Thursday, January 29, 2015

Prospecting

Yesterday I attended a Cattlemen's Conference along with the President of our bank.  We were a sponsor and had a booth.  Since leaving my last job I have missed doing that sort of thing.  I always enjoyed Trade Shows and Conferences. 

Our purpose was to hopefully make a few contacts that could be developed into new business.  We came away with several.  It is now my job to follow up and follow through to turn those contacts into customers.

It was gratifying.  When we returned to the bank late yesterday, the President commented that I was a "pro" at it.  I guess I should be after doing Trade Shows and events for the past 20+ years.  It felt like I was home......

Chris

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Plumbing Problems

Sometimes wisdom is knowing the difference between when to attempt the repair yourself and when to call in the expert. 

On the surface it looked like a simple clog.  So, I unclogged it.  The problems began when I discovered a crack in the pipe.  I quickly realized it was old a friable and prone to break with little pressure.  It was no place for an amateur.

We called a plumber.  I'm glad we did.  It ended up costing less and taking much less time that it likely would have if I had continued to "know what to do"......

Yep, been there, done that kind of wisdom is the kind that sticks with you.

Chris

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rehabilitation

We recently purchased a piece of property that had been somewhat neglected for many years.  Much of the pasture has been allowed to be overtaken by trees and brush.  The fences are in extreme disrepair and grown up with trees and small shrubs.  The corral is still in decent shape because it was made of steel pipe, but it is poorly designed and appears to have been built in the 1960's.  The attached loafing shed is falling down and the tin is ripped and coming off of it.  In short, there is much work to be done to get the place back the way it should be to become productive again.

It takes time, money and lots of hard work to rehabilitate land.  Some of it we are hiring done but, much of the labor will be supplied by us.  The last couple of weekends have been spent tearing out old fence.  The wire is rusted and tangled with briar.  In places the trees have grown through the fence.  Some of the trees are 6 - 8 inches in diameter and the wire goes through the center of the tree.  Upon counting the rings after cutting some similar sized trees, it appears some are about 30 years old.  That means the fence hasn't been cared for since the mid-80's.

It is a slow process by manual labor.  I could hire a bulldozer to come in and push it all up in a big pile and burn, then bury the mess.  I don't really want to do that if I can avoid it.  Instead, we are cutting the wire out of the tangle so that it can be hauled to the scrap yard.  Some of the bigger trees will become firewood.  The T-posts are too rusted to re-use so they also will go to the scrap yard.  The smaller brush will be piled and burned.

Needless to say, I don't have to worry about going to the gym for exercise.  I am getting it in abundance clearing fence lines.  The physical labor is good for me.  After all, I am like most of us in that I have probably neglected my own physical condition, much like the fence has been neglected.  I wonder if I can get back to the shape I was in 30 years ago!  I doubt it, but I am certain I can be better than I am. 


The one thing not clear in this photo is that everything -- and I mean everything -- has thorns.  Most of the trees are black locust.  Google it.  The thorns are big as nails.  Tangled through everything is a plant called green briar.  Mixed in with those are dewberry vines and primrose -- all with thorns.  And there are other trees and shrubs that I have yet to identify -- also covered with thorns. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Full Circle

It would be appropriate to say that my career has come full circle.  Although it was not my first job out of college, my first career choice was banking. 

When I was at A&M, a very wise individual asked me the question, "If you could do anything for a career, what would it be?"  I answered, "Rancher."

He then proceeded to ask me about resources that I might have at my disposal.  "Does your family own a ranch?" -- No.  "Do you have lots of money?" -- No.  "Do you have someone with lots of money to help you get started?" -- No.  "Will you inherit a bunch of money?" -- No.  "Then, the best advice I can give you is that there is 'more than one way to skin a cat.'"

He told me that I should hold onto that dream, but I would have to find some indirect means of achieving it.  I chose agricultural lending.

When I graduated, I wasn't clear on how to start my career.  I just wanted a job.  Fortunately, that same wise individual (who by the way was my advisor) helped me to get a job.  He warned me that it wouldn't be a high paying job, but that it might open some doors.  It certainly didn't pay much, but it gave me a practical education in how the world works.  I worked for a politician.

