Survival of the Fittest & Natural Selection
Nature has a strict culling policy. If bulls and bucks don’t breed, or if does and cows don’t wean fawns and calves, their genes aren’t passed on. Survival of the fittest.
Most commercial ranchers select for fitness too. If a cow is open or dry, she’s culled. If she’s got a bad udder or isn’t structurally sound, she’s a goner. Survival of the fittest.
It’s survival of the fittest in business too. If a business doesn’t produce positive cash flow and a decent profit, it won’t survive. It’s got to be able to compete with other businesses producing similar products.
At the conclusion of a recent workshop I started to wonder if survival of the fittest applies to ranches. Most participants were intent on learning everything they could about the three secrets for increasing profit and how to identify profit drivers and deadwood in their businesses. But there were several who seemed to have come for the coffee and donuts. Their comments and actions made it clear that they were more interested in preserving the status quo than objectively evaluating strategies to make their ranches more profitable.
Whether through inherited wealth, off-farm income or free family labor, I suspect that the ranchers who weren’t open to considering alternatives are subsidizing their ranches. In spite of losing money year after year, they are still there. So, does survival of the fittest apply to ranching?
When we think of fitness in the natural world we often think of the animal that escaped the predator’s jaws. Slower animals are culled from the herd and don’t live to reproduce. But survival of the fittest is only one part of natural selection. It’s not enough for an animal to survive, it must also produce progeny that survive. In ranching there are fewer potential successors who are willing to work for free or subsidize the family ranch with off-farm income. If ranchers can’t pass a viable ranch business to the next generation they will fail.
In contrast the fit ranches (the ones that pay a fair wage and make a healthy profit) are making it to the next generation.
On one hand it’s tragic to see a fourth or fifth generation ranch family lose the ranch. On the other hand it provides a fabulous opportunity for a new generation of ranchers who want to start ranching for profit.
Survival of the fittest in nature increases the health and productivity of wildlife. In ranching it results in livestock that need fewer inputs to be productive. In ranches it results in healthier land, higher profit, happier families and an incoming generation keen on continuing the legacy of generations before.