Lessons Learned from the Best Cow Man Ever: Red Larson
September 2, 2020
Red Larson died on July 17, 2020, in Okeechobee, Fla., at age 96. He was an honorable man and a legend in the dairy industry. He was the best cow man I have ever known. As with many of us who do what I do, we often learn much more from a client than we impart to them.
Here are seven lessons learned from Larson about dairying and business:
> Treat people with respect. As he did with me, he treated everyone with respect — managers, employees, advisers and suppliers. He garnered respect in return.
> Respect your cattle. I refer to Larson as a “cow man”, not a dairyman, because he loved and respected his cattle. It showed in the way he constantly strived to improve his husbandry skills.
> Give second chances. It was a little daunting when Larson hired me to take over the nutrition at the largest herd in the country in 1988. He told me you get a second chance at Larson Dairy. Larson gave his heifers a second chance too. He rarely culled a first calf heifer for low production. I think this was because he respected his animals versus strictly a financial decision.
> Observe and learn from other operations. In the late 80s, Larson Dairy was feeding “one shot” rations in flat barns. After observing the efficiency of feeding commodities in California and Arizona, they built their first freestall with a commodity barn for 2,000 cows in 1992.
> Sustainability means having a business plan that will survive. After importing alfalfa hay from Idaho for a couple of years, Larson decided it was not a sustainable business plan. We could grow corn silage on the rich muck soils of south Florida and grass for silage on the sand. This became the new business model for feeding his cows and still is to this day.
> Be decisive but do not make snap decisions. To address an important issue, I would write Larson a well-thought-out letter. He would read and study the letter then weigh all his options. One of those letters pointed out our feed efficiency improved by about 20% every time we fed cows in freestalls versus feed troughs in the pasture because 20% ended up on the ground. This sealed his decision to continue to get cows into freestalls.
> Fund and support university research. Larson helped fund cow comfort and heat stress research efforts at University of Florida. Dry cow cooling paid off in trials, so he built a freestall for close-up and far-off dry cows. Not that long ago, the family purchased a dairy with a new freestall barn and converted it to a dry cow and transition facility. The Larson’s are also building a 600-cow freestall barn for far-off dry cows. Larson got to see it go up before he died.