My second job was in agricultural lending.  I must confess however, I soon found out I didn't love it.  It was another education.  My supervisor was lazy and used me more as a gopher than a loan officer.  I didn't learn as much as I should have at the time.  It took little more than a year though, to be recruited by another financial institution with whom I stayed for about 7 years.

It was a tough time to be in the lending business.  Interest rates were high, the economy in turmoil and I spent a good deal of time collecting my predecessor's bad decisions.  I again learned much.

I left lending with the idea that I wanted to be on the other side of the loan desk.  I wanted to focus on making an idea/dream come to life rather than searching for why and how it might fall flat.  I wanted to build businesses. 

I spent the next 23 years doing just that; growing businesses.  Most were for someone else, but in recent years I have had ownership interest.

Now, I am back in the financial industry in the role of agricultural loan officer.  But, the world looks different today than it did back in the 80's.  Yes, there is plenty of turmoil in the economy, but now I look at loans with the knowledge that comes from "been there, done that" and it puts things into an entirely new perspective. 

I am looking forward to this next phase of my career.  I see it as my role to help people to achieve their dreams by giving them sound financial advice.  God has an interesting way of growing us to where we need to be.

Chris

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another Year -- And It's Going to be a Good One!

Another year is past.  Welcome to 2015!  When I wrote those words a few minutes after Midnight in a Facebook post, I followed them with, "Sounds like the title of a science fiction movie...."  If you are my age or older, you will understand.

I can recall as a much younger person wondering if I would see the new century.  In 1978, I would have been 20 years old.  The new century was farther away than the number of years I had already lived at that time.  I think when I was that age I expected to go out in a "fiery crash" before I was 39.

As we age, we become wiser.  Most of it is by default -- "the fault" of mistakes made and lived through such as touching a hot stove and realizing you didn't want to do that again! 

As I think about this past year I don't see many of those mistakes.  Other than the first couple of months, it was almost a Sabbatical Year for me.  I left my job in March and since that time I have been self-employed.  Perhaps semi-self-employed is a better description.  I have spent some time writing and taught myself to paint with watercolor.  I have done some consulting work (and actually got paid for it!).  I spent a lot of time in our cow/calf operation and in November we sold it along with the land.  In December we bought another small "ranch" and I have started spending some time getting it ready to receive cattle.

The pace was reasonably slow and I had a break from the seemingly constant travel of many years.  Now, I am going back into the world of the fully employed -- maybe even over-employed!  We are in the process of starting up a stocker calf operation on our land and I just took a full-time job at the bank which I start on Monday.  I also have agreed to do a regular magazine article for a trade publication -- CALF News.  (Click here to see the last article I wrote for them on pages 26-27.)

In many ways, this has been the pattern of my life through the years.  It seems that God has built a few "breaks" into my career that were perfectly timed which prepared me for the next phase of His plan for me.  I am grateful.  I don't do well with too much idle time on my hands, but I also tend to push pretty hard when I have plenty to do.  So, I wear myself out and then need a break. 

The world seems to work that way.  I believe it was Designed that way.  Spring is a time of growing and blooming which quickly turns to Summer when the fruits of our labor begin to ripen in preparation for Fall harvest which fades to a Winter of rest.  The Bible tells us to do our labor in six days and rest on the seventh -- just as God did in the Creation.  Our lives are lived in much the same way.  I have been fortunate in being able to do much the same through several different careers.

Now, I am coming full circle.  Other than spending a little over a year "extending my education" through my first job working for a politician, I have returned to my first true career -- banking.  I am going to be a loan officer again.  I spent almost 7 years lending money many years ago.  That was before I had any real business experience.  Now, I will look at the ideas and dreams that people bring to me through the eyes of someone who has been there.  I am looking forward to helping them realize those dreams.

I think 2015 is going to be a very good year.  I'm not too excited with what is going on in Washington these days, but people will figure out a way to overcome the barriers that the political leeches seek to place in the way of their success.  I still believe, after all these years, in the American Dream and the can-do spirit that permeates rural America.  I am looking forward to using what I have learned through the years in a new way.  Yep, it's going to be a good year.  I have decided.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas

Memories of special Christmases cross my mind as I sit this morning in anticipation of having all of my children and grandchildren here later today.  I reflect on the where and the what and the who. 

