- I lost THE book. And the binoculars, but magnifying glasses for creepers can be replaced. I LOST the BOOK in the middle of a thousand acres of wheat stubble. Each calf’s color, gender and birth date are recorded in this book. Can you imagine if a hospital lost its birth records?
- I about tipped the ranger over. Not once. Not twice. THREE times. In a 60-second time frame. I’ll ride a horse across a canyon rock slide without flinching. Put me in one of these 4-wheelie mabobbers, and I’m a complete pansy. I was perched on the edge, ready to fling myself off if it tipped over. I swallowed my heart 18 times. It’s probably enlarged now.
- The ranger incident(s) is clearly why I lost the book and binocs.
- Returning to the scene of the crime revealed the lost treasures. I’m putting them in a steel briefcase and handcuffing it to my wrist. I’m also going to write “Actually I did not wear a pocket protector or fanny pack in high school.” in Sharpie on my forehead.
- I was holding an orphan calf on my lap while driving into the barn. Trying to navigate with six feet on the gas pedal? I dropped him like he was a year’s worth of recycled newspapers, and he fell under the ranger.
- But thanks to those years I never drove race cars, I had all my quick vehicle pedal reflexes saved up. I nearly shot through the windshield, but I didn’t run over the calf. I even had an inch and a half cushion. Plus he was stunned from his ungraceful dismount. Otherwise he might have flailed his way into a pair of broken legs.
- Then while I was tagging calves, I found one in Tumbleweed Draw. It’s a sandy descent, slogging through waist-high tumbleweeds. Mama started snorting and tossing her head. She’s bluffing. I moved in closer. She started pawing up dinner plate-sized chunks of dirt. Impressive. I’ll haul her over to rototill my garden. Steepest part of the descent, and she charged up the hill. Mayday! Mayday! This is not a bluff! Launch exit strategy!
- I’m sure I looked like an overweight marshmallow in my bibs and heavy coat, backpedaling out of that draw. I worked with an old Mexican cowboy in a corral once. “Oh she’ll stop,” he told me that day. “Just stand there, and hold your ground.” I’ll hold my ground, you betcha. From a place where that cranky old broad can’t eat my face.
- I really liked this philosophy from Larry Olberding on tagging calves. “Those ear tags are just something for YOU. They mean nothing to the mother cow. She knows who her kid is.”
- All of this happened yesterday, the day I’ve officially been living the dream for a month on an Oregon ranch.
- But even when you’re living the dream, you still get dumped out of bed. It’s life’s way of reminding you Madame Reality rules this side of the tracks, not some glitter-dusted wizard out of a Disney movie.
- It doesn’t mean the dream isn’t the dream anymore. It just means your dream is putting on some miles.
They don’t make country music like they used to. That racket the new country radio stations are playing? I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t country. I’m not sure most of it is even music.
I’m grumping like an 80-year-old woman with a pipe and a rocking chair, babbling about the old days. But what happened to creative lyrics that told a real story? When did artists let go of the art of making music?
George Jones sang about it in Who’s gonna fill their shoes?
Who’s gonna fill their shoes
Who’s gonna stand that tall
Who’s gonna play the Opry
And the Wabash Cannonball
Who’s gonna give their heart and soul
To get to me and you
Lord I wonder, who’s gonna fill their shoes
And I got to wondering, who’s gonna fill the shoes and boots and lace-ups of the farmers and ranchers? While they may not be knocking on the blue-haired doors of nursing homes just yet, a lot of farmers and ranchers are on the downhill slide of life. Jesse Bussard touches on this topic of aging farmers and ranchers and young people wanting to get started in her Beef Producer blog “Future Ranchers Lack Keys: Land, Livestock and Money”.
Who is gonna fill their shoes? Is it you? If so, post a comment. Even if it’s just a short, “My name is Festus McGou, and I am [or hope to be] a pumpkin farmer.”
I don’t want folks saying they don’t make farmers and ranchers like they used to, because I don’t think that’s true. If your dream is production agriculture, then stand up and say so because there are those who need the camaraderie and others who need to hear their footprints won’t go unfilled.
The idea of a purple cow was made popular by Seth Godin in his book Purple Cow about marketing. As most things garnished with a Seth Godin stamp, the concept is brilliant.
Here’s an excerpt from the Fast Company article that launched the book:
The world is full of boring stuff — brown cows — which is why so few people pay attention. Remarkable marketing [purple cow] is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not just slapping on the marketing function as a last-minute add-on, but also understanding from the outset that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, then it’s invisible — no matter how much you spend on well-crafted advertising.
