Let’s talk big picture: Why do you ranch?

Let’s talk big picture: Why do you ranch?

My daughter was having knee surgery, and the doctor’s office suggested going across the street to a restaurant famous for its pancakes. It was either do that or attempt to do something constructive in the waiting area, so I headed over for some pancakes. 

That has nothing to do with this article, but it explains how I got to a quiet restaurant in Denver, and since I had boots and the hat, the lady at the table across from me asked me if I was a rancher. When I told her I was, a look of genuine envy crossed her face. 

“To be outside with nature, horses, without a care in the world; what I wouldn’t give for that life.” I just smiled and said that I was indeed pretty fortunate. Seems that she was on her fourth career in less than 10 years, and mentioned that was just the way of the world. 

She asked me how long I had been ranching and whether I thought I’d ever quit. When I told her I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, she almost apologetically mentioned that she didn’t know how I could deal with the boredom of doing the same thing the rest of my life. 

I felt like justifying myself by telling her about all the hats a rancher wears, how many challenges and opportunities there are, and that while there are a few chores we have to repeat day after day, virtually no day is the same, but I just nodded. I’ve come to realize that people admire the grit of people working in agriculture, but they don’t understand that nearly every day is something entirely new, and like any field, the more you know, the more you realize that you don’t know anything; that the complexity grows and what was once simply nuance becomes intriguing and interesting. 

Every business endeavor involves risk and uncertainty, but it is fundamental to agriculture. We can’t control Mother Nature, the market, or the overall economy, so we simply must manage around them and try to anticipate what is going to happen. 

A great horseman makes it look easy, and to the untrained eye it seems to be simple or magic or combination of the two. But to other horsemen there is nothing magical or easy about it, it is the combination of the mundane with an understanding of almost infinitesimal complexity. Great horsemen never get bored, because there is so much to learn, to many levels to rise too; it is a challenge that never ceases.

Ranching is that way, too. There are plateaus and one may elect to stay where they are, but there are always new levels, new challenges, new opportunities, new threats. Sometimes Mother Nature, the markets or the economy simply do not allow someone to stay in agriculture, but rarely do you see someone with a true interest in agriculture leave voluntarily. 

I’ve read that 10,000 hours of concentrated focus in a given area usually results in becoming a world class performer or expert. That means that excellence is measured in decades. 

cattlewomen

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Ranching success is measured in generations; it is not for the weak of heart, but success is not measured by hours or time, but by how focused we are as we spend that time. Truth be told, there are times when I’m merely functioning, keeping things alive, doing what needs to be done. Then there are times when I’m truly thinking, managing and working on improving what we do and how we do it.

I respect Tom Peters, the business guru who advocates focusing on your strengths, and that doing so makes tremendous strength. But I have also found that progress in our ranching operation usually begins with identifying specific weaknesses, those things that we don’t do particularly well, and solving those problems.  

It is like that master horseman who performs those subtle refinements that lead to the appearance of magic. It becomes art only after years of mundane and deliberate practice. 

There are times that I doubt whether I will ever complete the masterpiece I am hoping for, but at least I realize that the art of mastery comes from the focused and deliberate effort on a daily basis of the small things. I apologetically ended the conversation with the hope that she, too, would find a career worth devoting her life to.

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