Sort & Cull

Putting Old Yeller Down

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

If you're the kind of social animal who prefers serious conversation over sentimentality, well-harnessed reason over random emotion and dry-eyed critiques over sodden hankies, I'm probably one blind date best kept in the dark.

To put the awkward matter straight, I tend to be a bit on the weepy side -- especially at this time of year. Regardless whether the spot trigger is a family reunion, sappy commercials or even a disappointing display of meat packer demand, I often find it tough to stoically control the waterworks.

Some of us are wired to spit bullets like Navy Seals, while others are left with psychological circuits more in tune with pastry chefs and seminary students.

Biology. Whataya gonna do?

Take, for example, the other night when my wife and I were watching the seasonal classic "It's a Wonderful Life" for the 200th time. Now I'm not about to confess as a complete, heart-gushing basket case. Believe me, I always scoff and chortle with the toughest of you whenever Mr. Potter mocks the Bailey school of finance or when Clarence regularly displays a general lack of angelic intelligence.

Yet you can set your cold clock by my gasping attempt to hold back the tears through the final scene when George's neighbors come to his rescue, staving off the bloodless examiners from the state with their life savings. Just moments after his wonderfully befriended brother is about to be cuffed for bank fraud and embezzlement, Harry nails the whole movie: "A toast to my big brother George: the richest man in town."

There's only one other piece of cinematic schmaltz that can cause me to become unglued, shamelessly sobbing like a little girl lost in the woods. Let matter-of-fact agrarians chuckle at the plot of Walt Disney's 1957 melodrama "Old Yeller," as if it's no more moving than a volume of operational farming procedures published by Oklahoma State.

Something tells me I'm not the only crier in the crowd who still plows around the burial site of his last dog. Yes, denial can be more than a river in Egypt.

At any rate, I for one choke up and turn red-faced just thinking about the story of an old yellow lab that develops a love/hate relationship with a struggling pioneer family named Coate. Older brother Travis took an instant dislike of the big stray mutt, especially given the way he stole meat from the smokehouse and devoured farmyard chickens.

On the other hand, "Yeller" wormed his way into the heart of the family by repeatedly rescuing younger brother Arlis from a brown bear, feral hogs and a rabid wolf. Tragically, the latter attack causes our canine hero to go savage with rabies, forcing Travis with the harsh necessity of putting the courageous dog down.

Father Jim returns from hunting cattle in Kansas right before the curtain goes down, explaining to his grieving family about the great cycle of life and how "Old Yeller" simply represented an unavoidable combination of happy and sad endings. At least, that's about all my traumatized ears seem to remember.

For some reason, these odd, albeit entertaining, flashbacks have dawned on me in the waning market days of 2018. Maybe it's because the mismatch of any agricultural price period is always a jumble of happy and sad endings. Maybe it's because ultimate market equations turn as much on emotional response as the uncompromising calculus of fundamentals.

Faced with the daunting probability of record annual red meat production last January, many cattle feeders no doubt felt like hapless citizens of Bedford Falls, sadly convinced that a few more bridge-jumpers could only help price and profit potential ahead.

On the other hand, the Trumpian declaration of trade war last spring fitfully separated U.S. grain farmers into dog lovers and dog haters, one side envisioning a new export version of man's best friend, the other side fearing a costly slide in global hand-licking and domestication.

Nearly 12 months later, once self-doubting beef producers find themselves inspired and largely well-heeled thanks to the unexpected strength of domestic and foreign demand. Way to go, Clarence, for finally growing those wings.

Unfortunately, the late-year assessment of grain farmers and traders regarding the effectiveness of tit-for-tat tariffs remains extremely difficult. If trade wars are truly "short and easily won," there still may be hope for Yeller's destructive fever to break. Yet correct and fruitful marketing decisions seldom evolve without some happy or sad misting of the eyes.

The hard option of putting the great dog down may fall in that category.

John Harrington can be reached at



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1/23/2019 | 7:13 PM CST
Wow that's a fantastic analogy. Great job John. The rest of the planet (except Russia) has wept and gnashed teeth wondering where this is all leading. Sorry for your division and unrealistic fears. Poor US has been taken advantage of! Rabies might be a reasonable explanation for these ideas, more likely Miller. We will enjoy access to the other markets without you.