In an exchange parroted ad nauseam with my buddies with every charming ounce of teenage wit available to us in the mid-2000s, two movie pirates discuss their Plan B, should Plan A go awry:

Marchant tyrell
Editor / Progressive Cattle

“What if the worst should happen?” queries first mate Joshamee Gibbs.

Succinctly and decisively, Captain Jack Sparrow replies, “Keep to the Code.”

“The Code” refers to the Code of the Pirate Brethren, and it’s referred to throughout The Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise as a sort of constitution by which all pirates conduct their lives and business. The Code is a lot of things, but it is definitely not concrete. It’s both logical and insane, adhered to via simultaneous devotion to honor and self. As Captain Hector Barbossa (portrayed flawlessly by Geoffrey Rush) intones, in perhaps the best line in a movie chock-full of great lines, “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”

At some point in my formal education in the art of written communication, I was told that one of the great beauties of the English language is that you can break any rule, just so long as you know you’re breaking it. It’s a maxim that, much like the Code, rings even truer in practice than as an academic exercise. For example, from the most technical of standpoints, ain’t ain’t a word. However, when ain’t is employed sparingly and in the right context, it ain’t a big deal.


Of course, the concept of rules as guidelines applies in a myriad of settings, particularly in the realm of raising beef cattle professionally.

Odds are, you can’t graze a pasture in 2024 the way your granddaddy knew with certainty was the best way to graze it. Heck, you probably need to graze it differently than you yourself did a decade ago. The cattle on your place surely look different than they did in yesteryear. The practices that make or save your operation money – be they related to nutrition, equipment, genetics, marketing, technology or the very dirt under your feet – are ever-changing. And, every tweak was launched by someone – you, a neighbor or some so-called expert – who had to test the boundaries and maybe break a few rules to find out what was possible.

The goalposts may seem like they’re always moving, but cattle producers are more than mere players in the game. Trite as it may sound, you fine folks wield the power to change the way the game is played – even to switch up what game is being played. Your operation’s priorities may change, but that doesn’t have to mean you’re straying from the fundamental values and principles that make you and your family proud to be you.

To me, the overarching premise of the Code is an unwavering trust in oneself. Even if a decision doesn’t pan out as you planned, you’re still fully, often uniquely, capable of making the right call next time around. Circumstances may arise that you can’t control, much less foresee. A healthy horse might drop dead in the middle of the night. A vicious blizzard might tear through in the heart of calving. Diesel prices may jump to $5 a gallon. The rain simply may not come for months on end. But, should the worst happen, you know what to do:

Keep to the Code.