marketing column, which is featured in the “Farm And Livestock Directory” every month.  He is also the author of “Pony Tales” by Ponty

Mr. Knight is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a major BS Degree in Meat and Animal Science and a minor in Communications. In addition to being a professional auctioneer, public speaker and livestock judge, he brings many years of corporate level meat and livestock market management and expertise to the industry for which he now serves as an independent voice of shared knowledge and experience.

Knightro Sessions – Mending Fences and Tending Senses

For more in-depth information regarding the topics that have been touched upon in this report, Knightro conducts livestock marketing seminars on a regular basis.

To schedule a seminar, auction, judging, or speaking engagement, please contact Ken Knight | Knightro, W11911 County Road FF,  River  Falls,  WI 54022, phone toll free 1-877-KNIGTRO or 715-262-8480; fax 715-262-8480.

or contact the “Farm & Livestock Directory” at [email protected]