If Cows Really Were Purple

The idea of a purple cow was made popular by Seth Godin in his book Purple Cow about marketing. As most things garnished with a Seth Godin stamp, the concept is brilliant.

Here’s an excerpt from the Fast Company article that launched the book:

The world is full of boring stuff — brown cows — which is why so few people pay attention. Remarkable marketing [purple cow] is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not just slapping on the marketing function as a last-minute add-on, but also understanding from the outset that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, then it’s invisible — no matter how much you spend on well-crafted advertising.

Of course Seth is talking about figurative purple cows, but what if cows really were purple?

If they were, I wouldn’t have had to be two feet from this calf to see him.
Baby calf bedded down in wheat stubble

And I wouldn’t have any trouble spotting him when I moved a few paces south. (Where the heck did he go? It’s like he pulled an invisible cloak over his head.)
Hidden calf in wheat stubble

When Dreams Look Like Cow Pies and Calving Season

Don’t dream your life; live your dream.

When I was a girl lying in bed waiting for sleep to claim me, I daydreamed. I made up these elaborate mind movies, and they were all about one thing: cattle ranching. Until I was pushing through high school, my biggest dream was to raise cattle. After dabbling in different directions for a few years, that dream returned in full force.

And now my dream is coming true.

Did I just type that? My dream is coming true?

It hardly feels real, but it is. I’m trading in my office space for thousands of acres and hundreds of cows. Leaving the 4-walls lifestyle for the remote corners of an Oregon ranch.

Following a dream is never perfect, and this one is no exception. I’m excited for this nose dive off the cliff of adventure, but it’s cloaked with a bittersweet cape. I love where I live. 100% of the time. These Palouse hills and the mountains of north Idaho, my blue-trimmed little house and my friends – it is my home.

But I’m not waking up each day knowing that when I’m 60 I’ll look back on a life following the trail I wanted to take. When your dream looks like cow pies and calving season, you’ve got to pull on your boots, grab a fist full of mane and take the trail that’s going to lead you over the mountain you want to climb.

Let’s get trottin’.

5 Lessons from the Unpopular

5 Lessons from the Power of UnpopularI just finished The Power of Unpopular: A guide to building your brand for the audience who will love you (and why no one else matters) by Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing. At first glance, this book looks like it has a fat lot of nothing to do with cattle ranching, but I’ve pulled out a few quotes we can apply to our bovine-related lives.

It’s impossible to get everything done on one’s own, and the sooner you acknowledge that you need a team to get you from point A to point Z and every point in between, the better off you’ll be. Ask for help, know what you don’t know, say thank you often, and never be afraid to admit it when you’re wrong.”

Even a small herd of cows quickly commandeers your time and resources. A ranch needs a team of people, whether they are employees, feed deliveries, veterinarian services, etc. I especially love the idea of “know what you don’t know”. It’s hard to admit sometimes, but if you don’t know something, find someone who does and learn from them. If you have the resources, let them do it. They’ll be far more effective.

Understand that there are more than a few people who will never get what it is you do or why you bother with it.

Your brand is a who. It’s never a what. People do business with people, and brands that help their audience understand that there’s a person behind the pitch have the opportunity to soar far above the rest.

I pulled these two quotes out because of their relevance to people who buy food and why it is important for cattle ranchers to share about their beef stories. You don’t have to look much past your front porch to see people who don’t understand ranching.

There are some people who will never have an appreciation for it and will do whatever they can to grind it beneath their heels. But there are a lot of people who just need the opportunity to talk to a rancher about where their beef comes from so they can make their own decisions about what food they want to buy.

Look back at the last time you shared a meal with more than one person. Did everyone around the table agree on everything in every conversation that arose during the course of that meal? If so, remind me never to come to one of your dinner parties, because they’re probably held in Wonderland, and that’s not a commute I’m willing to make.

Be open to new ideas. It’s easy to do things the way they’ve always been done, but that doesn’t mean they should be. Listen, consider, and then make a decision. Don’t skip the first two steps and head straight to the decision-making step.

It’s not hard to lose track of your audience when you’re working every hour of the day to build a new business. At some point, we’ve all lost sight of the customer in pursuit of the end goal, and as a result, we’ve probably had some completely avoidable snafus added to our track records.

Stretch your minds a bit here, because the end goal is where you want to keep your focus. What are you trying to accomplish on your ranch? Are your investments of time and money in line with those goals? Or are you getting tangled in the details?

If it all went away tomorrow, what would remain? Never forget that people and relationships are what grant us access to life’s greatest potential.

I’m closing with this quote for a simple reason: ranching sucks up time like a shop vacuum. Working dawn to dusk is the standard, not the exception. Yes, there’s a never-ending stream of things to get done, but family and friends are more important than a to-do list.

Find a way to incorporate your most valuable relationships with your work. Dedicate time to just be with those people. Make it a priority, even when you’re in the trenches during the busiest seasons of the year. Just have fractions of time to dedicate? It counts, and it matters.

She’s not a great cow.

Black angus cows at sunsetIf you had an employee who did nothing for a year but drink your coffee, play your computer games and shoot the breeze with coworkers, would you keep that employee on the payroll?

Of course not. You wouldn’t support someone who wasn’t fulfilling his or her role.

So why keep a cow that didn’t get pregnant? It doesn’t matter how correct her conformation is, how solid her genetics are or how great of a cow she is supposed to be.