Some things that stand out in my mind are my first shotgun -- received at Christmas when I was 12 years old on a trip to my Grandmother's house in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  From there we traveled to Richland, Missouri, where we stayed with my Mom's sister and got snowed in.  While there I got to use the shotgun for the first time as my Grandfather took me squirrel and rabbit hunting in Swamp Holler.  After traipsing through snow for half the day we ended up at his sister's house for a cup of hot chocolate and fresh homemade biscuits cooked in her wood burning stove. 

I also remember another Christmas that my Dad took me pheasant hunting for the very first time.  It was the last day of the season and he and I went out hunting.  I "claimed" my first pheasant, but I have always been suspicious that he actually shot it.  It fell when I pointed and pulled the trigger, but I could swear I heard him shoot at the same time.....

I remember a Christmas in Nebraska when we expected it to be just us -- Missy and I and the kids.  Instead, my parents and siblings made the drive to be with us.  They had never been to Nebraska before.  They were delayed returning home because of heavy snow.  The worst of it was in the Texas Panhandle north of Amarillo.

I remember going hunting on Christmas nearly every year as I grew up.  It was either quail hunting or pheasant hunting or rabbit hunting.  Where we lived was far from any deer hunting.  There were several times we had pheasant for Christmas dinner -- my grandmother could batter them like a chicken-fried steak and cook them and they were pretty good.  Especially when served with lots of mashed potatoes and her cream gravy.  Occasionally you would bite down on a #4 shot bb that she failed to find when cleaning the birds.  I guess that was just part of the adventure of eating what you hunted.

I remember kids getting on their new bicycles for the very first time.  I remember a giant doll house for the barbies.  I remember excitement and disappointment.  But, at the heart of it all was family.  Happy, excited children, smiling, busy adults, domino games, card games, too much candy, homemade pies and laughter. 

Some of the faces are gone now.  New faces have arrived.  The mantle has passed and it is now clear that much of what I took for granted was the result of those who loved, served.  They knew the importance of those memories and sought to build them in me.  They sacrificed themselves to share joy with those they loved.

On this day we celebrate in honor of the birth of our Savior, it is important to remember His sacrifice that we might experience the joy of His love and share it with others.  May your day be merry and bright.

Chris

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Oh, What If I Am Wrong?

Sometimes making decisions
Of the highly consequential kind
Can drive a wedge of fear
Into the unwary mind.

It's the fear of consequences
That might occur should I be wrong.

But, fear can often bind us
From reaching for the stars.
It binds us to forever stand
Within these earthly bars.

Instead we wring our hands and cry,
"Oh, what if I am wrong?!"

While swirling 'bout our throbbing head
Opportunities pass us by
That would exceed our expectations
If only we would try.

So, blind from indecision
For fear of being wrong

We fret and worry over things
That never will come true
If we'll just shoulder to the plow
And join the mighty few

Who soar above the moaning crowd
That fear they might be wrong.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Heritage of Scotland

I have been interested in my ancient family heritage for years.  The McClure Clan, of which I am a member, is a sept of Clan McCleod of Harris.  I've done a little research, but not a great deal -- just enough to learn that the earliest McClure's to come to the New World came in the early and mid 1700's.  James and Andrew are two of the most common male names in the family tree and are still found among my recent ancestors.

The interest in that history led me to "Like" a page on Facebook called "Heritage of Scotland."  The advantage of liking pages is the occasional item of interest they post.  It led me to explore their website. 

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I'm not a good shopper.  I don't like to shop.  If I need something I go and buy it, but shopping for shopping's sake is no fun to me.  I did enjoy perusing the "Heritage of Scotland" site though.  I looked up my McClure clan tartan and found that I could order both formal and informal suits of clothing in that tartan -- kilt and all appropriate accessories.  I ended up spending a good deal of time viewing their site.  Yes, I even ordered.  Below are pictures:



The top photo is of one of the four mugs that I ordered.  They far exceeded my expectations.  They are G.W.P. Fine China -- made in Scotland!  They appear to be of excellent quality and the Celtic Design is flawless. 

The bottom photo is of one of the two Whiskey Glasses that I ordered.  There were numerous designs to choose from, but as you can see, I went with the etched map of Scotland.  They are the perfect size and design for the National Beverage of Scotland -- or, at least I think it is their national beverage -- Scotch.  However, for the non-Scotch drinkers, they also are perfect for your morning orange juice.  The bonus -- they are Burns Crystal -- also made in Scotland.  Beautiful.

