Phew – what a year! You know the old saying about time flying when you’re having fun? As 2014 draws to a close, I can safely say the year has flown. From a record-setting year in the markets to changes at Drovers CattleNetwork to improve our service you, and from adding a sweet baby girl to our family to being a partner and sounding board to my husband as he transitioned from ranch hand to owning his own herd – it’s been fun!

Let’s recap.

In January, the rally in the marketplace kicked into high gear. At the onset of the month, fats were averaging around $130, feeders were around $160 and bred heifers were bringing about $1,600. The nation’s cattle herd was reported at 87.7 million, the lowest since 1951. Talk of herd expansion grew a little louder as the January 1 USDA inventory report indicated a 2 percent increase in beef replacement heifers.

Now a full 11 months later, the fed prices have topped $170, feeders have recently averaged $240 and higher, and bred heifers across the country averaged more than $2,100 per head in November (with reports of some nearing the $3,000 since). There’s more, beef demand is humming, with a nearly 4 percent increase in beef demand in the third quarter of 2014, according to an analysis by K-State’s Glynn Tonsor, and cow-calf returns are projected to finish the year higher than $500. For any doubters left in the room – the cattle cycle is on.

It’s not been all roses for U.S. cattle producers this year and much of the consternation has come from Washington, D.C. While passage of the Farm Bill brought positives like disaster assistance for livestock producers (read more in this month’s I’m a Drover feature on House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas), policy issues remain that could impact the future of the industry. Pending trade agreements within the Pacific region and with the European Union have potential to remove trade barriers, but negotiators haven’t been able to reach consensus yet. The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled again against the United States’ mandatory country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) law, and if not resolved, our largest trading partners could retaliate in the form of sanctions on U.S. products. Beyond that, the White House is working to address antibiotic resistance; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed to change the definition of “waters of the United States” to expand its jurisdiction over water throughout the country; work continues on the next set of dietary guidelines, which will affect nutrition policy for the next five years; President Obama is attempting to make major changes to our country’s immigration system via executive action; Secretary Vilsack is contemplating creating a second beef checkoff program; and the list could go on. For brevity’s sake – now, maybe more than ever before, cattle producers need to get to know their members of Congress and engage with them regularly on issues affecting our industry.

This year has also been a year of change at Drovers CattleNetwork. Both in the magazine and on cattlenetwork.com, we’ve worked to better serve you. We’ve strengthened our bench of expert contributors – from stockmanship and selection strategies (check out guest editorials in this issue from Whit Hibbard and Lee Leachman) to policy insight and “Showmom Diaries” online. Beyond that, cattlenetwork.com recently received a facelift. The sleek, photo-friendly design continues to deliver timely, accurate information covering all segments of the industry but also includes improved function for access from mobile devices and more.

There is always room for improvement, though, so we will continue to think innovatively as we begin 2015 to further deliver the highest-quality products and information to help our partners in the industry reach their goals and to provide our readers with the information they need to in order to make sound decisions on their operation. Stay tuned for more!

And to close this out, this year has been about family. Late July brought about the biggest change of all with the birth of our daughter. Though the hours of sleep are less and diapers are getting dirtier by the week, Sheridan Ann has brought more joy to our lives than we knew was possible. While she doesn’t have much need for boots just yet, her horse is picked out and we can’t wait to bring her along as we work on the ranch in the future. In addition to learning the ropes of parenthood, my husband and I have learned that there’s a big difference between working alongside our parents on a ranching operation and owning a herd of cows. It’s not just about feeding, breeding, branding and vaccinating any longer – it’s about making the decisions, paying the bills, and hopefully, taking a check to the bank to allow us to do it all again next year. It’s a family business.

In closing, may each of you and all of your loved ones have a happy, healthy and blessed holiday season. It’s been a wild ride in 2014, and we look forward to continuing the fun in 2015 and beyond.