If she doesn’t have a calf, she’s not a great cow. She’s just an attractive lady with nice parents who is gobbling up your resources.

Ditch the Plan, Drive in the Direction

In the 3,200 miles I drove to Iowa and back this month, I did a lot of thinking. You’re hard-pressed to ignore those things you’ve been avoiding when it’s you, half a country of highway and no radio stations.

And in that half-country drive, I finally acknowledged what I want to do. A 100%, no doubt belief in what I am supposed to be doing with my time here on earth: raise cattle.

This isn’t a light switch moment. I’ve known for years – decades if you count those years growing up that I wanted nothing but ranching – that my place lies with the cow-calf ranch. But it has taken me a long time to work up the courage to face the challenge, and this trip finally has me toeing the starting line.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been focused on drawing up a plan. A set of steps that will put me in a position to tackle the challenge of cattle ranching.

Midweek, I decided to ditch the plan.

A plan is like a list. You cross off the first step of the plan and move on to the second. Nail the second, go to step three.

At this stage, a plan puts on blinders to other possible routes that could help you achieve the same goal. A plan needs to be flexible, and I’m not good with flexible plans. To be flexible, I need to not have a plan.

That sounds dumb, doesn’t it? How are you supposed to get where you want to go if you don’t have a plan?

John Deere tractor driving down dirt roadDrive in the direction you want to go. Make decisions with what you know now that will nose you in the direction you want to end up. After driving awhile, you’ll have more information and be better equipped to decide whether you want to turn left or right.

With the plan, you may not have seen the left or right turns, stuck to the original road map built on retired information and driven straight off the cliff you hadn’t seen.

If you’re flexible and can still be open-minded, use a plan. If you’re like me, drive in the direction you want to go with the destination guiding your decisions.

I wrote this before I saw this piece by Jesse Bussard. Similar topic, different viewpoint.

Summer Grass & Bull Fights

The cows came to the mountains a week ago for summer grass. Less than 24 hours later, the fence was all tore apart from an alleged bull fight.

Cow waiting on the truck to be turned out to summer grass.

Waiting to unload from the truck.

Cow-calf pair mothered up and ready for summer grass.

Cow-calf pair mothered up and ready for summer grass.

Busted up fence due to a bull fight.

Busted up fence due to a bull fight.

Ranch Life Tools: Wire Stretchers

I’m launching a new series today. I tried really hard to be creative, but sometimes you just have to call things like they are so…welcome to the Ranch Life Tools series.

In ranch life, there are seasons. Calving season. Haying season. Weaning season. And fencing season.

I spent the weekend riding fence and fixing the bad patches. I decided not to pack the wire stretchers on the horse, but there were a few places easily accessible along the road. Because I lack the upper arm strength of a sumo wrestler, I’m especially fond of wire stretchers for helping me get the wires as taut as possible. Without them, well, sometimes my strands of barbed wire have a touch of saggy pants syndrome.
Wire stretchers for barbed wire fence

So you just slap the broken wire into one end, the other broken wire into the other, and winch it until it is tight.
Wire stretchers holding barbed wire

Splice with another piece of wire by making a hook on the end of the wire that is part of the fence and a hook on the splice wire. Twist together.
Splicing a barbed wire fence with wire stretchers

Release the wire stretchers, step back and admire your patch job. Then? Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.

Resources for Artificial Insemination in Beef Cattle

black Angus heifer in pastureEarlier this week, I shared photos of artificial insemination of beef cattle. There are multiple reasons to implement artificial insemination in your beef herd. Two major ones are advancing the quality of your herd and uniformity of the calf crop. Artificial insemination allows ranchers access to high-quality bull semen they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford (i.e. buying the bull for natural service).


I enjoyed this video as well – also from Oklahoma State – on artificial insemination:

What does artificial insemination look like?

Ever wondered how artificial insemination of beef cattle happens? We bred the Black Angus heifers a couple weeks ago using artificial insemination, and I put together a photo journey of the process. Check back later this week for more information!

The breeding box. Backed up to the head-catch chute, and it worked like a charm.
Breeding box for artificial insemination of beef cattle

The heifers marched right into this black hole, and that bar dropped behind them so they couldn’t back up.
Rear view of the breeding box for artificially inseminating beef cattle.

The semen tank. Precise handling of semen is required to avoid damaging it.
Semen tank

Preparing the semen straw for delivery to its final resting place.
Making sure the semen straw is dry

Aerial view as he works to artificially inseminate this Black Angus heifer.
Palpating a Black Angus heifer in preparation for artificial insemination.

Inserting the semen straw.
Inserting the semen straw.

Breeding cows is fun!
Ranch life is a fun life.

The door is activated by pulling a rope, allowing the heifer to leave the breeding box.
Black Angus heifer leaves the breeding box.

A front view of the breeding box. Someone should have been proactive and taken pictures before we ran the heifers through.
Front view of the breeding box.

Sneak Preview! Cattle Branding in the Northwest

Sneak preview! It’s cattle branding season here, and my article will be in the next issue of the Dirt Road Daughters magazine. Subscribe, and like the mag on Facebook. If you want.

This photo didn’t make my cut for photos to send to the publisher so it isn’t a real sneak preview – just more exclusive PNW Rancher content like you get every day. It was sad it didn’t get to be in the magazine until I said it could be featured on my blog.

Cowboy boot and Spur - Sneak preview from cattle branding for Dirt Road Daughters Magazine