AoR 55: Clay Conry, Regenerative Agriculture and the Working Cows podcast

Some people are called to work at the intersection of theory and practice and to challenge unchallenged ideas about what we do and why we do what we do. Clay Conry is one of those people. His Working Cows podcast is occupying an important niche in livestock agriculture. As both a practicing rancher and a thinker, Clay is influencing sustainable agriculture for the good, for healthy land and animals as well as human flourishing. Join Clay and Tip for a discussion about what Clay has learned through three years of recording a weekly podcast on cows. Subscribe today to the Working Cows podcast. Go to https://workingcows.net/podcasts/ and click on your favorite podcasting app. 

Transcript

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>> Welcome to The Art of Range, a podcast focused on range lands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, Range and Livestock Specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at artofrange.com.

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My guest today on The Art of Range is Clay Conry, host of the Working Cows Podcast. Clay is a native of Western South Dakota, and he ranches there now. I had heard of the Working Cows Podcast through a rancher here in Ellensburg who recommended it to me. And we then had the opportunity to meet virtually at the Colorado Section of Society for Range Management meeting this last fall. Clay, welcome to the show.

>> It's a pleasure to be here, Tip. Thanks for the invitation.

>> I gave a pretty quick introduction, but tell me how you ended up being a podcast host.

>> So in 2017, I had kind of been through a transition at my job in town as a youth and associate pastor and was looking for more part-time work, and continuing my role there at the church, but also looking to fill in some more hours during the week, and my dad was also looking for part-time help. So serendipitously or providentially, however you want to say that, I ended up with the opportunity to work for my dad. And I, as I was getting started there, he came across an advertisement in the, I think it was the Tri-State Livestock News, a local, just what it sounds like, a newspaper here in the area and they were advertising for the High Plains Ranch Practicum which at that time was taught by Dallas Mount, and Aaron Berger, and Blake Hopman, they were all extension guys, Dallas and Blake from Wyoming and Aaron from Nebraska, and they partnered together to do the High Plains Ranch Practicum. And my dad said, "You should go to that." And I took my wife, and we went together, and we got some really great, great training on managing land, animals, people and money. Kind of reopened my eyes to the world of ranching, and different ways of looking at it and thinking about it. And during the course of that class, a couple of times Dallas made the statement that somebody in the classroom should start a podcast for ranchers. And I thought, well, I've been around cows my whole life and I have gained some skills as far as recording audio and understanding the ins and outs of audio equipment and those things. I have, and I've been a podcast junkie for a couple of years, really enjoyed listening to podcasts, just never knew other than releasing weekly recordings of sermons what my podcasts would be about, and decided I would take the leap after a couple of promptings, not directly at me, but just to the class in general for somebody to start a podcast. And so I dove in, in November of 2017, and first couple of guests were kind of indicative of how the rest of that journey would go. But just to have people that happen to be traveling through, or Dallas himself. And then he mentioned a list of guests at the end of his episode and I kind of took notes there. And so, yeah, that's kind of been the journey is -- How it started anyways was just recording an episode with Dallas and talking to him about the four pillars of ranching and then, yeah, chasing the network from there, I guess.

>> Yeah, that's interesting. That's pretty similar to my story. I, somebody ought to be doing a podcast on this and there's all kinds of interesting material out there, so we started. I really liked the title Working Cows. I can think of several different connotations or spins on what all you might mean by that. So what do you mean by that? Do you have any particular aim or goal with the podcast that is captured by those words, Working Cows?

>> Yeah. Primarily we want cows to work for us, not us to work for them. I think we want to find ways to put our cows to work for us. And by that I mean making them do the work of getting feed. I mean, we're obviously providing them opportunity to get feed, but not as much as possible not having to move feed to cows rather move cows to feed. And so that's definitely one of the things. Probably the one that we like to talk about the most, just because it's the most fun to talk about. But I think that I was cognizant of at least a couple of other plays on the words around the title, Working Cows, and those would be low stress animal handling, which I think my background growing up on a ranch, that was the one that I was most exposed to growing up. And there were some limitations to why I wasn't exposed to the other ways that Working Cows, the title is a play on words. But my dad was a good stockman. And I think part of the reason that that one was the one that I was most exposed to is because it's the one that my dad had the most control over. We didn't have opportunity to implement the style of management that my dad was aware of or wanted to necessarily because most of the land that we ran on for, you know, 280 days a year was lease land. And so it wasn't necessarily within his ability to determine how management happened on those ground. But when we were working cows, when we were doing stockmanship, my dad has proved to be someone who really understood stockmanship and had, I don't know if he picked it up where he picked it up, I don't know what his educational background, as far as stockmanship was concerned, but he did a good job of that. And so when we're working cows, we want cows that work for us and we want to work cows in a low stress way. Then we also want to work cows from the perspective of making sure that we are making financially and economically informed decisions, not just making decisions because the tax preparer says it's a good idea or making decisions because this will do X, Y, or Z for us. So those are some of the ways. And then obviously low stress animal handling should be paired with low stress people handling. And so working cows doesn't have to be cause for marriage counseling after the event, I think, if we approach it with our thinking caps on, so to speak.