I would encourage any of you who are so inclined to go take a look at their site.  It is interesting and easy to navigate.  Yeah, this sounds like a commercial -- and perhaps it is a bit of one -- but, it is a worthy one.  The wee bit o' Scottish blood in me compels me to promote the land of my roots.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Motivation

What makes us tick?
What gives us drive?
What gives us joy to be alive?

Is it the things we do each day?
Is it our job that gives us pay?
Is it our work that lights our way?

What is our game?
What sees us through?
What is it that we want to do?

Is it our family?
Is it our home?
Is it our friends upon the phone?

What pumps our heart?
What makes it beat?
What puts the motion in our feet?

Is it someone?
Is it a thing?
Is it a thought the bells do ring?

What gets us up?
What never lets down?
What is it that removes a frown?

For each of us there is something
That lifts our heart and makes it sing.
Until we find what makes us thrive
We'll never truly be alive.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Starting a New Business

This isn't the first time that I've found myself involved in a new business startup.  In fact, I have been involved in three at different levels. 

The first was a local Veterinary supply business which was started in 1991.  I was hired as the first manager and I had lots of guidance and input from the owners.  It was successful and profitable and is still in business.

The second was a new division within a large company.  It utilized new technology and was very capital intensive.  It required developing a working prototype of a computer driven system for delivering small amounts of feed additives and then from that prototype, creating a business around the supply and delivery of those feed additives to customers.  It is a continuing operation today although that company was "swallowed" by merger into another company in recent years.

The third was a service company built around new technology.  I was essentially handed the keys by the partners and asked to build it from "scratch."  It was profitable the first full month of operation, became the largest in its very specialized field and served customers from coast-to-coast and border-to-border in the U.S.  In 2012 it was purchased by a global bio-tech company that, just this year, was acquired by an even larger global bio-tech company.

So, here I am again.  Sigh.  You would think that I would be excited -- and I am -- but, this one has some challenges that are very different than the previous ones and yet includes elements of all of the previous startups. 

I like a challenge.  The biggest issue is limited resources.  Hmmmm.....that's what I studied in college -- Agricultural Economics with an emphasis on Farm & Ranch Management.  By definition (mine), I studied the art of the efficient allocation of limited resources to achieve a specific business purpose related to a successful farming or ranching endeavor.

Specifically, I am starting a new ranch.

We (I use "we" and "I" interchangeably because, being married, it is a "we" investment/endeavor.) bought land In August, 2012, and turned cows on it in late September of that year.  We sold our first calf crop last year and they made the land payment and recovered all of the operating costs for the first year.  No, they didn't recover all of the depreciation from capital invested in equipment or the cows.  So, technically, we operated at a loss.  However, I consider the first year to be a very successful one.  It was a solid launch.

By making some operational adjustments related to seasonality of forage availability, we were able to cut our hay usage by about 40% this winter from what it was the previous one.  We also have changed the genetics of the calf crop and tightened the calving window significantly.  The uniformity of calves this year is much improved over last year.  So, we are moving things in the right direction operationally.  The issue now is scale.

Scale is related to the efficiencies of the capital investment.  A great example is a tractor.  A tractor is necessary whether you are running 10 head of cows or 1,000 head of cows.  The cost of that tractor is spread through depreciation over its lifetime but also over the number of revenue producing units that it serves -- in our case, cows.  A $35,000 used tractor depreciated over 10 years is $3,500/year just for depreciation.  Divided by 10 cows is $350/cow/year.  Divided by 1,000 cows is $3.50/cow/year.  So, the point is to utilize equipment and other capital items at a level near maximum capacity.  The cost per producing unit is then minimized.

I need more land and more cows.  Land costs lots of money to purchase.  The best scenario would be to obtain a long-term lease, however, there is none available to lease that I can find near to me.  That is the dilemma.  How do I achieve scale for maximum capital utilization if I can't expand my operation?  Any suggestions would be appreciated.  Any "sugar daddy's" out there that want to buy a ranch as a long-term investment and then lease it back to me?  If so, comment with a way to contact you.

It's amazing how many things just take money to solve.....
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