A Business Mind Shift from Treg Ulmer

by Dallas Mount

buttercups

Treg Ulmer and his wife Courtney are members of the Executive Link program and building a business in Ohio. Treg shared some thoughts with me around balancing profit with other reasons why they choose to ranch. I encouraged Treg to write a ProfitTips column on this subject and I’m excited to share that here, with hope his thoughts will be useful to others balancing these issues.

A Business Mind Shift

Full-time “farming” has been a lifelong dream for me. It is in my blood and courses through my veins. Along with my wife Courtney and two children Addie Jane and William, we own and operate Ulmer Land and Livestock in Ohio. The core of our operation is based on a couple hundred acres that have been in my family since 1865, and the additional acres we have acquired through leases at different locations separate from our home place. I was fortunate enough to be able to put the home farm back together after being leased for 20+ years by multiple people. 

Like many, attending the Ranching for Profit School was a complete mind shift and the only reason we are where we are today. However, this mind shift has been cause for serious reflection and soul searching over the last year or so. Through these new tools I had been given, I became hyper-focused on building a “profitable” business that had the ability to scale beyond my original dreams. You could say that I single trait selected in regards to business. Obviously, when doing this with livestock there are unintended consequences, and so it is with business and life.  

Like a friend of mine pointed out, and most would agree that lots of people reminisce of raising their family on a farm or ranch. Tyler Waddington, a rancher in Washington State, questioned why then is our industry the most plagued by suicide and mental health issues. His take was that maybe we force the next generation into roles they were not wired to be in or that they simply did not have the desire for. My take and experience is that maybe we put too much undo pressure on ourselves to be able to make our “Family Place” go. With the latter being my scenario I will address it.  

A combination of the new “business tools”, my dreamed up family pressure, and a work harder personality set me down a path that without the grace of God was certain to fail. Now this is by no means a slight to RMC, my family, or a go-getter attitude. However, it is a warning sign for those in the Ag Sector and beyond.

The best thing my wife and I ever did was create a Mission and Vision for what we wanted our operation to be. This guided us to our current operation and really clarified what we wanted. With this new Mission and Vision in place I began “working on the business” and became hyper-focused on profit or simply put, money.

For us we have a desire to pass on our operation to the next generation and profitability will play a role in this. However, like with any single trait selection, my life became out of balance and started to come undone. I left behind the only real tangible things that I had, my wife and children. While trying to build something for them, I lost focus on the very people I was building it for. It didn’t matter if I built an empire because there was not going to be anyone to give it to if the course was not corrected.  

For about a year I knew something was off but could not put my finger on it. All the while I just put my head down and worked harder. After finally becoming completely worn out and with honestly very little to show for it, I started to sit and contemplate my situation. I began “beginning with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey puts it. I began to inadvertently put my priorities where I wanted them, not where society wanted them. I left a job that literally no one quits to go take over another business. Then I quickly realized like Toby Holsted stated that I may not have addressed the real problem but instead ran from it. After several months of that Mother Nature made the decision to come home full time for us. A brutal ice storm in February was the breaking point. I had to come home or sell the cows because my wife, while raising our two children who are both under the age of three, could no longer do it by herself. It was the smack in the face I needed, and I am now home. 

Coming home has been a huge adjustment for me. My go-getter attitude says get outside and work, but my heart says get your children out of bed and tell them you love them every morning. I am starting to adjust to the second. Apparently I am not a quick learner and our Lord has to baby step me through life, but I am getting there. Due to my faith I understand I can not take any of these earthly things with me. Therefore, we have reprioritized what we want our lives and business to be.

Our paradigm question is shifting from a production paradigm like “how can we run 1,000 momma cows with a $500/hd gross margin” to something like “how can we live the most fulfilled and enjoyable life that is facilitated by a livestock operation.” One board member of ours, Andrew Morris, suggested “Ranching for Fulfillment” another, Annette Bair, pointed out that she and her husband do not “Ranch for Riches”. What I am getting at is there has to be a balance in our lives and business’. No single trait selection. Yes there has to be profitability, but I will argue there also has to be enjoyment and fulfillment. Without both the business will cease to exist.  Jaime Elizondo, pointed out in his “Real Wealth Ranching” that “Real Wealth” is a combination of Time, Money, and Health.  All three must be present or imbalance will take over.  A friend Mark Robbins was told by an old Oklahoma rancher that there are five pillars of life 1) Spiritual, 2) Physical, 3) Mental, 4) Emotional, and 5) Financial.

As a husband, father, son, and business owner I am still stumbling trying to figure out a balance that works for my family and me.  I understand that my priorities and yours will not be the same, but I challenge you to hit them head on before it is too late. My grandfather has a legacy of being a God fearing man that was a good farmer, great neighbor, and a loving family man.  This is what I want my legacy to be, what about you?  

16 Responses to “A Business Mind Shift from Treg Ulmer”

June 08, 2022 at 5:20 am, Nancy Bath said:

This is an excellent article. “Single trait selection” puts it in terms ranchers understand. Please consider sharing this with a larger audience..