>> Yeah, I think that's right. I actually think that this low stress handling is maybe a bigger deal than some people give it credit for. I have overheard a few conversations with longtime ranchers who have confessed in their, you know, when they're in their 60s, that they suspect their children don't want to have anything to do with ranching because of the extreme stress that was present, social stress between the people whenever they were working cows. They associated running the ranch with, you know, terrible family stress and therefore don't really have much interest in it even if it is financially viable. And so I think, you know, there's -- people are always talking about how do we get the next generation to be interested in agriculture? You know, one of the biggest pieces is that it has to work for them. Working cows has to be something that works for us. And I have seen a number of ranches that have implemented, you know, various versions of low stress livestock handling and it has resulted in significantly improved family relations, independent of, you know, whether it's good for the cows.

>> Yeah. No, I think that's a big part of it. You know, something that gets mentioned often is that when we are willing to approach ranching from a different perspective, when we're willing to be thought of maybe as a little bit weird in our own neighborhoods, then ranching can sometimes even be described as fun. And if we can make it fun while we're in the moment not just when we get away from the ranch, we go and have fun and we know how to have a good time, and we do intentionally get away from the ranch to go have fun, but also in the moment of whatever it is, whatever sector of the business we're involved in, in the moment we can make those things fun too. And I think that's a big part of getting that generational transfer to happen, but I think it's also something that we need to continually keep in mind as we're in the moment. Not getting -- Not becoming victims of the moment, but being aware that if we're willing to take this job and let it take as much time as it needs to, not have a deadline in mind that we can probably reduce some of the stress on people and animals for sure.

>> You mentioned that you started the podcast with several suggestions for people to talk to from Dallas Mount. Once you got through that first batch, what has been your approach to selecting interviewees?

>> I think it's mainly been my network, or not my network, but the network of the guests, kind of has continued to color the interviewees. Past guests will send me emails of people I should talk to, the network of people who listen to the show will send me emails of people I should talk to, people will reach out and say, "Hey, I've got some perspective I would like to share." You know, and so I think that there, it's been mainly the network just continues to feed the guest recommendation pool and the guest recommendation pool continues to grow faster than I can satisfy it [brief laughter], but that's a good problem to have. But it is also, you know, kind of a function of who's available when I'm available, and sometimes people, we don't get our schedules coordinated and it takes me a long time to get back around to reaching out to them and stuff. But yeah, it's just been the network. And so the network of people who listen and the people who are on the show continues to drive the guests that I continue to bring on.

>> How long have you been doing the podcast now?

>> Yeah, I started in November of 2017. So the class, High Plains Ranch Practicum, I think the first class was in June of 2017. And then they took a month off in July and then we came back in August and maybe to back months, August and September, and then took another month off and came back in November. And so I launched the class like the Monday after our last class of the High Plains Ranch Practicum in November of 2017. I announced it to the class and then launched it there. And yeah, I have averaged more than an episode a week since then, but I mean like barely like 1.1 or 1.2 episodes a week. So not a lot more than one, but I shoot for an episode every week. Sometimes I don't get an episode out every week, sometimes I get two episodes out the next week or something like that. But if you do the math on 171 episodes since November of 2017, it comes out to a little over an episode a week since November of 2017.

>> Yeah. That's quite a bit of content, you know, from -- I like to think of podcasting as audio journalism. What are some big ideas that you feel like have kind of settled out from that content over the last several years?

