The beef world is changing, but one should avoid the word chaotic because the beef world has a lot of structure and is far from disorganized. However, the incoming forces that we do not control, such as Mother Nature, are slamming us. Although the response is quite organized, those forces certainly increase our sense of losing control. In that case, chaos may not be such a bad description.

Cattle are no different from any other living thing. Rule No. 1 is that cattle must eat and meet their daily nutritional requirements. Occasional imbalances may be tolerated for short periods, but through the long haul, every cow, calf, yearling, replacement heifer, finishing calf and bull must eat. Two to 3 percent of their body weight should be consumed in dry feed every day.

Drought and excess moisture are interacting across North America to destabilize what was perceived to be a very stable feed base. Chaotic may be appropriate if you throw in the changing and demanding world of people and their desire to go beyond food by tinkering with new energy models.

Historically, great herds of ruminants always have moved with the feed. The survival of those that exist in the wild is dependent on finding a food source. Failure means death. In the most severe case, it means extinction. Cattle are no different.

Like many of their nomadic cousins, the cattle industry historically has moved to where feed availability was assured and reasonably priced. Some would even say cheap.

Therefore, we have the current cattle industry dilemma. In a modern cattle production industry that has relatively immobile facilities, what does a producer do? Even the large feedlots, if one takes the time to visit with the founder, are located based on feed availability and good neighbors who are willing to raise that feed.

Although cow-calf producers initially landlocked themselves to fence in available forage, the initial layout and fence structure was designed to accommodate the local stocking rates. It was well-understood that a pasture without forage is a pasture without cows.

Reversing the trend of decreasing cow numbers is proving to be traumatic. Why is that? Let’s return to the North Dakota Farm Management education program (http://www.ndfarmmanagement.com), along with FINBIN (http://www.finbin.umn.edu/) data from the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota. Several pieces of the model can be surmised. The future of beef rests on income and expenses.