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The Folly of Following Fads

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Well-known member
Feb 11, 2005
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northern Nebraska Sandhills
Guess you could say I am "middle-aged" as I am just three years past half-way between zero and a hundred. All my life, I have lived in the wonderful Sandhills of Nebraska. Many changes have come and gone in the ranching business in this country, and I have witnessed a multitude of them. A lot of these changes have been a direct result of folks following fads.

The early homesteaders were not necessarily "trying to keep up with the Joneses" but were merely trying to eke out a living. Their free land consisted of 160 acres, and they tried plowing the fragile Sandhills soil to grow crops. This worked if it rained. When it didn't, the sand blew and erosion took its toll. Later, when it was discovered that nobody could make a living on 160 acres, a new "Kincaid Act" went into effect, and a whole section of 640 acres could be had for the price of the filing fee, and the required number of years living on the land to "prove up" on it. This larger parcel even proved too small on which to make a decent living, so the inevitable happened. The more efficient homesteaders bought out the others and larger ranches were developed. Lesson Learned was, "don't plow the Sandhills". For the most part, the ranchers learned and heeded.

Things rolled along in good shape for half a century, and then in the late 1960's and early '70's, center pivot irrigation was invented. This was a mixed blessing. It was a wonderful addition to some ranches that used them prudently and on the right type of ground. This gave them an opportunity to grow alfalfa or corn for feed. In many other cases, very marginal hilly terrain was "developed" and there was no reason on God's green earth to try to turn this grassland into farm ground. Yes, it became a fad, and ranchers and developers couldn't buy irrigation systems fast enough. The early lesson of "don't plow the Sandhills" had been forgotten. Once again, the winds and occasional gully-washing rains caused much erosion on the torn up hilly fields. Another offshoot of the irrigation was the "big blue tombstones" which were high-priced silos in which to store all that extra feed. Many ranchers and investors soon regretted their decisions to try to be farmers, and many went broke trying. Lesson Learned for the Second Time, was "don't plow the Sandhills, stupid."

When I was a young boy, there were three main breeds of cattle--Herefords, Angus, and Shorthorns. The foolish fad at the time was to see how small of a bovine you could breed. Photos of that era show mature cows and bulls barely as tall as the belt on an average sized person. Unbelievably, these dink purebred breeding cattle sold for a lot of money. Even in those days, feeder cattle sold at a price per pound. With heavier calves bringing more dollars per head because there were more pounds to sell, it seems unreal that these dink cattle ever caught on. It wasn't long before dwarfism entered the picture, and had artificial insemination been in vogue at the time, whole breeds of cattle could have been irreparably ruined. Lesson Learned was, "cattle can be too small".

If cattle can be too small, by golly let's turn things around. The pendulum soon swung just as far in the other direction. Gargantuan continental breeds of cattle entered the picture. Foolish fads again prevailed. No matter what their original hair color, a lot of fine folks suffered a series of "blonde moments" and caution was thrown to the winds. One particular breed of kickaneenee cattle should have been put on the race track, or in steeplechase jumping competition. Dispositions of cattle suffered, along with those of their caretakers. Fences had to be made taller. Lesson Learned was, "possibly cattle can be too big". Moderation might prevail after all.

There has been a multitude of smaller and less momentous fad-following. Flat-bed pickups are all the rage. Conventional wisdom is to buy a new thirty thousand dollar pickup, take off the regular box and store it overhead in the rafters of a shop, and then spend another two thousand dollars to put on a flat-bed. Then when you drive across the pastures and get home in the evening you can wonder, "well, what happened to that brand-new spool of wire that was on there?" Had the original box been left on the pickup in the first place, this would not be a problem. Unfortunately, there is no Lesson Learned. Flat-bed pickups seem to be here to stay.

Cowboy apparel fads that have come and gone, with some here to stay, include: three-and-a-half-inch flat-crowned cowboy hats with five-inch brims, tall seven-inch crown "Hoss" hats, needle-point-toed cowboy boots, square-toed cowboy boots, sleeveless shirts to show off those biceps, tee-shirts with cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve, blue jeans with cuffs, blue jeans with a seam sewed down the front, blue jeans with a two-inch slit so they fit down over your boots and drag the ground, polka-dotted railroader caps, good cowhands wearing baseball caps, chinks (a neighbor worked out in Nevada in the 'forties' and I am sure he had the first pair of chinks in Cherry County), and there are others, including cowboys with hair too long. Lesson Learned, "wear what you want to wear, and wear what suits your needs and tickles your fancy".