>> I think that the people side of it, you know, has continued to come up. The people side of ranching and the importance of managing that well. You know, so many examples you could cite of people who had a ranching operation, a farming operation that was never turned over that they never got a chance to run, that it was turned over, but with strings attached or whatever. You know, that succession issue continues to be an important issue, an issue that shows itself in all parts of, you know, like you said, or Alan Crockett says, every problem is a people problem. If you've got overgrazing issues, it's a people problem. If you've got financial issues, it's a people problem. If you've got stockmanship issues, it's a people problem. So, you know, every problem is a people problem, and ultimately to fix any problem, we're going to have to deal with people. And sometimes those people in a smaller operation is just the person in the mirror. I've got to change the way I think, and do, and act to fix this issue. And sometimes it's the people around the supper table, and sometimes that's more uncomfortable than it being the person in the mirror. But we've got to learn to be tactful and skillful, as skillful, more skillful in handling people problems than we are in handling herd health problems, land management problems, money management problems. I think we need to be as skillful at handling people problems as we are at handling, or more skillful than we are at handling those other areas. And I guess, I don't know, there's kind of two ways to look at that. In the paradigm challenging side of the ranching industry, there's either three or four pillars of a ranching operation, and we've danced around them a little bit here today, but I'll say that, for my money, I will say people, land, animals and money or finances are the four pillars of a ranching operation. And so we need to become the most skilled, I think, if we want to see long-term generational success. We need to be most skilled and invest in developing the skills of people management in our operations and then hopefully that will infect in a positive way, all the other pillars of that operation and we will see continued return, positive return, on investment in those ways. And that's born out from the very beginning when I interviewed Dallas Mount for Episode 2 of the Working Cows Podcast. I asked him he, and we talked about those four pillars, I said, "What's the biggest barrier to success?" And he didn't hesitate. He said, "Without a doubt, it's the people." Without a doubt, the biggest barrier to success in the ranching industry is lack of intentionality and skill in managing people. Now that's not a direct quote. The part that is a direct quote is, without a doubt, it's the people. But if we had greater intentionality in skill and managing people, we'd probably have a lot greater success in transferring ranches to the next generation.

>> Yeah, that reminds me of the old saying, a jack of all trades is a master of none. And people don't realize that the full original reference continued to say oftentimes, better than a master of one. And I feel like we see this in people that do well in agriculture. It really requires being a successful generalist, which is not a slam. I've been reading through the book Range, an interesting title, given what we're talking about. But the book is really about the importance of having a broad skill set and knowledge set to be effective at nearly everything in life. You know, there's been lots of talk about 10,000 hours and, you know, the, what they call tiger parents that require children to, you know, put in the time on one particular thing so that they can be excellent at it. And the author of the book makes the case that that really is only effective if what you're trying to be good at is something that requires, you know, really repetitive things like sports, or music. Where if you want to be a good violin player, or a golfer, yes, if you put in tens of thousands of hours doing the same thing over and over again, you'll get really good at doing the same thing over and over again. But for most spheres of life, it's much more effective to have a broad range of knowledge and skills, and that makes you significantly more effective even at solving problems that you don't know you need to solve yet. And there's a lot of research behind that, but I see this in agriculture where the people that tend to be really successful, they are -- they have interests and skills that span, you know, those four pillars and then some.

>> Yeah, I think that, you know going along with that idea, when we -- I think that that idea of seeing children hyper specialized in one sport, one discipline, is probably fairly new. I would say many of the top tier athletes, even to this day, that we get to watch on a national stage, probably weren't hyper specialized. Although we're starting to get to the point where that hyper specialization is going to start to bring some people in. But I would guess that it's going to be, it's still going to continue to be rare because of the rate of burnout that happens in hyper specialized individuals. And especially from a young age, and especially when it's compulsory, when it's not something you enjoy doing. And that's really goes back to this issue. We enjoy working cows, we enjoy being in the corral on a horse or on foot, and seeing our immediate pressure and immediate choices as far as, do I take a step forward or a step back and how that cow reacts. We get that immediate feedback. And we enjoy those decisions probably partly because of the immediate feedback. And, but also partly because that cow isn't a person and we -- it's a lot easier for us anyways to see that cow and to not understand all the complexity going on beneath the surface because they can't communicate it to us. And so we enjoy the land management decisions because we can see how those things are making our place better. We don't always enjoy managing money, we don't always enjoy managing people, and so it can be more difficult for us to look at investing in sharpening the axe that when it comes to managing people and managing money, because we just aren't wired as ranchers to enjoy those disciplines as much. And so it becomes something that we have to discipline ourselves to go out and invest in becoming a better manager of people and money, because those are going to be important for the long-term success. And we are going to have to discipline ourselves to do that even though we might not enjoy it at first. And we tend to be good at what we enjoy, you know. We tend to be good at what we enjoy because we'll take the time to invest in sharpening that axe to become better at it.

>> Clay, you've interviewed quite a few people over the last three years. Does anybody stand out as a favorite interviewee or a topic that you found to be most interesting to you?

