When Reflexes go against Reflection

by Bruno Langlois

To ensure their survival, most living beings developed reflexes. According to our trusted Oxford dictionaries, the word means “An action that is performed without conscious thought as a response to a stimulus.” To ensure their survival, most living beings have acquired reflexes, which are defined as actions that are performed without conscious thought as a response to a stimulus. Very quick reactions, free of consideration, when faced with a situation. 

In most cases, reflexes are beneficial – like when tripping over something or when a body part is exposed to extreme heat for example. However, a too hasty response enacted without reflection may occasionally make matters worse. Let me illustrate: Driving along the road and suddenly an animal jumps out from the bush to your right. A collision seems inevitable. You steer the vehicle to the left to avoid the hit. But you’ve deviated onto the other lane, which unfortunately has an oncoming vehicle. You can imagine the rest.

Why am I bringing this up? Simple, the lack of fodder across a large portion of the Quebec landscape, including a greater part of eastern Ontario, over the past summer seems to have triggered certain survival reflexes in many calf-cow operations: Finding fodder at all costs (the search for ‘abandoned’ fields), reducing expenses to compensate for future fodder purchases (at a very high cost), speedy sale of a part of the herd, etc.

Were these very normal reactions to pastureland having been sun-scorched by the 20th of July while the first cut was barely worth 60% of its average historic yield really going to save a business? Or will these reactions make the situation even more precarious?

Will the fodder fed to cows in late summer, fall and throughout the winter be able to maintain their reproductive efficiency and keep the damage from spreading over the next two or three years? Will there be any short-term income because the calves gained weight and looked good? In short, is there (or would there have been) any other way to deal with this?  

For example, have you clearly identified non gestating cows by the end of the breeding season? Have you examined creep feeding techniques or early weening? Do you currently have a feed program that suits your situation when wintering the herd, and allow you to maximise the use of your forage stocks while respecting your financial capabilities?


Reflection, Action … and Prevention

All of these questions make us realise that, since there is nearly a non-existent risk for a business to die off in a fraction of a second, the use of a human being’s survival reflexes (rapid reactions without any aforethought) is impractical, even risky, when applied to decisions that can impact the herd.

Faced with threatening situations, there is obviously a need to react, but wishful thinking is inevitably the worse alternative. However, before any kind of reaction there should be some reflection. In a large number of cases, talking with a consultant could help sprout an idea that is out of the normal framework, perhaps even contrary to your instinctual reflexes.

The consultant could even talk to you about prevention in the future. And that’s what we are proposing for the upcoming winter: Contact your Opti Bœuf expert consultant to find out about the strategies you can implement should there be a shortage of fodder.

Finally, allow me to share a definition of the word “reflection”: The quality of a person who avoids making hasty and/or precipitous decisions, but takes the time to examine all potential solutions.”

Bruno Langlois's picture

Bruno is agronomist and has a passion for beef production. He has extensive experience of almost 30 years in animal production. He is a specialist consultant in beef production at La Coop fédérée.