“Always look inside your hat before you put it on, and never wear lace-up work boots to ride a horse. Cowboy boots have pointy toes for a reason.”
Growing up in rural Idaho, black lace-up ropers were the “it” shoe of the 1990s. And I, of course, owned a beautiful pair of black cherry-colored lace-up boots for school and an old pair of beat-up slip-on boots for riding. My dad’s rule was no lace-ups in the stirrups, and I never really understood why – until I watched a heck of a wreck that had my dad limping for weeks and my horse on the auction block.
Dad was able to keep medical costs low because his foot came out of his boot about halfway during my horse’s run to the house while he inadvertently practiced his trick-riding techniques. After witnessing this, I’ve never bought a boot my foot couldn’t slip out of in case of emergency landing. The wisdom of one generation passed on to the next.
The different generations alive today
Generations are hard to define. They are an abstract topic with fuzzy dates that determine one from the next. Generations are grouped by age with world events and news, along with the media, providing perceptions that assign stereotypes and definitions to each group. Family cattle businesses need to avoid making generalized opinions of an entire age bracket.
Instead, operations should understand and value the strengths and weaknesses of each generation and see the contribution each can make to the business of raising quality beef.
Traditionalists were born before 1946. They are also known as the “greatest generation,” a title coined by Tom Brokaw. Living through the Great Depression and World War II certainly grants them the prestige of this name.
Brokaw even claims, “This is the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” No pressure for the rest of us, right?
Baby boomers were born between 1943 and 1960. With the average age of a farmer being 58, this is a pretty important generation to pay attention to.
When they were younger, they were the first to grow up with a television in their homes. The vast majority of baby boomers born on farms didn’t stay. They left for other opportunities.
Generation X children were born between 1960 and 1980. This was the first generation of latchkey kids. These kids came home after school to an empty house because both parents now worked outside of the home, so they know how to care for themselves.
Millennials, born 1980 to 1995, are perceived as needing constant coddling and have a sense of entitlement due to being spoiled by their parents. They were born into a child-focused world and, as children, had schedules to keep.
This is one of the most-studied groups ever. They are a very social generation and are good at collaboration and very good multi-taskers. So good in fact, that there are studies showing they are reprogramming how their brain works. They are also starting to have significant buying power in the economy.
Generation Z was born from 1996-2010. They don’t remember a time before smartphones and social media. They are digital natives. There aren’t a lot of studies of this group yet, as they are still maturing.
The attributes of these living generations are very different. Many have seen war in their time, terrorism, advancing technology, cures to diseases, corrupt politics, economic booms and economic hardships. However, they have all experienced them differently, and that’s what sets each group apart from each other.
Different generations – different solutions
Multiple generations in the same workplace or, more specifically, the same livestock operation, is common. A lack of understanding or empathy among these different-aged employees can really put a large burden on a business and, sometimes, a family.
Here’s an example: Let’s say a new plant has been found in a pasture that no one on the ranch has seen before. How would each generation deal with this imposter?
- Traditionalists and baby boomers take detailed notes of the plant and then take a sample back to the house and scan through all of the reference books until it is found. As a last resort, they call the county agriculture agent to come out for a visit and identify it.
- Generation X recalls hearing about a new weed at last year’s livestock meeting. Calls the county weed superintendent that had given a presentation on the weed to find out more information.
- Millennials take a picture of the plant using a smartphone and then post it to Facebook or text friends asking for help identifying it. Scan through all the comments and look for the most common answer given.
- Generation Z takes a picture of the plant using a smartphone. Adds the picture to an image search app and lets the phone find the answer.
None of these methods are wrong – and will probably all lead to the right answer. But as the baby boomer is looking through the books and the “kid is playing on the phone,” it may lead to some misunderstandings.
Using younger generation’s skills on the ranch
Because technology is almost a sixth sense for many people under the age of 35, using smartphones or tablets that can connect to the Internet in the pasture can be a big benefit. For instance, pasture or rangeland photo monitoring using the GrassSnap app can be done quickly, and all the data is stored almost immediately and leads to accurate recordkeeping.
Another application would be to download the NUBeef-BCS to track and record body condition scores of your herd at different times of the year.
Another great tool that can be used on a smartphone or tablet is the IRM Redbook Excel Spreadsheet. This is free to download from the website (Redbook Worksheet). The information can be added right into the spreadsheet, and it is set up just like the traditional red pocket book many ranchers already use for field recordkeeping.
Technology can also be a very effective tool for marketing cattle. Many younger people will shop with their phone in hand. It not only stores their shopping list but also has access to a wealth of information on the product they may purchase. Having a Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram account of your operation can put a face and name to your beef products.
Whether it be someone looking for a bull to purchase or seeing a farm name on a product in the grocery store, millennials will tend to research before they buy. So make sure they can find good information about your product when they search.
Most families want to be able to keep many generations working together and helping each other learn the traditions of the ranching life. It’s an honorable profession and lifestyle that can benefit from different generations working together to utilize each group’s strengths and weaknesses.
References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.
- Extension Educator
- University of Idaho
- Email Tyanne Roland