>> I will say that in a lot of cases, I feel like I'm keeping my nose above water. I'm doing everything I can to take notes and to keep up with the conversation. These people that I'm talking to, probably as a general rule, are a decade ahead of me in terms of thinking about these issues of managing land, animals, people, money. And so I have -- I am -- it's been an incredible continuing education opportunity for me to ask questions of some of the best minds in the industry about these things. And most often I'm asking questions because I genuinely don't know the answer and I want to know the answer because it's going to affect the way I make decisions tomorrow on my operation. And so there's, I mean, there's a host of great guests and opportunities. One that always comes to mind, and as I say, as I've said recently and regularly, proof that we need more cow focused regenerative agriculture podcasts is that Logan Pribbeno, to my knowledge has only been a guest. Well, I know he's only been a guest on my podcast once, and I'm not sure he's ever been a guest on anybody else's. And he's a guy from Nebraska that's just doing some great things on a ranch that's -- that really truly learned the principles of holistic management directly from Allan Savory himself, and have been implementing the principles of holistic management since the mid-80s. And so, I mean, he's generations ahead of me, and he's my age, and he's been thinking about these things a lot longer than I have. But I mean, I've had the opportunity to talk to, I don't know how else to say this, I'm not trying to brag, but I've had an opportunity to talk to a who's who list of ranchers. I mean, I've interviewed Joel Salatin, Allan Savory twice, Burke Tiger. I'll probably leave somebody out, Johann Zietsman, Ian Mitchell Innes, Greg Judy, you know, all these guys, and still my favorite ones are the guys who are making the decision that's going to change the amount of food on the table, the guys who are making the decisions that is going to change the extravagance of the family vacation. You know, I still, those are the ones that still mean a lot to me. And there've been genuine friendships developed as a result of this podcast. Me personally, I have developed genuine friendships with listeners and with guests, and we call and talk about things other than cows [brief laughter]. And so it's been a great thing. You know, Brian Alexander comes to mind in that regard, and other people, neighbors of mine now that I've made a transition to a new place. Last year, neighbors of mine now have, were listeners before I ever met them, and now they're guys that I count as friends and enjoy their company outside of ranching endeavors, I guess. So there's been a lot of really neat opportunities and a lot of really neat guests. And yeah, I didn't mention Jim Gerrish in the list that I made earlier. So, I mean, it's just been a really neat opportunity for me and it's really tough to narrow it down to a favorite or to even remember the guests list or to remember, yeah, influences, I guess.

>> Yeah. I like the idea, or I resonate with the idea that your job is to be a chief learner, not the guru or the dispenser of information, but you know, trying to learn as much as you can yourself and make that information available to others. I think that's a -- it's a really satisfying pastime and I feel like it's useful. And I really like the list of folks and topics that you've covered in your podcast. Have there been any conversations that were especially provocative or contentious? Those can mean really different things. By provocative, I guess I could mean something that you weren't expecting that you had not thought about before, but has been really influential in the UNE. And then separately, any conversations that have been contentious maybe after the fact with listeners.

>> Yeah. I've received very little negative feedback. And in a couple of episodes I did on something called the infinite banking concept, which is outside the box as far as financial planning and all those things. And I'm not an expert, and yeah, so I'll just say that. But I've, that's one of them I received some negative feedback about, and I, to my knowledge, it was one comment. But yeah, so very little negative feedback. And I guess it's not in my nature [brief laughter] to be -- to engage in conflict. It's not in my -- it's not in the purview of the show. I mean, I think people get plenty of conflict. If you want to turn on the TV, you can get conflict for four hours every night, if you really want it. And it's not, you don't have to go very far to find it. And so I don't think I need to add to that. You know, I don't think I need to be another place where people can go and find that conflict. And frankly, I don't think people really care what I think about some of those issues that would generate conflict. And so I'm not going to try and force that either. You know, provocative for sure, there have been lots of provocative statements made. I have even gotten bold enough to make a few of my own recently, but you know, it is, I mean, just that's the whole idea of the show. I mean one of the things I've said about the show over and over again is I'm not telling you how to ranch, I'm not telling you how to manage, I'm just giving you something to think about while you manage and while you ranch. And so that's the whole idea, is to provoke thought. The whole idea, I mean, providing producers to a platform to discuss and share a paradigm challenging practices. So the whole idea of the show is to challenge paradigms, you know, to talk about things like swath grazing, to talk about things like moving cows to feed rather than feed the cows, to talk about things like the fact that they make as much hay in Texas as they do in North Dakota. You know, and typically feed as much hay in Texas as they do in North Dakota, and for totally different reasons, but everybody thinks basically for the same reason that everybody thinks they have to. You know, and so then the interview guys who are in Texas grazing low octane grass and guys who are in Bismarck, there's another one I didn't mention, Gay Brown, in Bismarck, North Dakota. So John Coleman Locke on the Gulf Coast of Texas, I think 60 miles from the Coast of Texas grazing low octane grass that, you know, as one of my friends described it, they don't grow grass there, they grow tall water, you know, and not feeding any hay. And then Gay Brown in Bismarck, North Dakota, if he does feed hay, it's bale grazing, you know. So, I mean, they're challenging those paradigms, challenging those thought processes of, this is how we have to do it. Where, and I don't want to be more provocative after I just said that it's not in my nature or in the purview of my show, but we have to do it. We're a victim of our environment. If we didn't live here, we could do it differently. Well, I try to find people who blow that paradigm up and say, "Nope, these guys who are in a worse climate than you are doing it." And so if you want to, you can do it. But the question is, do you want to? [brief laughter].