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June 08, 2022 at 6:00 am, Ryan Rich said:

Excellent article, thank you for writing and sharing. I’m in the midst of a very similar experience and have been trying to find that balance. Fighting off the influences of society and what the world says is important for “security” is very challenging. It’s encouraging to read of someone else in the midst of that same struggle.
Thank you

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June 08, 2022 at 6:02 am, Brian Munger said:

Great stuff Treg!

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June 08, 2022 at 6:03 am, Kelly McGarva said:

Thank you for these words!
God will not look at your balance sheet when He says “well done thou good and faithful servant- enter into your rest”!

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June 08, 2022 at 6:41 am, Riley Shay said:

That’s a great reminder. Thanks for sharing.

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June 13, 2022 at 12:07 am, Rich Barr said:

I think the philosophy presented here can and should be applied by those in all lines of work. Treg’s observations in this article point out exactly what our society as a whole has lost sight of in our very modern and technological era. Certainly some things here for me to think on as I work my way through a shift at the hospital.

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June 08, 2022 at 7:02 am, Sam Kennedy said:

Well said, Treg. I’ve experienced very similar struggles of priority and perspective in my RFP/farming journey.

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June 08, 2022 at 7:42 am, Tara Smith said:

This is an excellent article. After school, and when we first started EL, we felt a tremendous pressure to make sure we were profitable with good gross margins. The theme seemed to be to sell all your cows and get into the stocker business or custom grazing business. (This wasn’t actually what we had been taught in RFP or EL at all, but was the theme that people had latched on to at the time.) We ran the numbers, and running a few thousand yearlings looked really good on paper. After a very honest conversation with our ranch team, we decided that none of us actually wanted to run a yearling operation at that scale. We liked running cows: calving, branding, etc. It was our favorite time of the year and what we really enjoyed about ranching. This took a bit of a perspective shift on my part. Profit is only one leg of the pot, and at the center of everything is the people. RFP teaches that. We have now shifted our vision statement to be more inclusive of each component of a good ranching business, including a large emphasis on the people. For us, this means having at least a couple hundred head of cows. It’s not the cows that we’re attached to, it’s the work that goes into running cows that we all love. We’re willing to do the whole shebang for branding, because it brings family, friends, and neighbors together and creates community. Is profit still important? Absolutely. We are also adding a custom grazing enterprise. But it will be at a scale that works for the people involved. We’ve learned that profit plays an important part, but it’s not the only part. Thank you so much for sharing this, Treg. I can absolutely relate. Best of luck to you and Courtney and your family.

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June 08, 2022 at 7:43 am, Reese Stokes said:

This is a great column, Treg laid it out with much reflection not about business but truly about life and what is important. The struggle of balance is real and it is good to see that I am not the only one who thinks about these things. A well thought out article that relates to anyone on life’s journey.
I have not gone through the program yet but do get the emails and enjoy the articles. Thx for this one Treg

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June 08, 2022 at 8:02 am, Steve Kessler said:

Fabulous article Treg. Thank you for your honesty. Balance by God’s standards creates the ultimate freedom.

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June 08, 2022 at 8:26 am, Melinda Sims said:

Love. Love! LOVE THIS!!! Money is not the only area in our lives that we should be profitable. True profitability should be spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally and financially!!!

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June 08, 2022 at 10:03 am, Maggie MacIntyre said:

This man is on the right road to success..This business of ranching is NOT just cows .. I am an 81 year old rancher from the Canadian West Cow Country ..which in many ways, hasn’t changed much over the past 100 years . We still don’t have TV or even reliable radio reception.. We DO have electricity and cell phones however..so we know what is going on in the world .
We have worked ourselves to the bone and raised our kids ( 11 of them) .NONE of whom want to ranch full time..and all have great lifestyles. But we have a 15 year old grandson who has the passion and spark and energy and will to take over. He WILL go to an Ag college and learn financial farm management .. an essential in a socialist country with huge taxes and a burdensome government regulatory oversight such as Canada has . . But we are making sure that he also sees the value of finding time for heart and soul ..taking time to see the road ahead clearly and where it is leading.. recognizing changes that are permanent and learning to bend when the wind blows icy cold in winter and scorching hot in summer. . understanding that you CANT save every calf .. and accepting that LOSS is PART of Life.. We have told him as we have had to tell ourselves many times .. Don’t keep looking back at what MIGHT have been.. you will stumble and fall .. Look forward , watching where you are going and make sure the road you are on is the right one for YOU!

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June 08, 2022 at 4:23 pm, Burke said:

Great article! I don’t want to rain on the “profit isn’t everything” parade; but until you are profitable or if you are not profitable, it is everything. Once profitable, you have such freedom. That’s the position RFP can help you create if you are not already profitable–and many who first attend the school are not.

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June 08, 2022 at 4:47 pm, Stuart Austin said:

Excellent article Treg and RFP, thankyou very much for sharing, totally relatable!

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June 08, 2022 at 9:54 pm, Jonathan and Miriam said:

We loved this!!! Thank you for sharing!!

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June 09, 2022 at 8:42 am, Mark Ensz said:

Thanks for sharing your experience with us all it is very powerful. It’s so amazing how God can help us to realize we are off course and is ready to help us focus on the things that really matter. All we have to do is ask and then follow when he answers. Have a blessed day!

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