Horses even have to suffer with fads, though they have nothing to say in the matter. Roached mane was all the rage at one time; now it is tails that drag the ground, which can't help but pick up sandburs and dirt. Saddles have run the gamut from the flat-topped padded-seat roping variety to A-fork saddles with bucking rolls, and everthing in between. Some cowboy-types don't even use rope straps (they carry their lariats in their hands to be ever ready) and they don't have tie-strings on their saddles (what do they do, tie their jackets around their horse's neck when they get too warm?).

It becomes a fad to join certain organizations. Pyramid schemes have reeled in their share of fad-following folks, until there are no more suckers at the bottom of the pond to bite the hook.

If a feller lives long enough, he can see it all. I hate to admit it, but yes, I have also jumped after some of these afore-mentioned fads. Hopefully, I've learned some lessons from my experiences. The motto I try to live by is: "Moderation in all things." It is best to go pretty much down the middle of the road. Stay on the right (conservative) side, don't go left of the center line because you might get hit by oncoming traffic, and stay away from the extremes or you might end up in the ditch. There is the saying, "Lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way." I am no leader; I don't follow worth a darn; but I do try to stay clear the heck out of the way. :)
All great advice Soapweed. One saying I use when looking for bulls is "Moderation in excess" . Don't you just hate those tails dragging on the ground. Looks as if they would foul a horse that really had to do something. :cowboy:
Some other fads that come to mind, in which fortunes have been won or lost, include the raising of Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, ostriches, and buffalo. In farm country, it was Jerusalem artichokes. The artichokes supposedly were high in protein, and it was figured that a use for them would be invented. Anyone selling seedstock was in the driver's seat for awhile, but the last I knew, they turned into just another noxious weed. Haven't heard anything about them for twenty years, so maybe the artichokes amount to something by now.

Back to the "fad" animals, ranches were bought and paid for with proceeds from selling ostriches. They were worth oodles of money, even just for a fertilized egg, but now they're not worth the feed they eat. Pot-bellied pigs were once worth a pretty penny, and a pile of profit could be procured, but now the price is purely pathetic. When Ted Turner was first stocking up his vast land acquisitions, anyone having buffalo for sale was sure in the driver's seat. Now it appears more lucrative to be running cattle on ranchland rather than buffalo.

Fads come and go, and it is definitely more fun and profitable to start a fad rather than to follow one. With poor timing, it is pretty easy to lose your shirt-tail, and everything underneath it.
Hey Soapweed just think what the next 50 will bring for new fads to follow or be taken in by. I try and not get into the fads, just stay with what is working for me
I remember all the girls wearing the polka-dotted railroader caps, LOL, had forgotten about that. The roaches manes I am glad are gone, my dad always the left hand with mane and reins when he crawled on a bronc. The tails were pulled to short and horse couldn't swat a fly if he wanted to. Remember everyone hauling horses in stock racks for awhile before horse trailors became a must. We usually rode to and back, but came in handy to get to the neighbors, or load them in the back of a grain truck with the racks on. Horses eyes were full of dust, then they came out with the googles to put on them. Never tried these, but sure made the horse look cool.
It is sad to hear not all fads are in the East! I thought we had the total burden.
Also thought you folks would surely be immune to fad folly. Another myth busted on the Ranchersnet :cry: :mad:
Just so you know, that lawyer was prosecuted, and served time in the slammer for his contributions to society. He was from my town.
Fads continue to come and go. A current fad among the male gender seems to be the "scruffy" look. It consists of not shaving for several days, but not committing to growing a beard either. The first person that I recall doing this was Lee Greenwood back in the day. An adjective that used to be considered complimentary was "clean shaven." That seems to mean nothing anymore.

Don't mind me. I just like to have something to talk about. One of my long-time acquaintances writes a column. He is like me and says what he thinks. I always thought he should end with the words--"The Caustic Cowboy, writing off into the sunset." Maybe that is what I should use instead. :)
I sort of thought Facebook would be a fad. I'm not on it. My wife is. Looks like way too much minutiae to sort through.
Traveler said:
I sort of thought Facebook would be a fad. I'm not on it. My wife is. Looks like way too much minutiae to sort through.

Facebook is a fad, as is Ranchers.net. In fact each could be considered an addiction. I enjoy them both, and suffer minor withdrawals when away from either one.
Nesikep said:
All the points made there are totally true....

So when is the black hide fad ending?

Man you have made 2 posts and you go to a poking a bear with a sharp stick, Who do you think you are?

Leonardo DiCaprio? :lol: :lol:

For those of you not up to speed, Leo played Hugh Glass in Revenent and was mauled by a bear.
Nesikep said:
All the points made there are totally true....

So when is the black hide fad ending?

There's 2 kinds of cattle in the world Black Angus Cattle and ALL the rest.

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