>> Yeah. I would agree. I don't think being a provocateur is a good strategy for helping people learn. They may be good for driving subscriptions on political talk shows, but that's not what we do. What are some of the greatest challenges that you have found in creating content?

>> Time management. You know, it takes me three or four hours to produce an episode. And so I'm a pastor that's -- Well, first I'm a husband, then I'm a father, and then I'm a pastor, and then I'm a podcaster. So if something has to fall off the table, it's going to be the podcast. And I've told my church board this too, if something else has to fall off that table, it's going to be the church. And they've told me, "Yeah. And you're making the right decision if you do let it fall." And so, you know, but so I've got those constraints. And there have been times when I needed that two by four between the eyes and to be reminded of the fact that I am not fulfilling my obligations in those other areas of my life. And so yeah, time management has been the greatest challenge. Getting content out in a timely manner while also keeping all these other plates spinning, if you want to use that as an illustration.

>> Yeah, I would agree with that as well. I, even though the release schedule on the Art of Range has been more like every two weeks that has been plenty fast for me. And it definitely is -- requires some discipline and keeps kicking my butt. There's a couple of questions from Emma Jordan, a listener on both podcasts in Colorado. And he asked, I think, in the context in which you sent it to both of us, in the process of creating and building this platform, and I'm asking you, what has brought you the greatest satisfaction in doing the Working Cows Podcast?

>> Oh, seeing getting the opportunity to make decisions on my own place that were shaped by things I learned by doing the podcast. I mean this last year is a prime example, is the first year, first season of management, we've got our first season of management under our belt. We brought in my dad's cows in March and then they left in April. I cabbed them out and they left at the end of April. Right after they left, some custom grazing cattle came in and so we moved them every other day. For most of the summer, we started out moving them every day, but then fencing and water constraints and time management constraints motivated us to move them every other day for most of the summer. And just getting to see these things work. Seeing cows come into a 2-acre chunk about 70 of them and, or a 4-acre, 5-acre chunk depending on the day. Getting to see them come in and just take the top third off that whole place and then move them the next day and see them do the same thing again. And yeah, so those were cool. After the cows left, we started bale, or we started swath grazing too late as it were. I learned some things. We had some, I think, I'm attributing it to nutritional issues, might've been some other issues going on there, but we had some more opens than I would be comfortable with on a consistent basis in our own personal cow herd. But we started doing some swath grazing after the custom grazing cattle left, getting to see that work really, really well with cows. I started out trying it with cows and sheep. And if I would've had two wires in front of the sheep, it probably would have worked, but it just didn't consistently work, so we put the sheep back in the net fencing and they're now bale grazing with the cows. And I've got them on one side with three wires and then on the other two sides that doesn't get them back into the barnyard for water, they have net fencing for now. And so in the future, it'll be either one or two strands in front of them and then net fencing down one side and three strands of hot wire down the other. So just getting to see some of those things come out. Selfishly, those are the cool things. Those are the satisfactions that I've gotten probably selflessly. It's been, it's improved the quality of life for my family. Selflessly, it has -- there's been a network of people who I'm not sure how they would've gotten connected if it wasn't for the network that's developed around the podcast. I don't know, it could have, it definitely could have happened without me or without the podcasts, but I think that there has been some, on some level, the podcast has facilitated that network.