Of course Seth is talking about figurative purple cows, but what if cows really were purple?
Don’t dream your life; live your dream.
When I was a girl lying in bed waiting for sleep to claim me, I daydreamed. I made up these elaborate mind movies, and they were all about one thing: cattle ranching. Until I was pushing through high school, my biggest dream was to raise cattle. After dabbling in different directions for a few years, that dream returned in full force.
And now my dream is coming true.
Did I just type that? My dream is coming true?
It hardly feels real, but it is. I’m trading in my office space for thousands of acres and hundreds of cows. Leaving the 4-walls lifestyle for the remote corners of an Oregon ranch.
Following a dream is never perfect, and this one is no exception. I’m excited for this nose dive off the cliff of adventure, but it’s cloaked with a bittersweet cape. I love where I live. 100% of the time. These Palouse hills and the mountains of north Idaho, my blue-trimmed little house and my friends – it is my home.
But I’m not waking up each day knowing that when I’m 60 I’ll look back on a life following the trail I wanted to take. When your dream looks like cow pies and calving season, you’ve got to pull on your boots, grab a fist full of mane and take the trail that’s going to lead you over the mountain you want to climb.
Let’s get trottin’.
A cedar tree cut from the pasture. Flannel shirts. Blizzards. Overflow of food – gravy! Piling into a mid-70s Ford pick-up to tackle the backroads to grandma’s house. Reading about the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. Feeding calves. Homemade gifts.
Those are my Christmas memories. Humble, perhaps, but rich beyond any dollar amount.
Now I hear stories about how some woman punched somebody else to get an Elmo doll, sparkly doo-dad or whatever fad is happening that I don’t have any idea about. What kind of Christmas memories are those?
I’m not against giving gifts – I’m against mindless giving. And the best way I can think of to step free of the mindless giving cess pool is to do a homemade Christmas. At least once, at least partially.
Homemade gifts are chock full of love, time and thought. When you sit down to make something for someone else, giving a gift becomes a brand new thing.
Not good at making and creating? Do an IOU. For a week of doing the dishes. For a foot massage. For folding the laundry. For mowing the yard. For control of the remote. For just about anything, as long as it holds significance for the person receiving the IOU note.
It’d be a pretty great gift if my future husband were to hand me an envelope with a card that said, “IOU an evening horseback ride and a sunset picnic”. Provided I could cash it in during the summer months.
Maybe as a last-minute gift, slip a card in an envelope addressed to the family with “IOU a homemade Christmas next year” written on it.
I just finished The Power of Unpopular: A guide to building your brand for the audience who will love you (and why no one else matters) by Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing. At first glance, this book looks like it has a fat lot of nothing to do with cattle ranching, but I’ve pulled out a few quotes we can apply to our bovine-related lives.
It’s impossible to get everything done on one’s own, and the sooner you acknowledge that you need a team to get you from point A to point Z and every point in between, the better off you’ll be. Ask for help, know what you don’t know, say thank you often, and never be afraid to admit it when you’re wrong.”
Even a small herd of cows quickly commandeers your time and resources. A ranch needs a team of people, whether they are employees, feed deliveries, veterinarian services, etc. I especially love the idea of “know what you don’t know”. It’s hard to admit sometimes, but if you don’t know something, find someone who does and learn from them. If you have the resources, let them do it. They’ll be far more effective.
Understand that there are more than a few people who will never get what it is you do or why you bother with it.
Your brand is a who. It’s never a what. People do business with people, and brands that help their audience understand that there’s a person behind the pitch have the opportunity to soar far above the rest.
I pulled these two quotes out because of their relevance to people who buy food and why it is important for cattle ranchers to share about their beef stories. You don’t have to look much past your front porch to see people who don’t understand ranching.
There are some people who will never have an appreciation for it and will do whatever they can to grind it beneath their heels. But there are a lot of people who just need the opportunity to talk to a rancher about where their beef comes from so they can make their own decisions about what food they want to buy.
Look back at the last time you shared a meal with more than one person. Did everyone around the table agree on everything in every conversation that arose during the course of that meal? If so, remind me never to come to one of your dinner parties, because they’re probably held in Wonderland, and that’s not a commute I’m willing to make.
Be open to new ideas. It’s easy to do things the way they’ve always been done, but that doesn’t mean they should be. Listen, consider, and then make a decision. Don’t skip the first two steps and head straight to the decision-making step.
