Repairs Save Money?

by Jordan Steele

horse fence

Preventative maintenance on the ranch is easy to overlook, and it can be costly. Costly in dollars to actually fix whatever needs fixed whether it is fence and corrals, water tanks, or the farm machinery. As well as costly in finding the time which is nearly impossible; but why hire someone to do something that we are just as capable of doing. Let’s think about how it cost us by not fixing it? It may cost more in time and employee frustration than we think about.

First let’s look at the corrals, and the Powder River gate in the alley. Powder River gates has an exceptional marketing team, because their gates are everywhere even though the latches are miserable. The gates are tough but any twist or tweak in them and it is nearly impossible to get both latches to line up and the lever to work all at the same time. Add in a sagging post and it can ruin your day if you have to fight it all day. You will get used to the perfect combination of pull, lean, hook the top, then a final karate kick to get the bottom to latch.  If you are on a young horse, he will be very patient or very spooked by the end of the day working the gate! 

All humor aside, what does it cost the business by letting the corrals fall apart? A new post is probably $30 and a new gate is probably $400, so let’s call it a $500 project to fix the gate. If we hire day help for $20 an hour every time we work cattle, it won’t take very long to pay the new gate off in reduced time and laborers who actually want to work for you again. Some ranches even do a what-went-well and what-could-be-better meeting after working cattle to find out about little things like that causing frustration for everyone helping.  

The same thing could be said about the tractor cadence to start when it is below forty degrees. Make sure it is plugged in all night, have the throttle at 53% open, step on the gas pedal four times, then turn the key. Don’t turn the key all the way though, just enough to turn over, and use your left hand to spray the ether into the air filter. Then it should start and run like a charm all day. But, if anything goes wrong then you have to spend an hour or two fighting the tractor to finish feeding, which should have taken less time than that anyways.  

Now let’s move away from the corrals and out to the pastures. Here in Wyoming we have lots of small springs providing live running water for summer pasture, and the old timers put in spring boxes to gather that water into a tank. Just like anything else, without maintenance they fall apart and don’t work anymore. This isn’t a problem in wet years, but in dry years how much forage utilization is lost by not having adequate clean water everywhere? Once again an estimate, but even if we rent a backhoe and buy some supplies for $5000 to fix the spring box (or whatever water infrastructure is there). If we can custom graze pairs at $40 per month, it only takes 125 cow months to pay off that spring box repair in year one. Meaning we can graze 125 pairs for one more month. Even if it takes two years of grazing 60 pairs for one more month each year, there is a much better return with extended grazing than gathering those cows and shipping them out early. It only costs you and the cow owner money.

In the end, we all understand ranch repairs are expensive and time consuming, but don’t just consider the money going out. Think about the money coming back in, either in reduced time and labor, or better forage utilization. Also what about employee morale? With systems thinking, one considers the land, production, financials, and people involved. I would argue that many ranches don’t spend enough money on preventative maintenance, and it shows. It doesn’t take very much WOTB (working on the business) time to estimate the repair cost, and also how that cost will be returned to the business. I suggest having a capital improvement budget for the ranch every year, even if it takes spending money to save money, because your time and company morale is too important to ignore repairs.

9 Responses to “Repairs Save Money?”

June 28, 2023 at 5:04 am, Josh Lucas said:

This is so true, great article. I took on a part time employee for the summer to help catch up on some of the little time consuming projects that have been put off for to long. I recently made the comment to a friend that all I have done since my employee started was fix all the tools and machines that I have been able to limp along through the last few years, but no one else can get them to function at all, let alone an 18 year old college student.
The take away for me is that for an employee to succeed (and enjoy the work), they need to be set up for success.


June 28, 2023 at 5:54 am, Daryl Meyer DVM said:

Very well said!! I work with many ranchers in many locations every year. There are some… most… who are pretty darn good at keeping things in good shape and working well.
There are a few.. that still … just don’t get things done… and you’re right… it affects morale and frustration levels!!


June 28, 2023 at 9:33 am, Mark Hollenbeck said:

When I was growing up we had a big family and labor was considered free. With that attitude if it to longer or was miserable it was no big deal. Now labor is not free and neither is my time. Good, but not gold plated, facilities make life better and more economical.


June 28, 2023 at 10:07 am, Kenneth Motl, DVM said:

How much does it cost having an ill-tempered cow or bull in corral repairs and injuries? Just not worth it.


June 28, 2023 at 12:40 pm, John Steeples said:



June 29, 2023 at 8:52 am, Jordan Steele said:

Thank you everyone for your comments! Josh you brought up one of my wife and I’s favorite comments, everything has to be set up for success. We use it with our horses most, but it applies everywhere. And everyone else hit the facilities spot on, they don’t have to be fancy overbuilt pipe corrals. Just nice and operational will save you a dental bill trying to latch the gate on that ill-mannered cow trying to load her in the trailer on the way to the sale barn…


June 30, 2023 at 11:12 am, king scott coffield said:

We have found it to be significant labor cost saving and frustration prevention time and educational benefit to stage rehersal round up, penning, and stock flow when we work cattle with Priefert pens on multiple properties with inexperienced and veteran subcontractors.


July 05, 2023 at 6:53 am, Jonathan Kilpatrick said:

Great article Jordan! I couldn’t agree more. This topic has been one of my pet peeves over the years. When you take the time to do things right or fix stuff, you are rewarded more than you think.


July 05, 2023 at 9:32 pm, Tom A Krawiec said:

Spot on Jordan! Everything I do, not just in ranching, I ask the question, “Can a 12 year old do this?” If the answer is no, I change it or I stop doing it. If all the day to day operations can be done by a 12 yr old, then an 80 yr old can do it and ranching becomes fun and easy.


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