>> Mm-hmm. I want to shift gears a little bit and zoom out some. Do you see some, any trends within animal agriculture and I guess, I mean, mostly in the United States, that you think is healthy? For example, it feels to me like mature cow weight is going down. And I don't know if that's just some of the folks that I interact with a lot, or, you know, if that actually represents an actual trend. Are, you know, trends that maybe are healthy or some that you think are unhealthy or unsustainable?

>> I think that the desire, the strong desire to be involved in agriculture and the capital intensive nature of starting in agriculture is going to drive some people to challenge paradigms, to think about managing land, animals, money and people differently. I think that's a positive thing. I think that it's -- there's probably some awareness or a rise in awareness coming to more urban sectors about what we are doing out here. And I think that there's also the interest and the desire for them to be involved and they don't have any of the baggage. They don't have any of the preconceived ideas about what ranching has to be. And so they might come in and just do things differently. And I think that could be a positive thing. Yeah, I don't know what else, I mean, I think that you're probably right in a range setting. In farm country where there's still a feed base, there's still plenty of large framed animals. And, but they've got feed-based to support that. So I guess more power to them, but yeah, I think that the --

>> Yeah.

>> -- I think that there is some, certainly, some bright spots for sure and some opportunity for involvement if people are willing to think differently about what it means to be a rancher. It doesn't mean green tractor, it doesn't mean a lot of things that it has meant. It doesn't even mean necessarily owning cows, honestly. I think that that's a big one that people are starting to recognize and take advantage of.

>> Mm-hmm. I guess a trend assumes that a number of people are doing the same thing. And I've said for years that ranchers are one of the most diverse groups across agriculture. Maybe they represent the, you know, the time 100 years ago when 80% of the population was involved in agriculture and you by definition had a lot of diversity. But there's an awful lot of things that ranchers disagree about, and more things that they disagree about than other sectors, you know. For example, tree fruit growers, or hop growers, or a specialty vegetable seed producers tend to agree on more than they disagree. And ranchers disagree on quite a few things, whether it's, you know, forward contracting, packer ownership, country of origin labeling. The list could go on and on. Do you see some important things that ranchers agree on that are worth talking about?

>> Man, this is a tough one. I think, you know, what do they agree on? Grass and water goes in the front end, calves and manure and urine come out the back end. I [brief laughter], you know, I mean, I don't know. I think that there is a lot of contention. I think that a lot of that is a product of our culture. I think a lot of that is a product of never meeting other people outside of the tribal context. So what do I mean by that? Like our rallies, we're meeting people at a rally, where we're holding a sign saying your side is bad, my side is good, and we're yelling that back and forth at each other. And we never meet people outside of that tribal context, or when we do meet people, once we find out what tribe they're a member of, we have an issue, we have a hard time getting past that tribal distinction and embracing them as a person [brief laughter], you know.

>> Yeah.

>> And so I think that those are challenges and that, and I don't think that there's much in our world. I don't, I really don't think that there's much in our world that is fighting those challenges, or that is making those challenges any better. I think most of the people with a platform in our world, and this goes for Ag Journalism as well, have gotten that platform because of their willingness to be a provocateur. And they are facilitating that silo, that echo chamber that is all that echo chamber does is log grenades at the other echo chamber. And it's -- So I don't think there's a lot that facilitates that, finding those common ground pieces, you know. And I would love to hear your thoughts on what -- where you see agreement in the industry. But I really think that the solution to that is to meet people outside of that rally context, outside of that sign holding march context and to maybe not even inquire about their thoughts and get to know them as a person before you know where they stand on an issue. But I don't, you know, I guess that nothing jumps to mind as far as clear areas of agreement, you know. I think that there's lot of potential. But I do struggle a little bit to come up with a clear area of agreement, but I really do value the way that you think, and the way that you articulate things, and the way that you process things. And I don't mean to turn the tables on the interview, but I would love to hear your thoughts on those issues.