It’s not hard to lose track of your audience when you’re working every hour of the day to build a new business. At some point, we’ve all lost sight of the customer in pursuit of the end goal, and as a result, we’ve probably had some completely avoidable snafus added to our track records.
Stretch your minds a bit here, because the end goal is where you want to keep your focus. What are you trying to accomplish on your ranch? Are your investments of time and money in line with those goals? Or are you getting tangled in the details?
If it all went away tomorrow, what would remain? Never forget that people and relationships are what grant us access to life’s greatest potential.
I’m closing with this quote for a simple reason: ranching sucks up time like a shop vacuum. Working dawn to dusk is the standard, not the exception. Yes, there’s a never-ending stream of things to get done, but family and friends are more important than a to-do list.
Find a way to incorporate your most valuable relationships with your work. Dedicate time to just be with those people. Make it a priority, even when you’re in the trenches during the busiest seasons of the year. Just have fractions of time to dedicate? It counts, and it matters.
He was a walkin’ horse, and not of the Tennessee kind,
Barn boards for legs, bony of hip and a bit cranky in the eye.
That Tom horse was no real looker unless you like ‘em raw,
But he moved out quicker than most others you’d find.
Throwin’ a leg over was like climbin’ after a cat up a pine tree.
Just as you strangled a fist-full of mane to light in the saddle,
The head of that Tom horse would come ’round to bite your rear.
With luck an’ a quick shinny up, he only got a chunk of your knee.
Gosh that Tom horse could be an ornery cuss, even on the fly.
His pair o’ paint ears would flap straight back on a whim,
And you’d feel a li’l bit a devil inching up his spine.
A hop n’ hoot n’ holler and your stirrups sayin’ good-bye.
You always had to watch him, he wasn’t a horse you trusted.
Never let the reins go slack or let him flat-out gallop.
But sooner or later you’d set a l’il loose in the saddle,
And that Tom horse same as said, “Pard, you’re busted.”
But when he wasn’t tryin’ to plant you in cow pies an’ dirt,
That Tom horse was ropin’ and slidin’, cuttin’ and holdin’.
Crossin’ canyons, duckin’ brush and trackin’ a herd of cows.
He had no quit, not a bit, even when he shoulda pulled up hurt.
For being all outta sorts with fire under his red n’ white hide,
You got to sorta liking that Tom horse in spite of all his faults.
There’s not been another who hunted country quite like him,
And each day astride that big paint was a day for quite a ride.
Of course not. You wouldn’t support someone who wasn’t fulfilling his or her role.
So why keep a cow that didn’t get pregnant? It doesn’t matter how correct her conformation is, how solid her genetics are or how great of a cow she is supposed to be.
If she doesn’t have a calf, she’s not a great cow. She’s just an attractive lady with nice parents who is gobbling up your resources.
In the 3,200 miles I drove to Iowa and back this month, I did a lot of thinking. You’re hard-pressed to ignore those things you’ve been avoiding when it’s you, half a country of highway and no radio stations.
And in that half-country drive, I finally acknowledged what I want to do. A 100%, no doubt belief in what I am supposed to be doing with my time here on earth: raise cattle.
This isn’t a light switch moment. I’ve known for years – decades if you count those years growing up that I wanted nothing but ranching – that my place lies with the cow-calf ranch. But it has taken me a long time to work up the courage to face the challenge, and this trip finally has me toeing the starting line.
In the past two weeks, I’ve been focused on drawing up a plan. A set of steps that will put me in a position to tackle the challenge of cattle ranching.
Midweek, I decided to ditch the plan.
A plan is like a list. You cross off the first step of the plan and move on to the second. Nail the second, go to step three.
At this stage, a plan puts on blinders to other possible routes that could help you achieve the same goal. A plan needs to be flexible, and I’m not good with flexible plans. To be flexible, I need to not have a plan.
That sounds dumb, doesn’t it? How are you supposed to get where you want to go if you don’t have a plan?
Drive in the direction you want to go. Make decisions with what you know now that will nose you in the direction you want to end up. After driving awhile, you’ll have more information and be better equipped to decide whether you want to turn left or right.
With the plan, you may not have seen the left or right turns, stuck to the original road map built on retired information and driven straight off the cliff you hadn’t seen.
If you’re flexible and can still be open-minded, use a plan. If you’re like me, drive in the direction you want to go with the destination guiding your decisions.
I wrote this before I saw this piece by Jesse Bussard. Similar topic, different viewpoint.