Pancakes and the Great Plains

Grandkids are great!  I spent this morning in full blown Grandpa mode, having fun with my four grandkids from Wichita.  They are here because their mom (my daughter) was enjoying a banquet that was being held at UNL in honor of one of her best friends who had also graduated from UNL (neither of them could believe that they had been out of college this long.)  Following blueberry pancakes (which I am pretty good at making, if I may say so myself), we went to Oxbow to see the animals, and then to the Henry Doorly Zoo Wildlife Safari, which is just a few miles from Oxbow.  It is a sprawling collection of different animals and birds native to the Great Plains.  We were lucky to see every species that is claimed on the brochure, including bison, elk, deer, eagles, hawks, bobcats, wolves, bear, and numerous birds.  The kids had a great time and grandpa was pooped.

May Snow and Other Surprises

As I stood scraping wet, heavy snow from my truck windshield on the first day of May, I couldn’t help but think first about how twisted Mother Nature’s sense of humor can be.  When I finally got over the seeming cruelty of the joke (after my gloves were soaked through), my thoughts shifted to the global truth that no amount of planning can prepare us for the situations in which we sometimes find ourselves.     

One of the most valuable assets you can have in business (and life) is the ability to be adaptable.  Ask any farmer if planting or harvest season has gone exactly as planned.  After they finish chuckling, they will be likely to offer a rundown of broken parts, uncooperative weather, and miscellaneous other issues that caused problems or delays. 

Likewise, my team at Oxbow is trained to think on their feet.  When problems arise, they know they’re trusted to make decisions in the best interest of the company and the customers who rely on us.  I’m proud of the job they do, and always do my best to let them know it.   

As expected, the May snow didn’t stick around long - just long enough to remind us that we’re not ever completely in control.  I don’t expect any more snow to fall for months, but I think I’ll keep the scraper handy…just in case.

Symbiosis

It has long been believed that animals offer health benefits to those who care for them.  Pets have been linked to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and less depression in their caretakers.  I recently read an article citing a study that showed children with Autism were more inclined to be social, smile, and practice eye contact when in the presence of animals.  Pretty powerful stuff.  

Having been in the pet industry for many years, I have firsthand experience with the power of the bond between animals and their caretakers.  My company’s customers are the best in the business for many reasons – foremost among them their commitment to the health and wellbeing of their pets.  When our customers’ animals hurt, they hurt.  When their animals suffer anxiety, so too do they.  For me, there’s no denying the bond between pet and pet parent.  It’s something I see every day.

At times, it’s easy to view the relationship between pet and caretaker as one-sided.  In reality, it’s symbiotic.  Just as we take care of our pets, they take care of us as well. 

The Best Medicine

When walking through the Oxbow offices, production area, warehouse, or grounds, there are many common sounds you are likely to hear: the chatter of keyboards, the rumble of tractors, the whir of machinery, and Mother Nature on repeat in the nearby creek bed and tree lines.  These sounds represent work, motion and, most importantly, life.  Meanwhile, there’s another equally common sound I hear every day at Oxbow.  It’s one I wouldn’t trade for anything: the sound of laughter. 

Laughter is universal.  It’s a way to express humor, joy, and even frustration.  Hearing laughter tells me that my team members enjoy the work they perform – that they are comfortable with and trust one another.  For as hard as everyone works at our company, there are always prevailing notes of optimism, humor and cheer.  I’m generally among those laughing – at jokes, minor slip ups, and myself.  If I didn’t hear laughter from others and myself, I would know something was wrong.

To laughter.           

Oxbow

Many visitors to Oxbow remark of how surprised they are that our business is a part of a working farm.  They don’t expect hay fields and other farm land to border the Oxbow campus on all sides.  These visitors are even more surprised when I explain the meaning behind the Oxbow name.  The name “Oxbow” pays homage to the Oxbow Trail – a passageway for settlers, miners, freighters and soldiers that passed not only through the Murdock area, but directly through our farm.  Wagon ruts from the original Oxbow travelers can still be seen on the farm.  They are a powerful reminder not only of our country’s history, but of the power of the human spirit and the sacrifices made in the name of a better life.

I think often of those who passed over the land my family has had the honor of stewarding for five generations.  In a way, each Oxbow product that enters the market honors the hopes, dreams, and sacrifices of these pioneers.  Working to live up to the Oxbow name and all of its symbolism is a tall order – one that helps me and everyone at my company be at our very best each day.