>> No, I think that's valid. I was just thinking, as you were talking about this polarity. You know, in the virtual digital universe, in this space, people tend to make progress by differentiating themselves from others and by setting themselves up as the authority. And we get to the point where people feel like they can't trust anything they hear, which I think is somehow a valid concern, and then a real problem. I do think that some areas of agreement has to do with what you said first. You know, the fact that cows eat grass and turn it into a high value food product is not a small thing. And you know, those who are in the regenerative agriculture space, like to say that that is something that we should make much of and rally around. And I think that resonates with the nonagricultural public. I had a match resource policy professor in college, actually Kendall Johnson, who was the Chair of the University of Idaho Range Department for quite a while, said that the general public is not going to value food producers, farmers and ranchers until they're not sure where the next plate of beans is going to come from. I'm not sure. I mean, it sounds a little bit apocalyptic, and I don't want to stoke that any further either. I sincerely hope that we don't reach that social stability threshold. But I do feel pretty strongly that most ranchers have a good story to tell. And in general, I think animal agriculture has a good story to tell. I've said for years, and it's a, you know, a repeat of what other people like Courtney White, who was the founder of the Quivira Coalition have said too, there's not many sectors of agriculture where you can produce food and fiber in the same space where we're producing -- in a place where we have retained naturally occurring plant communities and produce wildlife habitat and the full suite of ecological goods and services that we expect from, you know, open land or what people might call, you know, wild lands. And that really is what happens in at least cattle ranching in particular, even in places where we have tame pastures, you know, that represents significant habitat for all kinds of wildlife species, and we produce food in the same space. I think it's a good story to tell. But right now, The Art of Range Podcast is operating under a grant from the Western Center for Risk Management Education, and the grant that is funding us for this year, we've promised a few topics and one of them is communicating with the nonagricultural public and how to help people like ranchers tell their own story. And I think this is one of the things that we can sell, that cows, and sheep, and goats take the most abundant carbohydrate on the planet, cellulose, and turn it into, we take tall water and sunlight and turn it into something that is truly one of the most valuable food products for humans that's out there. Red meat is really good for people. And I think we have not done a very good job telling that story, in particular in ranching, you know, because we, one, we don't want to stoke conflict with other sectors of agriculture, but I think a good story can be told without distinguishing us from farmers. I've got nothing against corn farmers, but, you know, you plant an acre of corn and you take out everything that was there before the corn was there. And in ranching, you know, there's a much broader set of ecological goods associated with an acre of pasture than there are with an acre of crop land, and that's a good story to tell without throwing corn under the bus.

>> And I think that cows, and sheep, and goats are a great answer to making that story, that corn is telling a better story. If we didn't drive by the majority of corn fields without a fence around them, you know, then maybe there would be that other story of livestock integration onto that crop land, reduced uses of chemical, fertilizers, and pesticides and some of those things. You know, I think that there is, there's opportunity there too. And I think that could be a very healthy direction for the industry to go and a very positive partnership that could develop between those two sectors of the Ag industry as it is, you know. And some back of the envelope math I did a long time ago, I came up with 82% of, you know, if you go and buy a rib eye, that critter was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 to 18 months old at the time it had its one bad day in its life, right? So when you go and buy that rib eye, something like 82% of that critter's life on the low end, I would say, was spent outside converting solar energy and cellulose into protein on grass, you know. And then the other 18% is where that fundamental conflict comes between the two sides of the industry. But if we can tell the story that -- And that doesn't even mention the cow who's spending her whole life on grass, you know. For the most part, I mean, I would say the majority of beef cows in this country spend their whole life on a forage based diet. Whether that forage is brought to them or not, it's still grass. It was cut down and rolled up into a hay bale. It's still grass. And so she's spending her whole life out there converting solar energy, sequestering carbon, you know, doing all these great things. And so I think that there's definitely a story to tell there. And then even in the conventional side of things, that critter that you're throwing on the grill as a rib eye was, 82% of its life was on grass and that's a fairly conventional number. And that, again, that's some back of the envelope math I did. I haven't even taken time to verify that I just did the number of days they were alive and the number of days the typical animal spends on feed and came up with that number. So people can shoot holes in that number all they want and it won't offend me one bit, but it's something that I think we could probably call attention to in a positive way. You know, I think that there's opportunity to call attention to the improvements and the continual improvement of animal handling. You know, I know ranchers have every right to be reticent to invite journalists in. I know there are stories that you could point out of journalists who came in under one auspices and ended up producing something that read a little bit different in the headlines in the New York, you know, New York Times, or Wall Street Journal, or whatever it was, you know. So I think that there's this lack of trust there that is probably somewhat warranted, but at the same time, we have made improvements in a lot of these circumstances and situations. And I think that it's -- that if people had more opportunity to understand where their food is coming from, not just a snippet of that, or not just what they learned from the discovery channel, or the history channel, or whatever, but today this is the environment, those cows are -- those critters are coming from, I think that there's some benefit there if we could, you know, pull back that curtain a little bit. And there are people who do it and people who I respect a lot for doing it in some pretty tough circumstances, like confinement dairy, and those kinds of operations. People are still willing to open up those doors and do those tours and let people see the things. But there's always that fear of the hidden camera and the employee who's having the one bad day, you know, and there they were to capture it. So, you know, I'm not saying that that it isn't without risk, but I think on our side, on some level, if we're going to communicate that story, there's probably going to be some risk involved with it at some point.

