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?