I am proud that my husband and I have been able to join my parents on the family cattle operation. We may have taken the long way back, but I always knew that I wanted to come home and work with my parents. Ranching is tough – long days spent in the heat, the bitter cold and in the saddle. Hours spent fixing fence and doctoring cattle. The wages don’t always cover the expenses, so I suppose it is a good thing we generally have a good sense of humor.
Ranchers are not strangers to hard times. We endure volatile markets, violent weather, disease, drought and people who have no idea about what it takes to feed animals and other people. If you didn’t grow up in a ranching family, it is hard to understand why anyone would go back and live this way. It is a daily occurrence for me to get strange looks from people who ask me what I want to do when I grow up and I answer with “go home and ranch with my family.”
According to the USDA, the average age of an American rancher is 57 years old. These are people who have been busting their humps their entire lives, people who have shaped the face of agriculture as we now know it. Although they may be aging, they are still very much in control of their operations and are facing new challenges every day. They may have a little more gray hair and may look a little more weathered than when they started out, but they are still here, still laying the groundwork for the next generations to come. Who is going to fill those shoes? Who is going to continue their legacy of conservation, sustainability and animal husbandry?
I have to admit that when it comes to people my age and younger, I am often left shaking my head and wondering where our parents went wrong. Very few young people can carry on a conversation unless it is via text message, and if it isn’t found online, it can’t be true. When I hear my parents and friends discussing the future of the cattle business, it saddens me to know that there isn’t a lot of faith in my generation. We have given ourselves a black eye thanks to our penchant for technology, electronics and lack of face-to-face interaction.
Even though it feels like that is the majority, there are plenty of us who believe in things like hard work, morals and respect for those who came before us. It is hard to be told we will never be as good as our parents, that the future of agriculture is in a precarious position. I hope that we can wisely overcome and flourish like generations before; our generation is going to have to work twice as hard to do an even better job than those before us, thanks to social media and an increasing population that is scared of the things they don’t understand.
So to our parents and other elders, I have this to say: Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, for involving us in your operations and for being such positive influences on us that you have made us want to come back and work alongside you. Thank you for working your butts off to provide for us and the rest of our country.
I hope we can prove to you we care about our livestock and our crops as much as you do, that we are committed to carrying on the legacy you have passed on to us. We might go about things in a completely different way, but I hope you know we couldn't do this without you, that we don’t want to do this without you and that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you. Thank you for believing in us. I hope we make you proud.
Richelle Barrett is a part-time cattle rancher and full-time wife and mother on a north-central Montana operation. You can learn more about her on her blog.
PHOTO: The bond built by working with another generation on the ranch starts young and lasts a lifetime. Photo by Richelle Barrett.