Engler Entrepreneurs

Last week, a special group of young people stopped by Oxbow for a tour and Q&A session.  The group was from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln’s Engler Agricultural Entrepreneurship Program.  The Engler Program was created with the support of the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation and is designed to facilitate entrepreneurship potential. 

As a native Nebraskan and UNL graduate, Paul Engler went on to start the world's largest privately owned cattle feeding operation.  Paul is a native of Stuart, Nebraska and started down the entrepreneurial path at a very young age, working at his father’s gas station for fifty cents a day at age nine and buying his first cattle herd at age twelve.  He donated $20 million to create the Engler Agricultural Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.  His generosity will foster agricultural entrepreneurship in young Nebraskans and UNL students for many years.          

I feel honored to serve on the advisory board for the Engler Entrepreneurship Program.  Being associated with and helping uphold Paul’s vision is an honor and important responsibility.  As I told last week’s group, my goal is to help young, aspiring entrepreneurs start out with the knowledge that took me thirty years to learn.  Helping the next generation of entrepreneurs with a head start in this regard can only help to strengthen the future of business for all of us.  

To learn more about the Engler Entrepreneurship Program, click here.

Grandkids: Part Three

Record snow in Wichita!  My daughter, Angie, reported 14+” in Wichita last week alone.  When my youngest granddaughter (from this daughter) said it was the “most fun ever,” Grandpa was a little hurt because he wasn’t a part of it.  Even though I wasn’t there, I was glad that we also received a good amount of snow for cover for our fields, plus moisture for growing our crops next year.  As I mentioned a few entries back, it is still terribly dry, and hopefully the weather pattern is starting to change, as we are expecting more moisture in the forecast moving forward.

New Oxbow Sales Team

People at Oxbow don’t call me “boss” for no reason.  Just kidding…they don’t call me “boss.”  All the same, as the founder of Oxbow I often think of the future and do my best to predict what it will take to strengthen and grow the company.  Growing sales is a big part of being successful.  With this is mind, I’m pleased to introduce the future sales team for Oxbow, at least in the Minneapolis/St Paul area.  These three Miller granddaughters were with their father recently and stopped at a local pet store to admire Grandpa’s passion (not Grandma in this instance, but Oxbow.)  When they hit the sales force in a few years, I’m predicting things will be nothing but UP for Oxbow sales.

Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hosting a group of visitors from a local Future Farmers of America group.  The group came to Oxbow to learn about the history of our business and tour the facilities.  I can’t speak for other business owners, but I really enjoy giving tours of my business.  Telling the Oxbow story never gets old, and I find that describing my business to visitors helps me understand it even more acutely. 

I especially enjoy meeting with groups of young people.  There’s something very inspiring about the inherent enthusiasm, energy and drive of young people who aspire to build their own businesses.  They don’t have to say a word; you can see their dreams in their eyes. 

I’ve spoken before about how much I value the freedoms we possess as Americans.  The freedom to succeed is a sacred one, but so too is the freedom to fail.  Without failure, the successes would not be nearly as meaningful.  I wish great success to all young, aspiring entrepreneurs and offer them the following advice:

Celebrate every success.  Engrain every failure.  Learn at every turn. 

Family, Winter and Weather

I like to remind my daughters, who have 7 grandchildren between them, that “grandchildren are affirmation as to why we didn’t strangle our children.”  And this week confirms this feeling.  Pat and I are babysitting our 3 little granddaughters from Minnesota while their parents (our daughter and son-in-law) are enjoying a much needed vacation at some warm, sunny resort.  We have had a blast.  

Yesterday, I took the girls sledding out across some of our timothy grass fields, where there was barely enough snow left for sledding.  We actually spent 10% of our time and trip crossing the bare grass just to get to the next patch of snow.  The whole event was a lot of fun, but it reinforces concerns about how dry our weather continues to be.  We are still rated as being in “exceptional drought” by the US Weather Service.  So, it’s a very real possibility that crop quality and supply will continue to be an issue for a majority of farmers in 2013.

To reinforce what I have posted previously, Oxbow is very fortunate to be partnered with the country’s best hay growers – farmers in climates conducive to producing the best materials possible.  At the same time, it’s important to remember that we are all affected by difficult weather patterns when they come.  With this is mind, I’ll be saying a few weather-related prayers, and let’s all keep our fingers crossed for better conditions this year to improve the quality of hay and crops for growers everywhere.

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