>> Yeah, that's right. One of the things you said a minute ago prompted a question. You talked about taking the fences down on cornfields, and I think that represents both a trend and some, you know, some encouraging future changes in animal agriculture. I was searching for some good quotes about prediction and one of the one that's been repeated quite a bit is the Niels Bohr, who was a Danish physicist. He was, probably the only thing he's really known for is for saying that prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future. And I ran across another quote that essentially said anybody who's good at predicting the future tends to be a student of the past. And I think this integration of livestock back into cropping systems is one of those things. This is a back to the future trend that is healthy. And I think it's going to prove to be healthy ecologically, and financially, and socially. You know, I had an aunt and uncle in Wisconsin that had a dairy. Then they sold in the big buyout in the middle of the 1980s. But you know, it was the classic Wisconsin dairy farm, where they grew their own feed. They milked about 200 cows, and it was, you know, pretty much a closed integrated system for several decades. And we're seeing some of their reintegration, I think, but it's a reintegration across more specialized farms rather than within individual farms. And there's a few places in Washington State where there are essentially irrigated sand dunes that, you know, because it's so dry here, they can go pretty high quality stuff. The problem with those sand dunes is that even if you can put water on it, the ground, the soil doesn't hold water for long enough to be effective. And one of the bigger farmers to doing this said that they would find that within 24 hours, after running a pivot across a piece of ground, the plants in that spot would be exhibiting drought symptoms. And so they thought, you know, what's the only one of the only cost-effective ways of adding organic matter to that essentially sand cropping area, that field, would be to graze it with livestock. And they have been grazing crop aftermath on these really sandy areas for about 10 years now. But they said after five years the measured organic matter was up to about a percent and a half, which was up from, you know, about a half a percent or less. But with that minimal increase in soil organic matter, the water-holding capacity went up significantly where they could go between three and four days between pivot passes without having the plants start to wilt and dry down. You know, and that's a pretty small example, but, you know, the benefits of grazing crop aftermath and reintegrating livestock back into these cropping systems, I think is an encouraging trend in several different ways. And I hope that it also encourages some more communication across the people who are involved in different sectors of agriculture. Because I think we had gotten to the point where there's some antagonism between ranchers and farmers. I was just going to say if you had any reflections based on conversations you've had over the last three years about this trend, at least in some parts of the country of, as you said, taken down the fences on corn fields and reintegrating livestock into cropping systems, really like it was for most of human history prior to, say, 1950.

>> I don't have any data, but I definitely think it's getting easier to reintegrate livestock. You know, the advent of electric fencing, the ease of training cows, even cows have never seen electric fence to two electric fence and getting them to respect it. And, you know, I think that process is getting a lot easier and the opportunity is definitely there. I think, you know, as of recording, we're back up North of $5 for corn, and I wouldn't doubt that that's going to motivate some planting in the 2021 season of corn where it wasn't before, and maybe that's going to involve the removal of some more fences, but I think that there's opportunity there. And I really do think that that is kind of one of those the desire to be involved, the strong desire for people who've never been involved in agriculture and the strong desire for people who've been involved in agriculture their whole life, but they can't afford to pay, you know, 850 on the low end to, you know, who knows what on the high end, $10,000 an acre for land, you know, in some of the more fertile areas of the world. So you know, they can't afford that so they got to find a way into the industry. And that the strength of that desire drives them to do things like go to a corn farmer and say, "Hey, can we put up a couple of strands of electric fence around the outside of this and graze the aftermath with our cows? We'll leave it hopefully, or we'll do our best to leave it better than we found it, and you can be the judge of that." But take the opportunity when it comes and pursue a little bit different way into the industry, you know? So I think that those are definitely some positive things. And some of the opportunities that exist if people are willing to think outside the box.

>> Well, I think what you just said is an excellent benediction. So we're going to stop there. My guest today was Clay Conry, host of the Working Cows Podcast, which you can find at workingcows.net or on your favorite podcasting platform. Clay, thank you for your time, and it was good to have you.

>> The pleasure was all mine, Tip. Thanks for the opportunity.

>> Thank you for listening to The Art of Range Podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to show@artofrange.com. For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at artofrange.com. Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering range line managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at artofrange.com. This podcast is produced by CAHNRS Communications in the College of Agricultural Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

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